Have you ever heard people say that you can’t teach an old dog a new trick? Don’t believe them! When it comes to crate training, success is not determined by the age of your dog; rather, it is created through a steady, trust-building process. The good news is that dogs are genetically hardwired as den animals, which is a basic instinct that does not diminish with time. In the wild, the den is a place that is generally just big enough for a dog to stand and turn around. This small environment is the perfect size for a dog to rest, avoid danger, and have puppies. A crate can fulfill your dog’s instinctual need for a den and be a great tool to both house-train Fido and keep him safe when he travels.
A crate itself is not a magic bullet. Simply purchasing and opening the door does not create an automatic den experience for your pup. Regardless as to the age of your dog, the key to making a crate your dog’s home is creating a positive experience for your best friend. The crate should always be associated with pleasant experiences so your dog will learn to identify it as a safe place to rest.
Okay…so how do you create the den experience? First you need to purchase an appropriately sized crate. It should be just large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around. If you have a puppy, you should purchase a crate large enough for your puppy to grow into. But until he grows, use a crate separator to reduce the living space inside. More room is not better. If there is space where your pup is not resting, he will use it as a place to eliminate.
Crate training should always be processed in a series of incremental steps with plenty of positive verbal reinforcement and treats. When introducing the crate, keep the door open and place a few treats inside. You may want to start with a treat at the front of the crate and progressively move them to the rear as your pet acclimates to being inside. When you feed your dog, place the bowl in the opening of the crate and progressively move it further inside. As your dog begins to eat inside the crate, slowly close the door and remain close by, giving positive reinforcement. Throughout the process, provide praise and rewards each time your dog successfully enters and stays in the crate. Once you are able to close the door, begin to introduce the process of shutting the crate and leaving. Start this process with a very short duration and gradually increase the time your pet stays inside by himself. Slowly, you are reinforcing that the crate is a place not to be feared but rather a place where your dog can find instinctual comfort.
Please note: Never crate your pet for too long. Puppies under the age of six months should not be crated for more than three hours. Dogs confined for extended periods of time are not getting the proper amount of exercise and can become depressed or anxious.
If you follow the steps outlined above, you will be able to happily and successfully crate train your dog. Remember – it is never too late to teach an old dog a new trick. Happy training!