How to Crate Train an Adult Dog

Many people believe that adult dogs are harder to train than puppies. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” we say.

However, adult dogs are often easier to train than puppies because they have more self-control (and maybe a little bit less crazy energy, too). They’re typically more mentally mature than puppies, and have a longer attention span.

Crate training can be an arduous process, but as long as you have some patience and control, you shouldn’t face any major issues. This article discusses how to crate train an adult dog for the first time in five easy-to-follow steps. 

Step 1: Use an Appropriately Sized Crate 

When crate training your adult dog, make sure it’s large enough for your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around in. Also, don’t forget to place some blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, and anything else in the crate to make the space warm and cozy. You want the crate to be associated with positive feelings.

According to Petco, the right crate size according to the dog’s weight is as follows: 

  • XS: less than 20 pounds 
  • S: 20-30 pounds 
  • M: 30-40 pounds 
  • L:  40-70 pounds 
  • XL: 70-90 pounds 
  • 2XL: Over 90 pounds 

Like Goldilocks, you also don’t want the crate to be too big, either. If dogs have too much room, they might make a mess at one end and then sleep at the other end. Make sure they have enough room to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down, but not an excess of space.

Step 2: Introduce the Crate 

Place the crate in an area where your family spends a lot of time, like the living room or the kitchen. This way, your dog won’t feel alienated or abandoned when left alone in the crate early on.

Dogs are naturally curious creatures, so your dog will likely explore the crate at their own leisure. However, it’s always best to “formally” introduce him or her to the crate so they’ll acknowledge its existence and understand that it’s their own space.

Step 3: Build Positive Associations

Before putting your dog in the crate, let them get acquainted with it. If you lock your dog in without prior warning, they might think they’re being punished. This is the complete opposite of what you want. 

You also don’t want to yell at them, push them into the crate, or punish them if they show hesitancy or anxiety in any of the following steps. This will only make them more hesitant to go in the crate. You’re in it for the long haul so take your time in building up your dog’s familiarity and comfort with the crate.

Start building positive associations by placing some of your dog’s favorite treats or toys near or just inside the crate. Whenever your dog goes near the crate to retrieve one or the other, praise them in a happy, excited voice. Eventually, your dog will realize the crate is a place where good things happen and therefore shouldn’t be feared.

Step 4: Close the Crate (Briefly!)

Eventually, your dog will get used to the crate’s presence. As long as you keep feeding or rewarding your pup near the crate, he or she will understand that it’s here to stay. 

After several days of desensitization, your dog should be comfortable with being fully in the crate, such as to retrieve a treat or toy at the back of the crate. If so, try briefly closing the crate door for a few seconds. Then praise your dog, and open the door.

Repeat this a few more times, allowing the dog to leave or stop practicing if they choose to.

Step 5: Continue the Process

If this goes well, you can continue over the course of several days and close them in the crate (with you nearby!) for a few minutes longer each time. There’s not a hard and fast rule here, as each dog has a different comfort level with change and separation. Only increase the crate time within a time limit that your dog is happy with. Again, positive associations are key.

Be sure to praise your dog each time. You’ll also want to make sure that they are fed beforehand, and have other needs taken care of, such as going to the bathroom or needing a walk.

Then, you can start leaving the room for short periods before returning back. Repeat this process several times a day, gradually increasing the length of time your pup in the crate while you’re out of sight. 

When your dog spends 30 minutes to an hour without becoming anxious or agitated, you can start leaving them in the crate when it’s time for bed or when you leave the house. Again, just make sure that other needs (food, bathroom, water, exercise) are taken care of so that they’re comfortable in the crate.

Conclusion

To successfully crate train your dog, you must take your time and slowly help your dog associate the crate with positive feelings. This means you need to lead with a “carrot” and not a “stick”. In other words, use praise, treats, and make sure the crate is a comfortable, safe place to rest.

Don’t push them (literally or figuratively), yell, or punish them. While you’re no doubt eager to get your adult dog crate trained as soon as possible, this is a long term investment in both your happiness and your pup’s happiness. So take your time, and good luck!

PuppyLists is written by J., who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 14 year old Lab mix.