Are you preparing to bring home a puppy in the coming weeks and are wondering about the benefits of crate training? Or perhaps you’re starting to wish you’d jumped on the crate training bandwagon sooner, and you’re trying to figure out how to crate train your older dog?
Crate training is sometimes perceived as cruel or unnecessary, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! The use of a crate provides your pup with safety, security, consistency and routine—all key factors for a happy and well-adjusted furry companion.
Most trainers agree that crate training from day one is a must for all puppies for a variety of reasons. But if you missed the boat on crate training in the early days, don’t worry. It’s not too late. Older dogs can be taught to use and even love a crate too. Crates provide owners with peace of mind, keep dogs safe, and aid in training other desired behaviors too.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of crate training and exactly how to crate train your older dog and puppy.
Benefits of crate training
1. Aids in house training your dog
For many, the number one reason for crate training a puppy right away is how much easier it makes house training. Dogs inherently do not want to make a mess in the same space where they are sleeping or spending time.
By putting your dog in a crate at night, when you’re not home, or any time you cannot be actively watching and reacting to their bathroom needs, your dog will quickly learn better bladder and bowel control. They will learn how to let you know when they need to go. Of course, you should be realistic in the length of time your pup can go without a bathroom break to set them up for success.
Read more about how to potty train your puppy in my Guide to the First Day Home with your Puppy
2. Keeps your dog (and home) safe when you’re unavailable
Without a crate, you need to be on top of your puppy constantly to make sure they are safe. Even with the most diligent dog-proofing, your home is full of potential dangers. Things like wires and small objects can quickly turn into serious accidents.
What’s more, without a crate where will your puppy be while you are sleeping or out for a few hours, or even while you are cooking dinner and can’t give your pup your full attention? This is where a crate will really come in handy to provide safety.
Crates also keep your home safe and don’t even give your dog the opportunity to engage in common behavior problems like destructive chewing. By crating your dog, they can’t act out, and when they are out of their crate you can put your attention and all into training them with positive reinforcement. With enough practice and training your dog may not need a crate forever!
3. Gives your dog a mental break
Some young dogs just can’t seem to turn themselves off so to speak. They are bursting with energy and will just go, go, go. This can be problematic because dogs (much like babies and children) can become overtired and will start acting out when they’ve been stimulated or active for too long.
A good friend of mine was in this situation. She couldn’t understand why suddenly her ~1-year-old rescue would start exhibiting negative attention seeking behaviors even when she knew he’d been well exercised, and all of his needs were met. It turned out, this was a dog that needed to be put in a crate and taught how to relax and take some downtime. This helped his behavior tremendously.
There are dogs that even from a young age can check out and take a nap on the floor, but for many dogs, it is a skill that needs to be taught. Giving them time in a crate to calm their bodies down and relax mentally will help them learn.
4. Provides your dog with a safe haven
By introducing a crate into your dog’s life, you are providing them with a safe space and retreat that is always available to them. As your dog becomes familiar with their crate, they will view it as their safe space. Many dogs go into their crates unprompted when they need downtime or feel overwhelmed.
5. Makes traveling with your dog easier
When your dog is used to spending time in their crate, traveling becomes so much easier. Not only will it reduce whining and discomfort in transit if you crate your dog while driving, but it will also help them settle in a new place. My own dogs are often restless when we travel to stay with family or at a rental. By bringing their crates and dog beds, they know their spots and have a much easier time adjusting.
6. Creates routine and predictability in your dog’s day
Crate training your dog can help you avoid issues like separation anxiety and jumping up when you or guests arrive home. When going into their crate is part of the routine every time you leave the house, it helps them know what to expect. Many dogs will go into their crate on their own when they notice you gathering things to leave, or at night around the time that everyone usually heads to bed.
7. Prepares them for unavoidable crating at some point in their life
Another benefit of crate training your dog is preparing them for unavoidable time spent in a crate. This might happen at a groomer, vet, or when traveling. If they are familiar with crates before a situation arises where they need to be in one, it will decrease their anxiety and stress surrounding the experience.
How to crate train your puppy
- Ideally, you want to be prepared to start crate training right away. Have the crate already in place and ready to go for your puppy’s first day and night at home
- Choose a crate that gives your puppy just enough room to turn around and lie down. You do not want them to be able to pee or poop in the crate and lie next to it. To save on money, you can invest in a crate that will fit them through adulthood and partition it by using a large box or plastic bin
- Whenever you put your puppy in their crate, try to use a consistent word or command. This will make it easy to train them to go to their space when necessary
- Be realistic in your expectations, dogs younger than 6 months should not be in their crate for more than 3-4 hours at a time. Puppies will also need lots of attention, stimulation, and exercise before being put into their crates
- Anytime you cannot be giving your puppy direct supervision they should be in their crate
- If they whine in their crate and they have just relieved themselves, do not engage. If it has been 1+ hours since they relieved themselves, take them right out to go potty
- If it is nighttime and your puppy whines, take them immediately outside. Do not engage in play, or even give them much in the way of pets and attention. You want them to quickly learn that you will take them out to pee or poop during the night, but that’s it! Do not use treats or food during the night
- If you have a wire crate, it can be helpful to put a towel over the crate to help them settle at night or during the day
- Never use the crate as a punishment, you do not want to have a negative association with the crate
- Once your dog is reliably asking to go out, you can put a towel, blanket or bed in their crate to make it more comfortable and inviting
- Once your dog is housebroken and well-trained to behave in the house without chewing or acting out, you can allow your dog to use the crate as they please and stop crating them every time you sleep or leave. For us, this happened around the 1-year mark with our lab, but there is a wide range of normal
How to crate train your older dog
In some cases, you may need to train an older dog to use a crate. This might be if you adopt an older dog, or your older dog suddenly starts chewing or exhibiting other unwanted behaviors.
To crate train an older dog you will use a lot of the same strategies as above. Remember to never make the crate a negative space. If your older dog already has a bed, favorite toy, or blanket it will be helpful to put this in their crate with them. With older dogs, you may need to do more positive reinforcement in the way of treats to get them on board with sudden crating.
Just like with a puppy, remember to have realistic expectations. You should only put your dog in their crate after they’ve had adequate exercise and mental stimulation. They should not be expected to be in their crate for extended periods of time, or all day and all night. This might mean hiring a dog walker or changing your schedule.
When older dogs are home without a crate, they can drink water as needed and find sources of stimulation. If you suddenly need to crate them, be aware of their increased and changing needs.
Ready to commit to the crate?
With this guide, you will be well on your way to successful crate training. It is the belief of most trainers and professionals that all puppies should be crate trained. There are so many benefits to crate training your dog.
Beyond that, remember that you can always introduce a crate to an older dog if it becomes necessary-- just keep it positive and realistic.