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Dog laying in a wire crate

The essentials

  • Patience is the name of the game — When training adult and senior dogs, it’s very important to remain patient and consistent with them.
  • Training means lots of treats and lots of love — Make sure to have plenty of healthy, small food treats on hand.
  • Not every adult dog can be crate trained — And that’s ok. There are alternatives.

Crate training teaches your dog that the crate is a good, safe space for them to relax and have privacy. It’s also a place for you to keep your dog safe and keep your stuff safe. Even if you have an adult or elderly dog, you can still crate them.

Before you get started

Before starting crate training, you’ll need a few things for yourself and your dog. You’ll also want to keep in mind that this could be a long process before your dog is completely comfortable — especially if your dog has had a traumatic experience in the past.

One of the most important things to decide at this point is the cue for them to get in their crate. This can be a word, such as “crate,” or you can use a unique hand gesture, like the ASL sign for “dog crate.”

Many rescue dogs have had traumatic experiences such as being abandoned, living through a natural disaster, abuse, or losing a caretaker before coming home to you. It has recently been discovered that dogs can suffer from PTSD from experiences like these. Your pup’s potential trauma is a huge factor to consider when you start your crate training journey

The right type and size dog crate

The most important part of crate training is making sure you have the right crate for your dog. Crates primarily come in three materials, so you’ll need to pick one that works for you and your dog. Since your dog is an adult or senior, they may have preferences that you have to learn.

  • Soft-sided crate. These crates have fabric walls stretched over a rigid metal frame and can collapse for travel.
  • Wire crate. These metal crates are made of a strong wire mesh with a plastic bottom. Like soft-sided crates, these are collapsible.
  • Hard plastic crate. Because of the hard plastic, these crates can be dismantled but aren’t collapsable.

Choosing the right size for your dog is a little bit easier. You’ll want to choose one that allows them to stand and have space to turn around and lie down. As a general rule, you don’t want to give your dog enough space to lay on one side of the crate and eliminate on the other side. Crates come in all different sizes, so be sure to check the measurements if you order online.

Preparing the crate and space

Choosing the place for your older dog’s crate is a little different than when you have a puppy. Depending on how and where you adopted your dog, they may already be house-trained. If that is the case, then you’ll want to place their crate where you want it to stay.

Many people opt to have it in a place where the family will be, like the living room or central room. Some parents choose to cover the crate at night with a sheet or blanket or with a cover designed for dog crates. You could also place a dog bed or their favorite toy in with them.

If you know your dog is not house-trained, then you will want to first place it as close to your bedroom as you can manage. This will allow you to hear if they need a potty break through the night.

Creating a training schedule

As mentioned above patience and consistency are key. You’ll want to make sure you take time at least once a day — more is preferable — to train with your dog. Keep training sessions short to start with until they get more comfortable with the crate. It’s always a good idea to keep the same time each day for training. So if the afternoon is best, make sure you plan to train every afternoon. Getting your dog on a schedule can help reduce anxiety when you have to leave them.

Step one: Introduce your dog to the crate

The first thing you have to do is introduce your dog to their new crate. A good way to do this is with a relaxed leash, your happiest voice, and lots of treats. This step is more for you to get a feel of how your dog is going to react to the crate.

Keep an eye out for any signs of distress big or small. These can be a tucked tail, flat ears, whimpering, or pulling on the leash. If they pull on the leash, don’t pull back. Step away from the crate and then call them to you. Give them something active to do and receive praise for by giving them a command you’ve already been working on, like “sit.”

Step two: Games and treats in the crate

Depending on how their initial reaction was, this step may take longer for some than for others. The main goal to keep in mind when crate training is to give your dog their own place to relax and get some quiet time. To do that, they have to like the crate. A great way to do that is to help them associate the crate with good things they already love and look forward to: fun games and yummy treats!

Play fetch inside the crate. If your dog is a fetch lover, this is a great way to get them to love their crate. Throw their fetch toy inside the crate and get them to grab it and bring it back.

Toss a chew toy inside. Very similar to fetch, what you’ll do is toss one of their favorite chew toys inside the crate. You’ve already made it welcoming with a soft blanket or bed. They’ll begin to associate getting their toy in the crate.

Give them treat puzzles. This is another great method to help them love the crate. It gives them mental stimulation so they aren’t so worried about the crate around them. And gives them a tasty reward! These can be a toy filled with peanut butter or a more interactive search-and-find for biscuits.

A dog eating food from a white bowl

Step three: Feeding in the crate

If your dog hasn’t responded well to the games or treats, feeding in the crate may be an option. Once again the key to a successful crate training is getting your dog comfortable with the crate. You can use food to start reinforcing a positive association with the crate for your dog.

You’ll want to start by feeding them out of the crate but close to it. Each day move the bowl closer to the open crate door. Make sure to secure the door so it doesn’t shut on them. Then you’ll place the bowl right inside the crate. Again, gradually move it each day until they are standing entirely in the crate. Once you have achieved that, you can start shutting the door behind them until they are done eating.

Step four: Gradually increase time in the crate

As with all new things, learning something takes time. You’ll want to slowly increase your dog’s time in the crate while hitting a few milestones along the way. The average adult dog can be in a crate for six to eight hours max. As they age or if they develop any medical issues, shorten the time accordingly.

Positive reinforcement is the name of the game — treats. Treats when they go in, and calm praise when you let them out. You don’t want to be too excited when letting them out because this could intensify any anxiety they feel in the crate.

Leave them in the crate while you’re in the house

You’ll stay in the house for the first few sessions. You don’t want to leave them in there too long and too soon, so start with small five to 10-minute intervals. The first few times, stay in view of your dog for the full duration. Once they are comfortable with that, you can move to another room or just out of view for a short time.

Leave them in the crate while you run short errands

As your dog starts to react well to being in the crate when they can’t see you, you can begin to take these times to do short errand runs. As you start out, you don’t want to be gone long; try to keep it under 30 minutes. Many dog parents will get some sort of monitor to check in while they’re gone.

Leave them in the crate overnight

Most pet parents will want to have their dog sleep in a crate overnight. In most cases, this can be done once the dog is comfortable in and around the crate. A lot of dogs like to sleep in darker places, so a sheet or cover will help them fall asleep and sleep through the night.

Step five: Ending crate training

Once they are comfortable with the crate and not whining when left alone, then they are crate trained — congratulations! You guys overcame a huge challenge together. However, like with all dogs and training, the journey isn’t over. Every time your dog obeys and gets in the crate without “back talk,” positive reinforcement is needed. You can switch it up between treats and pets, but you don’t want to stop encouraging them.

Person petting a dog

Common challenges of crate training an adult dog

Dogs of all ages come with their own challenges. Adult dogs are no different.

Physical challenges

Just like with people, many older dogs’ health declines. 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 cause them to be more reluctant to go into the crate and accept it as a good thing.

Another challenge that may occur as they age is incontinence. This directly impacts how long your dog can stay in their crate. Not only is it uncomfortable for them, but it’s also unhealthy for them to be in their waste for any length of time. If your senior pup can’t hold it for any amount of time, you might want to consider an alternative below.

Mental challenges

Mental decline and dementia are situations you’ll need to consider with older dogs. With adopted adult dogs, particularly those without known history, PTSD, separation anxiety, and other traumas might be present. These conditions can make it more difficult for your dog to warm up to the crate and learn the command to go in. Again, patience and consistency are critical to a successful experience. Our senior dogs need a little extra care in love in all areas of their lives.

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

Benefits of crate training a dog

Crate training can be hugely beneficial for dogs of all ages. This gives them a safe place that is just their own. Really it’s like their bedroom. They know they’re safe in there, and it gives you peace of mind knowing they’re safe as well. It also gives them a place where they know they won’t be bothered if they need some time or space away from the hustle and bustle of family.

It also gives the benefit of knowing that when you come back home, your dog hasn’t gotten into anything or messed anything up. The trash will still be in the trash can, and the fluff will still be in the couch.

A dog with a ball in a fenced area

Alternatives to crate training

If your dog is not responding well to the crate, consider an alternative. They can have the same great benefits as crate training.

Playpen. Similar to a puppy playpen, this is a small confined area for your dog to have as their own. Older dogs with incontinence may benefit from a playpen. You can make enough space to put down a pee pad so they don’t make a mess on themselves.

Dog room. If you have the space in your house, you can set up a room just for your adult or senior dog. It will have toys and beds and still give them a place to go if they need alone time. You can use a doggy gate to keep them there for bedtime or when guests are over.

Fenced-in yard. This option can be unreliable depending on where you live. Some dogs do great outside, and some don’t. Especially with older dogs, you’ll need to be careful with the temperature and precipitation to make sure they don’t overheat or get sick. If you have great weather days year-round, this is a great option.

Doggie daycare. If none of these work for your space, or you can’t get home in time to walk them before an accident, you might want to consider doggie daycare. Doggie daycare is a great place for your dog to make friends and get a lot of love and walks. Most local daycares will let you tour their facilities before signing your pup up. Some even have ways your dog can play “near” other dogs without actually being in a free-range group.

Frequently asked questions

How quickly can you crate-train your dog?

The time it takes is highly dependent on your dog. Some dogs take to it quickly and can be fully crate-trained in a week. Some take much longer than that. It depends on temperament and past experiences your dog has had.

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. Any longer can cause serious physical and mental decline. However, 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.

Should my dog be in a crate overnight?

There are many benefits to crating your dog overnight. An easy way to help determine if you want to do this is to consider if you would crate them at another time. If you would crate them when you leave, then crating overnight is a good fit.