Skip to Content

How to Crate Train a Rescue Dog in Seven Steps

Black dog, laying in grass in the sunshine

Ice cream was dripping down my arm – a scoop of banana and a scoop of motor oil. I was walking down the boardwalk on a hot summer day, and I had just gotten a sugar cone from my favorite ice cream place ever – George’s in Ocean City Maryland.

I was really enjoying the treat, but I realized pretty quickly that two scoops of ice cream in a sugar cone wasn’t a super great idea because it was dripping all over me. It was a lesson learned.

Humans learn new things all the time.

And so do dogs – especially if their dog parents want to teach them. My hubby and I tend to adopt rescue dogs and it is 100% possible to train them. But learning how to crate training a rescue dog takes a few different techniques than crate training for puppies.

Need to know “How to Crate Train an Older Dog at Night?” click here to learn more.

Crate Training a Rescue Dog

Crate training a rescue dog can be a bit more difficult than a puppy. Puppies haven’t developed habits and because they are so young do not possess a negative attitude towards cages/crates yet.

However, if you have an older dog, they may have developed habits that don’t include being crated or negative feelings because of being caged before. And as I said in an earlier post, that does not mean you cannot crate train them when they are fully grown, but you need to make it an enjoyable experience for it to be successful. Before we get into that, let’s talk about what that means.

What does crate training mean?

Jack Russell Terrier laying halfway in a dog carrier

Crate training is basically using a dog’s natural instincts as den animals.

Den animals love to have their own space because it gives them a place to feel safe and relax instead of fearing predators or nature’s weather conditions. PETMD says “even though den animals like to have an area that’s all theirs, it takes some time getting used to a crate.” Therefore, how you do it is very important.

What is Crate Training for Dogs? Click here to learn more.

Why is crate training important?

Crate training is vital because dogs are not that good with changes in habits so executing proper training right way is very important to solid behavioral change.

Let’s say you buy a really nice crate and open the door, and is a commanding voice say, “Fido! Go inside. Go in your house Fido. Go.” What he will hear: “Fido! Blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah, Fido. Blah.” He needs to have a reason to go in there and want to use proper crate training techniques.

If you pull on his collar and force him inside against his wishes, he will not take to it and you’ll have problems getting your dog trained to a crate.

If you get him in there and lock the door on him, he is going to feel just like you would. He is in jail and that will not help with his behavior.

So, proper crate training technique is vital if you want it to work for you and Fido.

Five Reasons to Crate Train a Dog

Dog Crate isolated on a white background.

1. It gives them a place where they can feel safe, kick back and unwind.

As I stated earlier, dogs are den animals. Having a place of their own appeals to their very own natural instincts, as long as it done with prudence and not as a permanent home.

2. Spares your belongings.

A bored and unattended dog will find something to keep him occupied if he/she has too much time on their paws and jaws and that means chewing on something that you may not have bought as a chew toy.

3. Travel.

White westie laying in a dog carrier on the back seat of a vehicle

Often, dogs are not all that great with new surroundings. There are so many new smells and things that they can be unsure about, so having a place they feel safe in, can make traveling easier on them which translate directly to you.

4. It is going to happen eventually.

As Unleashed Unlimited posted, “At some point in your dog’s life, they are going to be in a crate.  Whether it be at the groomer, at the vets’ office, boarding, at a friend’s home, in a car, or anywhere else, it is going to happen.” So, remember this: it is vital to crate train your dog to make sure that even if you are not a dog owner who crates Fido often, you better get Fido used to so as not to cause him more trauma than need be.

5. It helps with dog introductions.

While you should always introduce new dogs and puppies to dogs in residence in a neutral location, crate training your dog can help to give him a calm place to rest when moving from a one dog family to a two dog family.

What To Do When My Puppy Is Crying During Crate Training? Click here to learn more.

How long can crate training take for an older dog?

Blurred view of a desktop calendar

This is a difficult question to answer. Basically, the equation goes like this.

You + Your Technique + Dog’s Temperament = Amount of time it will take. It can also depend on the health of your older dog. If they have any of the common older dog diseases, then it can take longer.

It can also vary if you are dealing with senior dog dementia in an older dog. In fact, some older dogs with dementia will not be able to be crate trained at all. In this case keeping them in a room with vinyl floors is a good idea when you are away. That way if they do have an accident, it is easy to clean.

Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, let’s try to create the shortest amount of time possible. There are absolutes in this technique to cut down on time that should be followed. Here’s how to crate train a rescue dog at night or when you re away from the house.

7 Simple Steps to Kennel Train a Rescue Dog

Belgian Shepherd laying in an open kennel

Step one

Set the crate up in an area that you and your family spend a lot of time in. Not in an isolated place. Make sure it is large enough for him to stand up and turn around in, but not too big. As I said in a previous post, dogs do not like to do their business where they sleep, but if he has too much room, he just might. Put some very comfortable blankets in there. We want him to enter the crate and immediately feel comfortable, but that of course is going to take time.

Step two

Take Fido for a nice long walk. Get him nice and tired and then return home.

Jack Russell Terrier laying in a dog crate with the crate door open.

Step three

Open the crate and do not say anything about it at all. Dogs are curious and Fido will most likely go in and investigate what it is all about. Probably go in and sniff around. Now, you have him. Run over as fast as you can, lock him in and laugh in a voice as evil as you can muster. Just kidding. Doing so well create an experience he will dislike, (not because of the laugh but because of the quick action and locking him in) and it will take you longer to crate train him. Once he gets in, give him a treat and pet him. Let him know he did something really good.

Step four

Once Fido is out of the cage, place one of his favorite snacks inside right at the door. He’ll go and get it. Maybe apprehensively at first, but most likely since you have not made it a death chamber in his eyes, he will go in and retrieve it. Slowly go over and pet him. Encourage him by telling him how good he is and then let him come out on his own. Once he does, do not congratulate him or give him a snack. Snacks must be reserved for when he goes in.

View of a Corgi with dog bowl and dog toy in a dog crate

Step five

Practice steps three over and over. Place the food further and further from the front door and most likely Fido will plop down on his own and enjoy the new pad. You might even try his favorite bone or chew toy.

Step six

Do not lock the door on him the first few times. When you finally do, do it with nice, encouraging words. Do not leave the room. He will feel immediately abandoned and that will set back the training time. Grab a book and spend some time near the cage so he feels like he is part of what is going on.

Step seven

Do this in increments before making it permanent. Let him get used to the cage and never for any reason, ever use it as a punishment. Also, please remember no matter what, no matter how much he howls or begs, never let him out of the cage once he starts. You will be teaching him that such behavior will gain him his freedom. Wait until he has stopped whining or howling before you let him out.

When you get to this step you can start with first night crate training.

Got a puppy that need to be crated at night? Check out our post “Tips on Crate Training a Puppy at Night “ to learn how.

How to Start Crate Training an Older Dog – Quick Start Tips

Puppy in a dog bed in front of an open dog crate

According to Omlet, when crate training an older dog, one of the most important things to remember is that this process will take time. Older dogs have formed many habits and are used to certain things.

If they have never been crate-trained or have had negative experiences with being left in them for long periods of time by former owners or in shelters, you will have your work cut out for you disassociating those negative emotions for crates, but you can do it. And as they state, “You can do this by making sure they have fun in there!”

1. Play with them inside the crate.
2. Give them snacks inside it.
3. Place toys that they love in there.
4. Be sure to make the ground as comfortable as possible by adding a doggy bed or blankets.
5. If you stick to these simple rules, it will only be a matter of time before they’ll understand it is… a great place, their home, not to be feared.

How to for Crate Training – Video

Here is a really good video provided by Chewy that shows you an easy step by step process to start with.

Crate Training FAQs

When crate training should I cover the crate?

No. It is my personal experience that it is not something that you should do right off the bat or in quick movements. The goal here is to make Fido feel comfortable in it.

Covering it at the onset may have a negative reaction. Your dog craves your affection so covering it right away may make him feel as if he is disconnected from you and what you are doing or dropping on the floor for him to eat. If you would like to cover the crate then do so after these condition have been met.

1. Fido is not in the room.
2. Fido is more than comfortable with his crate and sees it as a home.
3. Cover it in increments. But never with him in it.
4. At first start by just draping it over the back and a bit of the top. Every day try to cover it more and more, but nothing too sudden.
5. Do not force Fido into it if he is not comfortable with the cover.

Now, I will admit that Orvis had a slightly different technique than the one I used, and you can check that out here.

But as Orvis stated, your dog might not like the cover at all so it is important to observe your dog for signs of anxiety because some dogs just will not feel comfortable and if that is the case, then it is better to leave it uncovered.

Warning: If you decide to cover the crate, be sure that you do not cover it with a loose blanket when they are puppies. When puppies are teething and bored, they will chew anything and everything, so it is important to give them chew toys to focus those little choppers on as opposed to a blanket or a cover.

And remember to always remove your dog’s collar when crating them. Collars can get caught on the bars and sometimes they can choke on them if they are unsupervised.

How Long Should You Crate Your Dog?

Red alarm clock on a yellow background

Earlier I talked about what crating means. Now, let’s talk about what it does NOT mean which I believe will answer the questions about how long to crate your dogs. Crate training does not mean training your dog to stay in a confined space for long periods of time.

Yes, they like their space and it is important for them to have it. However, it can lead to stress, depression and eventual dislike of the crate. The crate will not be viewed as a place they want to go, and may encourage them to feel separation issues which can cause barking and destructive behavior.

Besides doing damage to their mental health, it can also cause them serious health issues. According to Doggie Lawn “there’s an increased likelihood that your dog will develop urinary tract infections (UTI) and if they’re left untreated these can lead to urinary stones.” UTIs can be treated with antibiotics like Cephalexin or Clavamox but lasting effects can cause urinary tract cancer and or they may develop incontinence

As Doggie Lawn points out, “smaller and younger dogs need to urinate more often than older, larger dogs. Nonetheless you really should take your dog outside three to five times per day.”

All day is a no-no. Imagine sitting in a cage with nothing to do all day long. Pretty boring right? Hire someone to watch your dog if you are continuously gone all day long.

A dog crate is not a babysitter. If you must go away all day, then set up the crate in a doggy safe place with the door open so he can go in and out if he wants and stretch his legs. Do not forget to add some chew toys, but make sure they are something he will not choke on.

As for puppies, no longer than three hours. Puppies have to have breaks more often and if they do not get them, they may just go right there, leaving you with a very stinky cleanup.

Transitioning Your Dog From Crate to Bed

Cocker spaniel on a dog bed

A lot of dog owners just love to have their favorite pooch in the bed next to them and this can be done only after crate training has been successful and it is going to be long term. Dogs love being around you, so sleeping together is something they enjoy. Putting them in and out of your bed can cause confusion and loneliness.  According to “The House Breaking Bible” you should not try this until a few goals have been achieved.

1. After 6 months old.

2. For destructive or rambunctious dogs, owners should wait a year before starting this training.

3. Your dog has slept in his crate for more 2 months of sleeping peacefully throughout the night. It will help if you move his crate in your room at night for a while so you can watch for bad behavior that you may not want in your bed.

Once you have been successful and feel that you can trust him that he will not ruin your night, take him for a nice walk. Make sure he is tired and running on empty when it comes to waste. Avoid roughhousing or playing in your room. You want him to understand that your room and bed is not a playground. It is a sleeping place. 

And that should do it.

The Bottom Line on Crate Training Older Dogs

Dog crate isolated on a white background.

I hope this helps you with crate training your dog. It can be difficult but if you follow the information I have posted here, your difficulties should be limited. Let’s remember a few things before closing.

  • The crate is not to be used as a doggy sitter.
  • The crate is not to be used as punishment.
  • It is not to be used for long periods of time and will cause mental and physical harm.
  • Slow increments. Nothing forced. Make him want to go in the crate.
  • Only lock the door once he seems comfortable and you have removed his collar.
  • Watch his behavior carefully to see if he suffers from anxiety.  
  • Never let him out if he is whining, howling, barking or begging.
  • Introducing your dog to your bed should only be done if it is
    • long term
    • you’re sure that he is ready for it
  • Adult, older dogs can hold their bladders longer than puppies, but don’t push it.
  • If the crate is a comfortable places that he associates with safety, doggy treats and not a place of punishment or abandon, he will love it and that is the bottom line.

Dog Training Resources:

  • The best dog training course I’ve ever found (and the one that I use for my dogs) is here.
  • If your dog is already well behaved and needs enrichment activities, go here.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.