Dog Crate Types (and When Its a Kennel, Pen, or Cage)

There are many options to safely contain your puppy or dog when they cannot be supervised, but which one is best? This article will discuss what options are available to you and how to choose the best one for your dog or puppy.

dog inside a crate

Pen vs Cage vs Crate vs Kennel?

There are four options to contain your puppy or dog while you are not home; a pen, a crate, a cage, or a kennel. Some of these words are frequently used interchangeably, however, there is a difference between those. 

pen is like a baby’s playpen, there is no top and they are often easily collapsible for storage or for travel. They may be made out of fabric, plastic, or metal and come in a variety of sizes. Pens are best for small breeds of dogs.

crate is a portable box made of plastic, metal, or fabric with a door to contain a puppy or dog. This is what is most commonly used; it is the typical crate that the average family uses day-to-day. Sometimes people refer to crates as cages when referring to the same type of enclosure, though they are quite different. 

cage is also portable and may be similarly structured to a crate, however, these are much smaller than a crate that the average family utilizes. Cages are designed to be stacked on top of each other to house multiple animals, while crates are made to be on the ground, not vertically stacked. Cages are most often found in grooming salons or laboratories that test on animals instead of crates because their smaller size and stacking ability allows more dogs and animals to be housed in a room. Due to its smaller size, a dog should not be housed in a cage on a daily basis. If you are debating crate vs cage, for daily use, it is no contest; your dog needs a crate. 

kennel is not portable and may appear similar to a metal crate, but much larger. Kennels are most often large boxes made of chain link fence for walls with one door and no floor, occasionally with a roof or sometimes with some sort of covering. Kennels setups are most often utilized by people with multiple dogs and land who contain their dogs outdoors, such as dog breeders or dog rescues. Kennels are available with and without tops. If a dog will be outside for an extended period of time, a top that provides shade from the sun and proper accommodations to keep a dog warm in the winter, as well as a constant supply of freshwater, is an essential part of the dog being ethically treated. Keep in mind that dogs are highly social animals who need daily exercise and mental stimulation; a dog cannot live in an outdoor kennel and receive no exercise or attention. Kennels may be set up in basements of residences, however, they are very large and cumbersome to use indoors, so the average family would not utilize a kennel.

Dog Crate Types

There are three options; plastic, metal, or fabric.

Plastic crates consist of two molded plastic pieces that screw together with a metal door on the front. These crates are ideal for daily use. If a dog has an accident, it is contained inside the crate and would not get on the floor around it. Dogs who are anxious appreciate the privacy and security they have in plastic crates; it becomes like their little man cave or a teenager’s bedroom. Plastic crates are a little bulky to store; you would unscrew the molded pieces and stack them onto each other. 

Metal crates are metal grid boxes that are collapsible. Many have two doors, one on the long side and one on the short side, which maximizes your options of where the crate can be positioned in your house. The metal grid-style provides your dog with the ability to see everywhere in the room outside of his crate. The drawback to the metal crate is that if your dog has an accident near aside, it will spill onto the floor as well as around and underneath the crate. Metal crates also do not offer the same privacy and security to dogs that plastic crates do, however, covers may be purchased to help them feel more secure.

Fabric crates are made with canvas fabric and a metal frame that pops and/or snaps into place like a convertible top on a car. These are ideal for travel, not everyday use. Some dogs may attempt to chew their way out to escape, and if determined, they will succeed, so ensure that your dog is in a secure area if you choose this type of crate. 

Crate vs Pen, Which Should I Use For My Dog?

This is a personal preference, however, the biggest determining factor will be the size and personality of a dog. A pen is best for toy breeds of dogs and crates are best for dogs over twenty pounds. 

A dog who is bouncy and or large is highly likely to attempt to escape the pen at their first opportunity when they realize there is no roof. The larger the dog, the greater the potential for an accident to occur resulting in their suffering an injury from attempting to escape. 

Can A Dog Crate Be Too Small?

Yes, a dog crate can be too small. A dog should be able to stand up and move around in a circle to get themselves comfortable to lay down. If they cannot stand up or turn around, they will be incredibly uncomfortable and become stiff quickly.

Can A Dog Crate Be Too Big?

There are two schools of thought on this topic:

Many dog owners purchase a crate a size bigger than their dog needs to allow them enough space to get comfortable. 

Other dog owners believe that if a crate is too big, the dog will use one end of the crate to relieve themselves and sleep on the other end. Some dogs will do this, but others will not. 

When selecting a crate like goldilocks selecting a chair and bowl of porridge, consider your dog’s personality, behavior, and house training when making this decision.

Dog's eyes

Maximizing Your Investment

To maximize your investment in a crate when shopping for your puppy’s first crate, look for a dog crate that grows with the puppy. Some metal crates come with a divider that can be used to help create a smaller sized crate when the puppy is small, and that may be moved to allow for more room as they grow. This will prevent you from having to purchase another crate when they get older. Crates with dividers are also cost-efficient and space-efficient for owners of two dogs who need to be crated separately. Plastic and fabric crates do not have the ability to install dividers, so a metal crate would be the only option.

How Do I Crate Train My Puppy Or Dog?

Here are some simple steps to help crate train your puppy or dog:

  • Begin by setting up the crate in the location where you want it to remain long term.
  • Next, make it appealing by putting in cozy blankets, fun toys, and yummy treats. 
  • Leave the crate door open to allow your puppy or dog the freedom to explore the crate.
  • After they have had a few hours to get used to the crate being in their space, put a treat inside the crate and say “get in your bed” and point inside the crate. Your dog should go in. If they do, give them another treat and shut the door. 
  • Leave the house for fifteen to thirty minutes and return. You’ll want this first crate experience to be short and sweet to ensure the dog does not associate negative things with the crate.
  • The next day, slightly increase the time, then the next day slightly increases the time again. 
  • Always take your puppy or dog outside to relieve themselves right before they are crated to prevent an accident.
  • Never use their crate as punishment or they will associate the crate with bad things and not want to use it.
  • Make sure that your family and friends know that your dog’s crate is his space; no one can go in with him or pull him out, and when he goes into his crate his decision to be alone in his crate should be respected.

How Do I Keep My Puppy or Dog Safe In Their Crate?

All puppy and dog owners should consider the following safety tips when crating their pet:

  • Never crate a dog before removing their collar or harness. Dogs may hook their collar or harness on the crate and injure themselves or suffocate. 
  • Never crate a dog with toys that they could destroy and eat. Kong toys are safe to a crate, but a stuffed toy that could be unstuffed and eaten could result in a painful experience and expensive veterinary bills.
  • Do not put a crate too close to a window or in direct sunlight to help your dog maintain good body temperature. A crate should not be used outside; dogs may suffer from heatstroke or freeze to death depending on the weather conditions.

How Do I Keep My Puppy Or Dog Comfortable In Their Crate?

Here are some tips to keep your pet comfortable in their crate:

  • Use a mattress style orthopedic dog bed and put a blanket on top. You may add as many layers as you like, “princess and the pea” style, as long as your dog still has enough room to stand. If your dog has separation anxiety, use the blanket yourself before putting it in so it will smell like you and bring them comfort. 
  • Purchase a Kong toy and fill it with dog biscuits to entertain your pet while crated. Should you choose to add peanut butter, be sure to check the label to ensure there are no sweeteners that could be toxic to your dog.
  • Play classical music or calming nature sounds. Alternatively, some dogs may enjoy the TV being left on. Creating background noise will reduce your dog’s ability to hear things that he may feel the need to bark at, decreasing the chance your neighbors would get annoyed and report your dog barking excessively to the police.
  • Use dim lights and close curtains to keep the room slightly dark, which will help your dog remain calm and encourage him to rest.

How Long Can My Puppy Or Dog Be Crated?

Consider that puppies and dogs are living, breathing creatures, not stuffed animals, who have daily needs that must be met just like humans do. Puppies and dogs need to get physical exercise, mental stimulation, affection, proper meals, and relieve themselves multiple times a day. 

For example, a large to a medium-sized dog can probably hold their bladder for approximately six hours depending on their health. 

Someone who works an eight-hour shift should use their lunch break in the middle of their shift to run home and take their dog outside to relieve themselves and stretch their legs. 

A dog should not be crated an entire day or even twelve hours; if an owner will be away from the home for such an extended period of time, the services of a dog walker are necessary. 

Dogs crated for extended periods of time, such as in excess of six hours, may have an accident in their crate and become stiff from being unable to stretch and move around. Dogs who have arthritis or joint problems should be crated for minimal amounts of time, as this could exacerbate their medical conditions.

Is Crating My Dog All Day Bad?

This is a loaded question; the answer is yes and no. 

No, it is not bad to crate a dog while you are at work or going out. 

Yes, it is bad to crate a dog constantly for consecutive hours on end, such as an extended period of time like twelve hours. Crating a dog for more hours than they are out of their crate on a regular basis is not good for them mentally, emotionally, or physically. Dogs are not hamsters; they were not created to live in crates. 

If an emergency occurs and you have no choice and it is a one time or super rare event that will not cause long term harm to your puppy or dog, however, doing so daily or multiple times a week is not healthy for your pet. 

man and dog silhouette

Can All Dogs And Puppies Be Crated?

No, not all dogs and puppies can be crated. Some dogs suffer from very extreme anxiety related to crating, often as a result of abuse or simply general anxiety, which would result in them injuring themselves frantically attempting to escape the crate. For example, a dog who is severely anxious to escape a crate might try to chew the door and hook their jaw into the metal grid, dislocating their jaw in an attempt to escape.

If you are unsure if your dog will tolerate being crated, do small tests and set up a camera to monitor your dog’s reaction when you leave home rather than crating them for an extended period of time without ensuring he is able to handle it. 

If your dog cannot tolerate being crated, consider puppy proofing a room and using that as his dedicated space for when he must be home alone.

Should I Crate My Puppy or Dog?

It is recommended that you crate your puppy or dog for the following reasons:

  • It is safer for your dog to be crated if no one is home with her; by containing her in a small safe space, it prevents her from falling and injuring herself or from eating something that could be harmful to her. 
  • If the police break into your home to execute a search warrant or for some other reason, they may shoot a dog who charges at them. A dog in a crate is not considered an active threat.
  • If a burglar breaks into your house, they may harm your dog if your dog charges at them. 
  • If your dog likes marking his territory in a certain area of the house, containing him while you are gone prevents him from taking the opportunity to relieve himself there in your absence. 
  • If your dog recently suffered an injury, crating her will force her to rest. Keep in mind that she may get a lot of pent up energy from being crated for long periods of time, and owners should be prepared to offer mental stimulation in low key activities like training to channel that energy.
  • If you have a small dog who could be easily trampled underfoot or any size dog who takes every opportunity to run out of an open door, a crate is helpful when a party is hosted and there are many house guests who might not pay attention and step on a small dog or inadvertently allow a larger dog to run out of the house.

Closing Considerations

While crates are an excellent solution to keep your dog safe in your absence, keep in mind that dogs are not meant to live in a crate or kennel constantly like a hamster. Dogs are very social animals with intelligence comparable to human toddlers; they are meant to be an active member of your family and they will enrich your life beyond your comprehension. You can look for the right one here.

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