Crate-training is easiest in puppyhood, but at times it’s both necessary and feasible to train an adult dog to rest calmly in a crate. It’s important to note, though, that not all dogs can be crate trained. Some will panic and can hurt themselves.
It’s possible to create the panic problem by how crate-training is attempted. If the puppy or dog gets the idea that making a fuss will cause you to come to the rescue, you can accidentally create a dog who becomes hysterical when confined to a crate, a dangerous situation for the dog.
But most dogs can be crate-trained, especially when it's not a crisis and you can take your time. Plus, with a mature dog who is not a chewer, you can put bedding in the crate and make it a cozy place to sleep. That's often unwise with chewing pups or young dogs who will chew and possibly swallow bedding.
Evaluate your mature, non-chewing dog as to whether you’ll best use cool bedding or warm bedding. Blankets can be too hot under furry dogs. Cold-natured dogs, on the other hand, need warmer bedding. So customize that aspect for your dog’s body. Ideally, you want your dog friend to like the bedding enough to go in there for a nap with the door open.
Then, with the crate door open, start giving your dog treats in the crate, feeding some meals in there, and generally making it positive and pleasant. Never overdo the length of time a dog is in a crate. While you might be able to regain the dog’s trust with a slow process of building up from short times again, some dogs will never forget.
The length of time to continue work on positive conditioning to the crate with the door open will vary according to your dog’s history and how your dog feels about the crate. Take it slowly.
As the dog gets completely happy about the crate with the door open, start closing the door briefly with the same pleasant things going on. Build the time gradually, staying in the room. Next, start leaving the room for short periods. Then gradually lengthen the periods of time you are gone.
Eventually you'll be up to the time periods you need. Eight hours is the top limit for crating at any one time. A dog who can sleep 8 hours in a crate cannot necessarily go 8 hours at other times. During sleep, the dog’s body quiets bowels and bladder. When the dog wakes up, the body has to compensate for having held this waste.
If your dog can’t handle the crate for some reason, often a small area of the house works equally well. Another option is to use baby-gates to keep the dog out of certain sensitive areas of the house. You may need to do this while conditioning the dog to the crate, since you would ruin the conditioning by suddenly leaving the dog in the crate for longer than the time you’ve conditioned.
Other options for managing your dog until the training is complete would be doggy day care or day boarding with your veterinarian. You might also be able to find a friend, relative, neighbor or professional to dog-sit while you’re out.
Managing a dog is an interesting and creative activity! Dogs change, our circumstances change, and we often have to rethink what “always worked before” but now doesn’t. Communicate with your veterinarian to stay aware of any issues that affect your dog’s ability to cope with crating or with the current schedule. Various medications, medical conditions, and body changes with age can mean a dog simply can’t handle what worked fine when the dog was younger.
Dogs differ, too, in their temperaments, ability to hold bowels and bladder, past experiences, and many other factors that affect crating. What one dog takes in stride can be just too much for another dog.
The ability to rest calmly in a crate has saved dogs’ lives during crisis times. If you have to cope with a situation such as evacuating in an emergency or keeping your dog on restricted activity for several weeks after an orthopedic surgery, crate-training can make a huge difference in how the dog will do. Be sure to allow plenty of time for your dog to learn to feel safe, secure, and comfortable in a crate.