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Crate training adult dog

The essentials

  • Patience and consistency are key with crate training — It’s important to have training sessions every day to ensure your dog is comfortable with being crated.
  • Use treats for a positive association with crating — Giving treats, toys, and meals in a dog’s crate will reduce the anxiety inside of it.
  • Explore alternatives if it isn’t working — If crates aren’t effective for your dog, alternative options like playpens or doggie daycare may work instead.

To crate or not to crate? That is the question – and we’ve got the answers. One of the first steps that new dog owners take when house training a puppy is getting them used to a crate. Dogs instinctively won’t relieve themselves where they sleep, so crating them can prevent accidents inside the home when you’re still teaching them to do their business outdoors.

But a dog doesn’t have to be a puppy to benefit from a crate. Whether you’re looking for a safe place to keep your furry friend when you’re out of the house or an area for them to relax and unwind while you’re unable to give them your sought-after attention, you can train adult dogs to use a crate too.

Unfortunately, some of them don’t respond well to being crated, and that’s okay! Read on to learn how you can make use of toys, treats, and meals to give your dog a positive association with their crate, and alternative options if they’re still not responding to it.

Benefits of crate training a dog

From new puppies to seniors, a crate can offer many benefits to dogs of all ages. You can essentially think of it as a bedroom for your dog, like a den within your den. This is a safe space where your best friend can go if they need some time or space away from their family and visitors.

It can give you peace of mind knowing they’re not getting into mischief when you’re away. The trash will remain in the trash can, and the fluff will remain in the furniture. Crates are also helpful when you’re traveling with pets, as even a well-trained dog may engage in destructive behaviors in a new environment.

👉 Got a young pup? Dive into our guide on how to crate train a puppy to set yourself and your pup up for success.

Selecting the right crate

Before you begin crate training, you’ll want to make sure you’ve selected the best dog crate for your individual dog. Crates primarily come in three materials, so you’ll need to pick the one best suited for your pup’s preferences.

  • Soft-sided crate. These crates have fabric walls stretched over a rigid metal frame and can collapse easily for travel. We recommend this 2-door model from Amazon Basics.
  • Wire crate. These metal crates are made of a strong wire mesh with a plastic bottom. Like soft-sided crates, these are usually collapsible. This crate from MidWest Homes has a divider panel so you can adjust the size manually.
  • Hard plastic crate. Because of the material, hard plastic crates can be dismantled but aren’t collapsable. This product from Petmate has a heavy-duty plastic shell that’s good for car travel.

You’ll also want to make sure to select the proper crate size when choosing one for your four-legged friend. Your dog should be able to stand up and have enough space to turn around and lie down.

At the same time, you don’t want to give your dog enough space to lay on one side of the crate and relieve themself on the other side. A good rule of thumb is to add 4-6 inches to their length and height when determining the right size. Dividers allow you to adjust for growth as your dog gets bigger, as the crate will ideally be used for years.

Preparing the crate and space

While a puppy’s crate should typically be situated near an exit so you can take them outside quickly to relieve themself, a house-trained dog can be crated elsewhere. “I think the scheduling and timing are more important than location,” says veterinarian Dr. Bruce Armstrong, “However, some people only feel comfortable with their dog in the room with them as long as no one loses sleep, while others feel a separate room is better.”

When your pup is spending the night in their crate, you may want to cover it with a sheet to make it darker and cozier for them to sleep in. For comfort, place a dog bed or blankets at the bottom. Since your adult dog has a stronger bladder than a puppy, you can also include a water bowl that clips to their crate to prevent spilling.

Creating a training schedule

Patience and consistency are key in getting your pooch used to their crate and ensuring a positive association with it. Here are considerations to keep in mind when putting together a schedule for dog crate training:

  • Make time every day. You’ll not only want to train with your dog every day but ideally at the same time. Simply put, dogs are less anxious when they know what’s coming next, so sticking to the same schedule helps them anticipate the crate rather than being caught off guard.
  • Keep initial sessions short. Start off with brief training sessions until your canine companion is more comfortable with the crate. If you rush, they could become fearful of it.
  • Minimize distractions. While certain music playlists have been recommended for dogs being left home alone, you’ll want to avoid any media or other distractions while you’re crate training in order to make sure you’re holding your pup’s attention. You also risk developing a negative association with the music you plan to leave on for them when they are fully crate trained.

Step-by-step guide for dog crate training

Now that your crate is set up and you’ve marked your calendar, it’s time to start crate training your dog. Remember that not every dog responds the same way to a crate, so you’ll want to monitor their body language and adjust accordingly. If your dog starts to get anxious at any point, cut the session short and revert back to earlier steps in this guide.

1) Introduce your dog to the crate

Introduce your dog to their crate with a loose leash, a high-pitched “happy voice,” and lots of treats. This should give you a feel of how your dog reacts to the crate. Look out for any signs of distress like a tucked tail, flat ears, or whimpering.

If your dog pulls on the leash, step away from the crate and then call them to you, rather than forcing them closer. You can also briefly break from the crate training and give them a command you’ve already been working on, like “sit,” and then reward them for doing it.

2) Games and treats in the crate

Remember, you’re trying to build a positive association with the crate. What better way to do that than to incorporate fun games and yummy treats into your training?

  • Fetch. If your dog is a fetch lover, then try tossing their favorite ball or plush toy into the crate. They may be tentative at first, but keep at it until they learn to go in and grab the toy, then bring it back.
  • Chew toys. Place your best friend’s favorite chew toy inside the crate when you want them to go in. They’ll begin to learn the crate is where they go to satiate their appropriate chewing needs.
  • Treat puzzles. In addition to helping develop a positive association with crates, treat puzzles are mentally stimulating and provide dogs with a tasty reward! These can be a Kong filled with peanut butter or a more interactive search-and-find for biscuits.

👉 As you use treats and toys to get your dog comfortable with the crate, consider introducing a command that can be used every time you want them to go in, like “crate” or “kennel up.”

3) Feeding in the crate

If your dog is food-motivated, feeding your dog their meals in the crate can be a particularly effective method of getting them comfortable with it. Start by placing your pup’s food bowl outside the crate but close to it. Each day, you should move the bowl closer to the open crate door (make sure to secure the door so it doesn’t shut on them).

Eventually, you can place the bowl right inside the crate so they have to go inside to eat from it. Once you have achieved that, you can start shutting the door behind them until they are done. If at any point your dog is tentative about eating their food, move the bowl back away from the crate and start this step over.

4) Gradually increase time in the crate

As with all dog training, teaching your furbaby something new can take a while. The average adult dog can be in a crate for six to eight hours max, but you shouldn’t start with too much time off the bat. Instead, be sure to slowly increase their time in the crate with these milestones along the way:

  • Crate them while you’re home. Start crating your dog in short time intervals of 5-10 minutes while staying in view of your dog, then move to another room once they’re comfortable with that.
  • Crate them for a short errand. After they’ve proven they can handle short periods, you can start running quick errands with your dog crated, ideally under 30 minutes.
  • Crate them overnight. Eventually, your dog can start sleeping in their crate with a sheet or cover over it to keep them from waking up in the middle of the night.

5) After crate training

Once your dog is comfortable with the crate and not whining when left alone, then you can consider them crate-trained — congratulations! Time to party!

Hang on though – the journey isn’t quite over. In order to make sure their training sticks, you need to continually ensure they always associate their crate with safety and not fear. Every time your dog obeys and gets in the crate without “back talk,” reward them with positive reinforcement .

You can switch it up between treats and petting, but you don’t want to stop encouraging them. As for letting them out of the crate, don’t act too excited because it could intensify any anxiety they feel. Instead, opt for calm praise. It goes without saying that you should never use crates for punishment.

Common challenges of crate training an adult dog

As with all dog training, teaching your adult dog to use a crate comes with its own set of unique challenges. Having a sense of the common hurdles that owners face in crate training ahead of time can help you prepare for them when they arise.

Challenges with mental health

If your dog is afraid to go in their crate, they may be experiencing underlying mental health issues. Separation anxiety, for example, is a common reason for a dog struggling with being crated. Persistent vocalizing, destructive digging and chewing, and eliminating are all signs of this overdependence.

If you’re unable to create a positive association with crates for a dog with separation anxiety, you could consider medication or alternative ways to leave them unattended. Other mental health challenges include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from past experiences, depression, and dementia.

I see anxiety issues all the time, but in varying degrees. The most intense cases and the dementia cases are a few times a month. Aside from training and naturally-calming products, you've got to get to your vet because each case is so different.

Dr. Erica Irish

Challenges with age

As dogs get older, they can develop hearing or vision loss. The isolation that comes with not being able to feel their humans makes crate training a challenge. This could lead to them being more reluctant to go into their crate and accept it as a good thing.

Another challenge that may occur as they age is a decrease in bladder control. This directly impacts how long your dog can stay in their crate. Not only is it uncomfortable for them to sit in their own waste for any length of time, but it’s also unhealthy.  Consult your veterinarian if your housebroken dog is having accidents inside their crate or otherwise.

Alternatives to crate training

If your dog is not responding well to the crate, fear not! While crates can be beneficial, they’re not for all dogs. This doesn’t mean you can’t leave your favorite furball alone or unattended. Consider these alternatives that have the same great benefits as crate training.

  • Playpen. This is a small confined area made of connected panels for your dog to have as their own. Much like a crate, you can make the playpen cozy with toys and beds.
  • Dog room. If you have the space in your house, you can set up a room just for your adult dog. This can be blocked off with an indoor dog gate or a door.
  • Fenced-in yard. While not an option for apartment dwellers, fencing in your yard can provide a great outdoor space to let your pup roam on a day with good weather. Just be mindful of temperature to avoid overheating or becoming too cold in frigid conditions, and exercise caution with breeds known for burrowing, as they can dig up a hole under the fence.
  • Doggie daycare. If you’re having trouble finding an area in your home to leave your dog, you might want to put them in doggie daycare. While some dogs might not be a fit, they can be a good source of socialization and burning energy.

One of the biggest concerns that keeps potential owners from getting a dog is stressing over what they’re going to do with them while they’re at work, out with friends, or running around the corner for a coffee. Putting in the time to crate train your best friend can not only solve this problem but strengthens your bond with them. And if it doesn’t work out, you can rest assured there are plenty of alternative options to keep your dog safe while you’re unable to tend to them.

Frequently asked questions

Is crate training stressful for dogs?

In order to ensure your dog has a positive association with their crate, it’s important to keep training fun and playful, thus reducing the risk of stress and anxiety in the training process. Use toys, treats, and meals to keep your furry friend happy during sessions.

Should I ignore my dog if they whine during crate training?

The best response when a dog whines in their crate (and doesn’t need to go out) is to ignore them at first, as they may be testing whether or not you’ll cave. But if it persists for more than 15 minutes, they can start to develop a negative association with the crate. Ideally, they would have established a strong comfortability with the crate before you leave them in it for a long time.

How long can an adult dog be in a crate?

The average adult dog can comfortably be in their crate for 6 to 8 hours a day. However, every dog is unique, and you will want to monitor your dog for their personal time limit. Most senior dogs can’t be in as long as younger adults can, especially if they’re experiencing incontinence.

What can I do if my dog hates their crate?

If your dog is still showing resistance to their crate after crate training, they may just not respond well to that environment. In that case, there are alternative options you can explore for leaving your dog alone, such as a playpen, gated off room, or doggie daycare.

How often should I crate train my dog?

Crate training can take up a lot of time. You will want to have training sessions every day, as consistency is important in establishing a strong comfort with the crate. Additionally, you should aim to train your dog at the same time each day.