Crate Training an Older Dog: What You Need to Know
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Crate training an older dog might be something you find yourself doing from scratch. Whether you've rescued an adult dog that was never trained to go in a crate or you simply never got around to crate training your pooch as a young pup, this lack of training can make things stressful for the both of you when you're suddenly faced with a need to keep your dog in one place for an hour or so. If you find yourself in this boat, read on to learn how to crate train an older dog.
Reasons for Crate Training an Older Dog
While some pet parents see crate training in a positive light, others may have reservations about crating their dogs. No matter which dog crate camp you belong to, there are a number of good reasons to crate train an older dog, says Rover.com. Here are just a few:
- Safety and preparedness for emergencies and natural disasters
- Safe transportation and easier travel with your pooch
- Easier and safer trips to the veterinarian
- Confinement during illness or injury recovery
- To provide a safe space in stressful situations
Whatever your personal feeling may be about dog crates, the fact is that in an emergency your dog is often safer in a crate than they would be in a harness or simply left on their own. It's important to remember that, while there may be exceptions for dogs with traumatic backgrounds, generally dogs don't share the negative associations we humans attach to crates. For those that do, those negative associations can be turned into positive ones.
Challenges of Training Older Dogs
The phrase "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is patently untrue. Older dogs are most certainly capable of learning new things, but training them can be more challenging than crate training a puppy! For puppies, everything is new and exciting, and they haven't become attached to routines. Older dogs, on the other hand, are creatures of habit, and sometimes it's necessary to help them unlearn old habits before they can learn new ones. The key is to be patient. It might take a lot of repetition and practice, but eventually your older pooch will rise to the occasion.
On the other hand, a calmer, older dog might appreciate the cosy hideaway of a crate more than a puppy would. Choose a low-traffic, quiet location for the crate so they can escape to it for a nap during your next party or loud day with the kids.
How to Crate Train an Older Dog
Follow these steps to turn the crate into a positive experience for your older pup:
- Prepare the crate. Select a crate that's large enough for your dog to comfortably lie down, stand up, and turn around in, says Rover. Place a comfy blanket inside to make it more enticing, and leave it sitting with the door open in a spot where your dog can see it and check it out, allowing them to get used to it before you begin.
- Prepare yourself. Set aside any negative feelings you have about placing your dog in a crate. Dogs are extremely sensitive to our emotions, and if you're stressed about crating your dog, they will be too. Don't begin training until you can do it from a calm, relaxed and happy place.
- Prepare your dog. Preventive Vet recommends giving your dog some exercise before a training session, both to burn off excess energy so they'll be relaxed and to allow them a chance to relieve themselves so they won't be distracted by the need for a bathroom break.
- Build positive associations. Begin by placing treats and maybe a favourite toy or two near the opening of the crate. Praise your dog when they go near the opening to retrieve an object or treat.
- Entice your dog inside. Once comfortable with getting close to the crate's opening, begin placing treats and toys inside. You might even try placing their food and water bowls inside the crate. Start by placing them at the front of the crate, and gradually move them toward the back until your dog completely enters the crate on their own.
- Try closing the door. Start by closing it just for a second before opening it and letting them out again. This will show your dog that they can trust you to let them out again. Repeat this until your dog remains calm when the door is closed, and then increase the time by a few seconds. Keep repeating, gradually adding on a few seconds at a time. Once your dog starts making themself comfortable inside the crate, practice leaving the door closed for a few minutes at a time, gradually working up to an hour or more.
If your dog panics or becomes agitated, stop, let them out and take a break. Don't be surprised if you have setbacks and need to start over from an earlier step or even from the beginning. Once your dog is willing to remain in the crate, unless they need to stay in it overnight, don't leave them in it for more than a few hours at a time. Tiny dogs and senior dogs with small or weak bladders shouldn't remain crated for longer than they're able to hold the urge to use the bathroom.
Regardless of whether you plan to crate your dog regularly, crate training your older dog and reinforcing that training with regular practice will prepare them for those times when a crate is necessary. With proper training, the right attitude, and a lot of patience, a dog crate can be a positive and even soothing experience for your pet.