5 min read

Is It Easy to Crate Train Older Dogs?


By Tim Falk

Published: 12/03/2021, edited: 12/03/2021

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Crate training offers a long list of benefits for dogs and pet parents. It gives your dog a safe spot where they can relax and feel secure, helps them deal with anxiety, and makes housetraining a puppy a whole lot easier. Of course, most people focus on crate training a puppy, but what about a senior dog? Can older dogs be trained to use a crate?  

The answer is a resounding yes. Don’t believe the tired cliche that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, as you can crate train a dog at any age. But while the training process is relatively easy, how long it takes can vary from one dog to the next. Keep reading to find out how to teach your senior dog that a crate is great.

Why should you crate train an older dog?

Your golden oldie has gotten this far in life without using a crate, so why bother crate training them now? Well, crates offer several benefits for four-legged family members of all ages.

The biggest benefit of a crate is that it gives your dog a space of their own, a sort of “safe zone” they can retreat to whenever they feel overwhelmed, anxious, or just need a rest. Dogs instinctively seek out quiet and protected spaces for themselves when they need to get away from whatever is going on around them, and a crate is perfect for exactly that.

This can particularly come in handy if you’re adopting an older dog. As they adjust to life in their new surroundings and slowly adapt to the house rules, a crate gives them a safe haven when they need some time to themselves. It can help if they are starting to develop cognitive issues as they age too, helping to minimize the resulting anxiety.

Crates also help dogs cope with anxiety surrounding new or frightening situations, such as a loud thunderstorm or a house full of guests coming over. This can reduce the incidence of unwanted doggy behaviors, for example destructive chewing.

Crates also make it easier to travel with your dog in the car and by plane, and can come in very handy in an emergency situation.

And while you would, in an ideal world, introduce a dog to crate training as a puppy, it’s still entirely possible to crate train an older dog.

afghan hound in crate - how to crate train an older dog

How to crate train an older dog

The process for crate training an older dog is simple and straightforward. As a general guide, there are a few basic steps you need to follow:

  1. Set up the crate. First things first, you need to make the crate a place that’s comfortable and inviting for your dog. Choose a crate that’s a suitable size for your dog, and fill it with comfy bedding and toys to encourage your pooch to check it out.

  2. Introduce your dog to the crate. If you expect your dog to feel comfortable sleeping in a crate immediately, you’re destined to fail. Instead, you need to gradually introduce your pooch to the crate over a period of up to 1 week. Put it in a high-traffic area of your home, leave the door open so your dog can access it at any time, and let them explore this new piece of equipment at their own pace.

  3. Build a positive association. The next step when crate training an older dog is to encourage them to see the crate as a great place to be. To do that, you can start by feeding them their meals in the crate. This may be a gradual process if your pooch is fearful of stepping into the crate, so take baby steps. Start by feeding them with the crate door open, then move up to feeding them with the door closed (remembering to let them out once they finish). You can also use some of your pet’s favorite treats to entice them into the crate.

  4. Increase crate time. Now you can start increasing the amount of time your senior dog spends in the crate. The key is once again to take it slowly, starting with a period of 1 minute before building up to 5 minutes and then longer stays. Introducing a training command (such as “crate”) at this stage will also help. Give treats and praise to reward your pet for doing the right thing, and gradually build up to time blocks of 30 minutes.

  5. Crating while home alone. Once your dog is completely comfortable being in their crate while you’re at home, the next step is getting them used to being in the crate while they’re home alone. Get your dog in the crate and settled at least 10 minutes before you depart, and don’t make a big deal about the fact that you’re leaving (doing the opposite can heighten separation anxiety). Start with short trips away from home, leaving your dog in the crate for a maximum of 1 hour, before trying anything longer.

  6. Repeat. It may take your dog a while to break a lifetime’s worth of habits and start forming new ones. Keep your training consistent and stay patient as your dog learns exactly what you want them to do.

You’ll find detailed instructions in our guide to training your older dog to sleep in a crate. And for more information and tips on training senior pooches, check out our guide on how to obedience train an older dog.

How long does it take to crate train an older dog?

It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this question, as different dogs learn at different speeds. Your pet’s age plays a part, but so too do their history and life experiences. 

So while some dogs might master the basics of crate training inside a couple of weeks, others might take several months to get the hang of it. The main thing to remember is to remain patient throughout the training process, and continue with a consistent approach to achieve the best results. If you stick with it, your senior pooch will soon feel right at home in their crate.

pug in blanket - crate training tips for older dogs

Crate training tips

Remember these simple tips to increase your chances of crate training success with a senior dog: 

  • Never leave your dog in the crate for too long. Dogs should never be left in a crate all day long, and depending on your pet’s circumstances, they may need more regular bathroom breaks than an adult dog. A few hours is usually the maximum limit, but your dog may not be able to last that long.

  • Don’t force things. If your dog is showing any signs of discomfort during the training process, or if they panic, let them out of the crate and start again. Trying to force them into a situation they’re not comfortable with will only hamper your training progress.

  • Stay calm. Dogs are highly adept at sensing our emotions and picking up on how we’re feeling. With this in mind, try not to get stressed or frustrated if training isn’t an instant success. And of course, never punish your dog if they make a mistake, such as going potty in the crate.

  • Get the whole family on board. If you’ve got kids, make sure they know that the crate is your dog’s safe space. So if your fur-baby retreats there, that means they need to be left alone.

  • Get help. If your dog is really struggling to master the basics of crate training, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional trainer. You can even use Wag! to book a personalized, in-home session with an experienced trainer.  

For most dogs, training is a walk in the dog park. But if you’re having trouble with training, consider investing in pet insurance. Many plans cover prescribed behavior modification for conditions like separation anxiety. Plan ahead and start searching for pet insurance today.

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