Last Updated 7/21/21
CAN you crate train an older dog? Yes! Well, if they are healthy. Contrary to popular belief, old dogs can learn new tricks. Older dogs can be crate trained just like younger ones.
However, the catch is TIME. More time must be invested into any type of training with an older dog. You can crate train an older dog through positive affiliation – the same way you’d crate train puppies, except you must exhibit more patience and compassion. Just like older humans, older dogs tend to be more guarded and set in their ways, especially if they’ve suffered from abuse or neglect in the past.
*For simplicity purposes, the gender of the word “dog” will be in the masculine form (“he” or “him”) throughout this post.
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TIPS & TRICKS ON CRATE TRAINING AN OLDER DOG:
The key is to take it one step at a time. Crate training a puppy may take several days or weeks so please be realistic with the time frame to crate train an older dog. First things first, place a warm blanket and soft (yet firm) dog bed inside the crate to create a comfortable, inviting atmosphere for your dog. Giving tasty treats/bones, stimulating toys, and chops-lickin’ meals inside the crate will help older dogs (or any dog) make a positive affiliation with the crate. Start with a couple minutes a day of enticing your dog to enter the crate and then slowly work up to an hour over the next few days. If you have a rescue stray dog who is used to eliminating wherever he wants, then you need to be much more patient in terms of the results. Mistakes and accidents will probably happen and it’s perfectly OK. Be understanding and expect them to happen. Also, NEVER use the crate as a punishment – you’ll only make your dog hate the crate.
As your older dog appears more comfortable in the crate, you can increase the crate time to a few hours each day. Please note that NO dog (regardless of age) should be crated for more than 6-8 hours MAXIMUM each time. Crating your dog for long periods will generate detrimental effects – both physical and emotional. Once he is fully potty trained, please allow him to stay in a dog-proof room while you’re away during the day. Eventually, he should graduate to having the full run of the house. All in all, dogs should NOT spend the majority of their lives in crates. And, if you believe dogs love their crates, THINK AGAIN .
Consistency is essential! Dog training is all about positive reinforcement AND repetition. REPEAT, REPEAT, and REPEAT. Dogs thrive on routines; therefore, you should make sure the crating schedule is roughly the same every day in the beginning. If you’re experiencing trouble crate training your older dog, you need to recognize that it’s not your dog’s fault for “not getting it”; ultimately, it’s YOUR fault. Hold yourself accountable and invest the necessary time and patience into training your older dog.
THE REAL QUESTION OF CRATE TRAINING – CAN vs. SHOULD
ARF, so there you have it, you CAN crate train an older dog. But, the real question is:
SHOULD you crate train an older dog?
The Answer: Well, it depends.
With age often comes health issues and increased stress or anxiety. Does your senior dog have any health issues that possibly could affect their bladder control? If so, expecting them to “hold it” is unrealistic and cruel. Again, crate training an older dog is possible if your dog has no pending health issues. Always check with the vet first. Additionally, older dogs who aren’t used to confinement their entire lives will feel extremely stressed out and anxious in a crate, which could lead to behavioral issues and deterioration of health.
I do NOT recommend crate training an older dog even though it’s possible. But, of course, the decision is ultimately up to YOU.
Crate training is so popular only due to the concept that dogs will not soil where they sleep. However, the problem with crate training is that crates can easily be misused, either as punishment or an easy solution for humans to get their dog out of sight, out of mind. Dog parents also commonly make the mistake of crating their dogs for too long, causing dogs to suffer physically from lack of exercise AND mentally from isolation and boredom. As we all know, dogs are social creatures who do NOT like isolation (unless they’re trying to escape from obnoxious children or humans who abuse/mishandle them). For older or geriatric dogs, prolonged crating is particularly dangerous to their health. Older dogs are simply more vulnerable. And, with older dogs having a much calmer demeanor than younger ones, the use of crates to “stop a dog from destroying the house” may not be applicable.
Generally speaking, I am NOT a fan of crating, whether the dog is young or old, small or big. Besides crates being easily misused, dogs should NOT be spending a big portion of their daily lives confined to a cage. A dog parent’s typical 8-hour workday plus lunchtime plus commute time can easily equate to over 10 hours that a dog is spending in the crate. And yet, this doesn’t include the overnight crating time, which is another 8 hours or more. I’m no mathematician dog, but that is A LOT of time in confinement. Before my rescue, I was crated over 16-18 hrs daily. I HATED it! GRR, who wants to sit around in a cage all day until someone tells you it’s OK for you to walk out and do your business? To fight boredom, I licked my paws over and over until my tongue stripped away parts of my beautiful silky hair. 🙁 And in case you’re wondering, dogs do feel emotions like humans.
A crucial question to ask before starting crate training your older dog is: WHY ARE YOU CRATING YOUR DOG? Is it for your dog’s own good or more for your convenience? Are you potty training your older dog? Are you merely using the crate as a dog sitter so your dog can’t wander around the house (and relieve himself)? Are you using the crate as a tool to isolate your dog from other members of the family? Or worse, are you using the crate as a form of punishment?
Nonetheless, I do believe in providing dogs a safe place for themselves. Using crates as your older dog’s private bedroom is a wonderful idea AS LONG AS the door is wide open so your dog can come and go as he pleases. Perhaps, the only exception I’d make is for transportation purposes like countries in Sweden and Finland, where crating is illegal unless it’s done for temporary reasons. As a world traveler, I’ve gone through carrier training before hopping on my first flight. But, note the clear difference here: temporary crating and regular, long-term crating. Staying inside a carrier on one flight is a different ball game from living in a crate for more than a few hours every single day. Read my 10 reasons NOT to crate your dog!
CRATE TRAINING ALTERNATIVES
WOOF, the truth is you can still potty train a dog at any age without a crate. For instance, you can train your older dog to eliminate on pee pads or artificial lawn if you’re unable to take him outside in time. Sniff out my step by step guide on how to potty train your dog without a crate. And, don’t forget to learn the Dos and Don’ts on how to dog-proof a room.
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Markin’ it up,
Roger Wellington a.k.a. The Doob