Crate training is an essential skill for every dog to have. No good owner wants to keep their dog locked up in a cage for hours on end, but crate training isn’t just for people who don’t want to deal with their pooch. It might seem hard to believe, but you’re going to find yourself in a situation where your dog needs to go in a crate. Maybe you’ll need to take them to the vet and they’re too sickly to sit in the vehicle. Maybe you’ll need to evacuate in the event of a tornado or hurricane or you’ll have to stay at a new place overnight.
Whatever the case, if you never crate trained your dog, you’re going to have an hour-long battle on your hands. That’s why your dog needs to get used to the sensation of being locked in a crate. Crate training helps your dog adjust to being in a confined space without getting stressed or panicked. Once your pup is well-trained, you’ll be able to take long trips with your dog, bring your dog on a plane or move to another state without dealing with a stressed-out pooch.
It’s never too early— or too late— to start training your dog. Adult and elderly dogs can get used to a crate just as easily as young puppies. You might need to show a little more patience, but your dog will thank you in the end.
How Do You Crate Train An Adult Dog?
Unless your dog picks up new habits right away, you’ll probably need to move slowly so your dog doesn’t get panicked. Here’s how to crate train your adult dog.
Make the Dog Crate Comfortable
You’ll need to build positive associations with the crate so your dog is willing to get in the crate in the first place. Start by placing your dog’s bed in the crate and lining it with pillows, blankets, and anything else that makes your dog comfortable. This especially works when training an older dog. If your dog prefers sleeping in a dark area, drape a blanket over the crate.
Get Your Dog Familiar with the Crate
To help your dog get used to the crate, place it in a familiar area like the kitchen or laundry room. Place your dog’s food bowl in the crate (you’ll probably want to remove the dog bed and blankets first), and let your dog eat in the crate with the door open. Periodically, place a treat in the crate for your dog.
Start Closing the Door
When you think your dog is ready, start closing the door while they eat. Open the door if your dog gets stressed—you don’t want them to associate the crate with fear. As your dog gets increasingly comfortable, leave the door closed for longer periods of time. You might have to start with a few seconds, then gradually increase to a few minutes. Eventually, your dog might eat their entire meal with the door closed.
Similarly, place a treat in your dog’s crate once or twice a day. Close the door when they enter the crate, then quickly open it again. Gradually keep the door closed for longer increments of time. Your dog may graduate from ten seconds to ten minutes and eventually an entire hour.
Keep Desentisizing Your Dog
Eventually, your dog could spend a few hours in the crate or practice overnight stays. Don’t keep your dog in a crate longer than a few hours during the day— they still need to eat, use the bathroom and burn off energy. However, this experience will make it much easier for your dog to stay in their crate when they don’t have a choice.
Do You Need One Crate for Every Dog?
Ideally, you should have a different crate for every dog in your house. This makes it easier for them to see the crate as “their” space and have enough room to spread out. However, you might be able to fit two dogs in one crate if they have a close relationship. Make sure you train every dog in your house to use a crate— you never know when you’ll need that skill.
Is Crate Training Really Necessary?
Crate training might seem like a hassle, especially if you’ve never needed it before. But when you need to get your dog in a crate, you’ll be glad you trained them ahead of time. Here are a few occasions where crate training might come in handy:
- You need to take your dog to the vet, and they’re too sick or injured to sit in the vehicle.
- You’re bringing your dog along on a plane ride. Most airlines require you to keep your dog in a crate during the trip.
- You’re staying in a new place and can’t have your dog running around.
- You’re moving to another state and don’t have room for your dog to sit in the passenger seat.
- You’re in an emergency situation and need to evacuate immediately.
- Your dog is stressed, and you need a place for them to calm down.
- You have a visitor in your house that doesn’t like dogs.
Is it Harder to Train an Adult Dog?
As a general rule, it’s easier to train puppies than adult dogs. Once your dog reaches adulthood, they’re set in their ways. You’ve completed most of your training, and they’ve settled into a routine in the household. The older your dog gets, the more reluctant it might be to learn a new habit. That’s why you should start crate training your dog now— they’re not getting any younger or less stubborn.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Most adult dogs can pick up on new behaviors if you’re willing to move at their pace. It’s just like going to college— you don’t lose your ability to learn once you turn eighteen. In fact, training an older dog is sometimes easier than training puppies. They’re more willing to get in the crate because they like having a dark, private space to sleep.
How Can You Prepare Yourself for Training?
You might be surprised to learn that you have to prepare yourself just as much as you have to prepare your dog. Locking your dog in a crate conjures images of abused dogs who sit in a kennel for hours. Unfortunately, if you’re stressed, your dog will pick up on the stress and start to get anxious. Obviously, this makes it harder to train your dog to use the crate.
When you train your dog, always appear happy and cheerful. Encourage your dog to get in the crate, then reward them with affection when they get out. Give your dog a treat if you haven’t already. Putting your dog in a crate isn’t a positive or negative action— it’s just a neutral faction that’s unavoidable in certain situations. Never give your dog the impression that putting them in the crate is a nightmarish experience.
What if Your Dog Has Trauma or Anxiety?
If you adopted a rescue dog, they might have trauma from being locked in a kennel for hours in the boiling heat. Other dogs develop anxiety due to trauma, illness, or issues like Addison’s disease. Either way, it’s even harder to get a dog with PTSD to enter a small, confined space.
Training a dog with anxiety is challenging, but it doesn’t mean you should give up on them. Your dog just needs more patience and extra attention. Over time, they’ll build positive associations with the crate so it seems less scary. Keep in mind that if you don’t crate train your dog, they’ll be even more stressed and panicked when they have to go in a kennel.
What Type of Crate Should You Use?
You could use virtually any type of crate as long as it’s safe and has enough room for your dog. This includes metal, plastic, and wood crates. You could even build your own crate at home if you have a specific design in mind. Some crates come with extra features like a fabric cover you could fit over the crate. If you’re planning a big trip, you can buy food and water bowls that attach to the door.
Is it Safe to Transport Your Dog in a Crate?
Crates are perfectly safe as long as you get the right size for your dog. They’re not ideal for long-term use— unless you have no other choice— but you can line the crate with blankets, dog beds, and even small mattresses to keep your dog comfortable. You might have to drape a blanket over the cage so your dog doesn’t get scared during transport.
Common Crate Training Mistakes
A single mistake could derail your dog’s process. Here are some common mistakes that you should avoid:
- Never use the crate as a punishment. You can make it a place for your dog to calm down when they’re stressed, but never throw them in the crate and lock the door when they need a “time out.” This creates negative associations with the crate.
- Never force your dog to stay in the crate before they’re ready. “Tough love” doesn’t work with older dogs— it just makes them even more frightened.
- Never let your dogs use each other’s crates unless they’re a bonded pair. Each dog needs to feel like the crate is their personal space.
- Never lock your dog in the crate and leave them alone for hours at a time unless the situation requires it, like an overnight stay.
- Never appear stressed when you train your dog. They’ll pick up on your stress and start to feel stressed as well.
- Never cram your dog in a crate that’s too small for them.
- Never yell at your dog during the training process. Similarly, don’t punish them for not adjusting as quickly as you hoped. Keep in mind that this is a new experience for your dog.
- Never try to crate train your dog at the last minute. You’ll probably overwhelm your dog if you try to cram weeks of training into a few hours.
Crate training might not be a fun process, but it’s essential for every dog owner. If your dog isn’t trained, they might be stressed, anxious and panicked when you lock them in a crate. This isn’t just scary for them— it’s also frustrating for you. Training your dog in a safe, quiet environment can help you avoid fiascos later. Your dog might even like spending time in the crate because it gives them a safe place to calm down. For this reason, it’s important to buy a crate for every dog in the household. Give them the impression that the crate isn’t a punishment— it’s their own personal space away from everyone else.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it ever too late to crate train a dog?
It’s never too late to crate train your dog. Older dogs might need extra training because it’s harder for them to adapt, but virtually any dog can get used to sitting in a crate. Some dogs might actually appreciate the fact that you’re giving them a quiet place for themselves.
How do you crate train an older dog overnight?
Start gradually so your dog can adjust to sitting in a crate with a locked door. Eventually, they’ll be able to sleep in the crate for a few hours. When you’re confident that your dog can handle it, leave your dog in the crate overnight. This might be the push that they need to alleviate their crate-related fears.
How do you crate train an older dog with anxiety?
Crate training a dog with anxiety is a slow process. You’ll have to gradually introduce the crate over a period of days and keep them in the crate for longer increments of time. If your dog gets stressed, take them out of the crate immediately. Negative associations will just make your dog less likely to get in the crate.
Should I crate train my senior dog?
Even if you don’t think you’ll need to, you should crate train your senior dog. You never know when you might have to take them to a vet, sleep at a new place overnight, or flee an emergency situation. It’s much easier to deal with these challenges if your dog isn’t barking and trying to escape the whole time.