Guide to Crate Training an Older Dog
Crate training is not only for puppies, indeed, crate training an older dog may provide many benefits.
If you own an older dog and you are contemplating crate training, keep in mind that crate training an adult dog differs from crate training your puppy in many ways.
If your dog was never crated before, it is very important to dedicate some time in getting your adult dog properly adjusted to the crate before you actually leave him inside.
This article will help you learn effective strategies for successfully introducing a crate and making it a special place for your adult dog to feel comfortable and secure. But while the emphasis is on older dogs, most of the advice you will find here also applies to young puppies.
Benefits of Crate Training an Older Dog
If you recently adopted or rescued an older dog, chances are you may encounter some challenges.
Perhaps your recently adopted dog has started chewing on inappropriate items or has been soiling in your home. In both cases, a crate may be a great management tool. If you must leave your adult dog alone for some time, crate training an older dog will also help keep him safe and out of trouble.
Probably the biggest benefit of crate training, whether you are dealing with a young puppy or an adult dog, is gained during housebreaking. Like all den animals, dogs don't like to eliminate in close proximity to where they sleep. Crate training your older dog will help him develop bladder and bowel control.
However, crate training an older dog may be slightly more challenging than crate training a young puppy. Employing the right techniques is essential for successfully crate training an older dog.
Why do Dogs Love Crates?
You may feel guilty about locking your adult dog in a crate, but dogs don't think like us. When introduced properly, crates provide a safe haven that allows dogs to feel comfortable and content.
Just like wolves, dogs are den animals and are naturally drawn to sleeping in snug places that mimic a den. Tight, enclosed spaces provide them with comfort and security. This is why you will often find your dog under a table, a chair or anything that can surround him.
A dog crate can serve as your dog's bedroom, a refuge or a place for training. With so many applications, crate is the most valuable training tool at your disposal. And since dogs don't mind spending reasonable amount of time in a crate, crate training your dog will not be as difficult as you may think.
How to Introduce an Older Dog to a Crate
Unlike puppies which are blank slates and can often be easily introduced to novelties, older dogs may have never been in a crate for all their lives or may have had unpleasant associations with crates in the past. For this reason, when crate training an older dog, make sure to introduce him to his new crate gradually. Using reward-based training methods such as dog clicker training works best.
Once you have purchased a crate that is large enough for your adult dog to stand, turn around and lay down, your next step is to make it very appealing to him. You can accomplish that with some nice crate padding, toys or food.
Before you begin crate training your dog, allow him to explore his new crate. To make it less stressful, put some of his favorite toys inside and keep the door open. You can also use food, instead of or in addition to toys.
Be right next to him and offer words of encouragement and praise as he comes inside. Once he is inside, keep the door open.
At first, place the toys and/or food just inside the crate, near the door. As he becomes more comfortable, gradually move them deeper inside.
Crate Training an Adult Dog
After your dog is comfortable entering his crate, it's time to start leaving him there with the crate door closed.
Put your dog in the crate and leave the room. If he is quiet, come back in five minutes and let him out. If he is crying or barking, let him calm down first.
When you come back to let him out, behave like nothing special is happening. Don't be excited or show that you feel sorry for him. Don't even praise him. If he jumps and tries licking you, ignore him.
If you express sorrow or offer encouragement to your dog after you let him out, in the future, he will want to get out just to receive all this attention.
Your goal is to make his exit from the crate as something uneventful, even boring. This way, there is no incentive to get out.
Initially, your dog may be confused by your indifference to his "suffering" and "happiness" but in a few days he will begin to accept it. Repeat this exercise four to six times per day.
As your dog becomes accustomed to being left in a crate, gradually increase the time he is alone. However, unless it's nighttime, don't keep him confined in a crate for more than four hours at a time. For longer periods of time, consider using a dog play pen.
Following is a step-by-step guide on how to properly start crate training a dog. It summarizes what we just discussed in the previous 2 sections and offers additional crate training tips:
- Place the crate in a quiet area, but yet, a place where your dog can feel part of the family's activities.
- Fill the crate with a comfortable blanket and safe chew toys.
- Keep the door open so your dog is able to enter or exit at will.
- Start tossing some treats initially near the crate, then just a step inside the crate, and then, all the way inside so to entice your dog to go inside.
- Praise your dog for entering the crate and ignore him for exiting it.
- When mealtime comes, place the food bowl by the entrance to the crate.
- As your dog starts associating the crate with good things, start placing the food bowl farther and farther inside the crate.
- Close the door once your dog goes inside and eats his meal and then open the door when he is done eating.
- Continue feeding your dog in the crate with the door closed and gradually increase the length of time until you open the door.
- Open the door when your dog is quietly waiting. If you open the door when your dog is actively whining, you will reinforce the whining which will likely repeat in the future.
- Start asking your dog to "kennel up" by pointing inside the crate. Once inside, close the door and give a treat.
- Sit by the crate for some time and then try to go to another room for a few minutes. Gradually increase the time you are out of sight. Start crating your dog in the night and for gradually longer absences until your dog is capable of entering and staying in the crate with little or no fuss.
Troubleshooting Adult Dog Crate Training
Some older dogs may be challenging to crate train. Recognizing and addressing problems, as soon as they unveil, will prevent them from becoming worse.
For example, while whining in the crate to be let outside to eliminate needs to be given attention, whining for attention must be ignored. Distinguishing these two forms of whining from one another is important.
If your dog whines the moment you place him in the crate and leave, your dog may have learned to associate being closed in the crate with social isolation. In this case, it helps to close the crate and stay nearby for a while.
Providing a stuffed Kong during brief absences may help your dog better accept the fact you are leaving. However, if your dog panics and gets particularly distressed upon being left alone in the crate, he may be suffering from dog separation anxiety which may require the intervention of a professional animal-behavior specialist.
Here is a brief video that provides additional tips on crate training an older dog...
As seen, the ability of an older dog to rest calmly in a crate has many benefits.
When it comes to crate training an older dog, make sure you do not ask too much at once and that you always keep the crate training sessions positive. Only by crate training your dog to feel safe, secure, and comfortable in his crate, you can attest that crate training an older dog can be a success with many positive outcomes.
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Want to learn more?
If you need additional help on crate training your older dog, I highly recommend this house training guide. It has a very good section on crate training and housebreaking adult dogs.
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