How to Crate Train Adult and Senior Dogs
Catherine Walker is the sales director at Benchmark Kennels, a U.K.-based manufacturer of bespoke kennels for dogs.
Crates are an almost indispensable tool for dog lovers, useful for preventing canine separation anxiety, mitigating destructive chewing, and supporting the toilet training process. They can also provide dogs with a safe resting place when they’re feeling overwhelmed and make it safe and easy to transport pets.
You’ll need to help your dog adjust to using a crate, otherwise, it can cause them unnecessary stress and panic. Crate training is a common practice for puppies but, in some instances, older dogs will also benefit from the process. Adult rescue dogs, for example, may experience the process for the first time later in life after they’re adopted.
Certain challenges can arise, however, when crate training adult and senior dogs, as they may be more reluctant to learn something new. Their unique personality and upbringing can influence the process too.
To achieve the best results possible, read on for a step-by-step guide on effectively crate training adult dogs.
Step 1: Introduce the Crate
When introducing a crate, keep it in a common area like the family room. This way, your dog won’t associate it with isolation. Allow the pooch to approach the crate without forcing them to go inside. Keep the crate door open and make sure it won’t shut on them abruptly.
If your dog is reluctant to explore, encourage them to go into the crate with toys and treats, and praise them after going inside. To turn the crate into a positive den-like space for your dog, fill it with toys, blankets, a dog bed, food, and water. If your dog is interested in some extra privacy, you might also cover the crate with a blanket.
Step 2: Mealtimes
Once they’re comfortable going inside, start feeding your dog near their crate. As their comfort with the crate continues to grow, move closer and closer until they’re eating meals inside.
Slowly begin shutting the door while your dog is eating and opening it back up when they finish. After each meal, leave the door shut for a few more minutes until they’re happy staying put after meals. You may need to start by keeping the door half-closed to avoid making your dog anxious.
Step 3: Outside of Mealtimes
When your dog is used to regularly eating in the crate, you can begin keeping them inside it for short periods outside of mealtimes. Start by staying in the room with them for a few minutes after you’ve closed the door.
Repeat this process several times each day and gradually increase the time your dog is left alone until they can comfortably stay inside their crate for extended periods. Remember not to leave dogs alone in their crates for more than four hours unless they’re sleeping inside overnight.
To prevent separation anxiety, don’t make a big deal about leaving the house or returning home. All that commotion can startle and upset a dog. Keep your dog in the crate while you’re at home from time to time so they don’t exclusively associate it with loneliness.
You can help keep boredom at bay by leaving puzzles and toys in the crate. Timing daily exercise can also help to ensure dogs sleep and relax once they’ve entered their crate.
Step 4: Sleeping in the Crate
When your dog first starts sleeping in their crate overnight, keep it in your bedroom. Once you can trust them to happily sleep through the night, gradually move it to your preferred location. Ensure you stick to a consistent sleep routine to avoid confusing your dog or causing them any stress.
Also, make sure your pooch goes to the bathroom before bed time, since some senior dogs struggle with urinary incontinence. You may have no choice but to let them out during the night.
What If My Dog Whines?
If your dog whines, try not to respond until they stop to avoid encouraging this behavior. Reward them for calming down instead. Listen up for excessive whining, which may indicate that you’ve rushed the process.
Adopted rescue dogs may have experienced abandonment or abuse early in life. This can make them extremely sensitive to isolation and confinement. In these cases, take special caution to introduce their crate slowly.
Outdoor kennels can be a great option for creating safe spaces for dogs who love being outside. If your dog is anxious, the great outdoors may soothe them while allowing them to use up some of their excess energy. Consider a custom kennel similar to those built by UK-based Benchmark Kennels to provide an insulated, sheltered, and secure space that suits your dog’s size and needs.
When following the crate training process with adult dogs, remain patient as it might take them a long time to adjust. Don’t get frustrated with yourself or your dog if you need to repeat some stages or adjust your pace. For further advice, consult with a veterinarian or dog behavioral specialist.