How to Choose The Best Crate For Your Dog

by TerryMcNamee

A dog crate can be a bed, a refuge and protection for a dog. It's something no dog owner should be without. When travelling with a dog, a crate keeps him safe.

By Terry McNamee © 2013

Many decades ago, dog crates were literally wooden “crates” used primarily to transport dogs to shows, to a kennel for breeding or to a new owner. Often the dogs travelled by rail. These crates were heavy and awkward to handle, and often had poor ventilation. When airplanes came into use, collapsible wire crates were created for shipping dogs They were popular because they were much lighter in weight and offered good air circulation. Years later, fibreglass and then plastic crates were invented. Fibreglass is no longer used for safety reasons, but today many types of plastic crates are available. Most have a top that can be removed for storage or to make the bottom section into an open dog bed.

Use a Crate When Travelling with a Dog

There are different reasons for using a dog crate. The most important is for transporting a dog in a car or other vehicle. If the vehicle is in an accident or rolls over, the dog is protected inside his crate. The crate keeps him from escaping into traffic, keeps him from being struck by debris and also ensures he doesn’t try to keep rescuers from helping or rescuing injured people inside the vehicle. The crate is a protective shield that can save him from the force of the impact. A canine seat belt cannot protect him the way a crate can.

A crate used for travel needs to be just barely big enough for the dog to turn around in and low enough to allow him to stand but not raise his head too high. This encourages him to remain lying down and keeps him from bouncing around inside it during a collision or a skid. It can be wire, metal or plastic, but two things need to be checked. A travel crate should have a secure door latch that will not pop open if the crate containing the dog is thrown from a vehicle during an accident. It also needs to be strong. Have an adult sit on it. If it bends (and this is especially important when testing plastic crates), it’s not strong enough to use as a travel crate. Even a small crate for a little dog must be sturdy.

If it is plastic, it must have either metal nuts and bolts or a very strong latch system holding the two halves together. It must be tough enough to not break apart accidentally. If you are shipping a dog by air, you must use an airline-approved crate.

A wire crate should have a tight enough weave to keep the dog from extending his paws or nose out through the bars. This also keeps large pieces of debris from coming into the crate during an accident.

The two kinds of travel crates that I have used in my vehicles for years are plastic VariKennels and a Kennel-Aire wire crate. Both are so strong that a man can stand on them. Strength is essential in a travel crate! I heard of an accident once where two Kennel-Aire crates actually were sent bouncing down the highway as a result of a vehicle rollover. The dogs were bruised up, but they were not seriously hurt, and neither crate bent out of shape, collapsed or came open. That is how strong your travel crates need to be.

A champion Toller relaxing at a dog show.
A champion Toller relaxing at a dog show.
Photo © Terry McNamee

Dog Crates Can Be Bigger for Indoor Use

When using a crate to help housebreak a dog, use a small crate as described above so the dog will ask to be let out rather than soiling its bed. If the crate is too big, the dog will just use one end as a bathroom, negating the whole idea of using the crate as a housebreaking tool. However, once the dog is reliably housebroken, he can use a bigger crate.

A house crate need not be as sturdy as a crate used for travelling. Once the dog is housebroken, he should have a crate that is big enough for him to stand in easily and for him to lie on his side with his legs stretched out comfortably. My house dog crates are a size larger than what I use for travel.

A house crate can be wire, metal, wood or plastic. Many plastic crates have the advantage of coming in designer colours, and they have removable doors so the dog can use the crate as a refuge when he wants some peace and quiet. You can always put the door back on if needed.

Plastic crates are also easy to keep clean, especially if the floors are smooth and flat instead of indented for stacking on other crates. Some dogs prefer the openness of a wire crate, while others want the privacy of a plastic one. Plastic crates have the advantage of keeping drafts off the dog at floor level, and they don't need a tray or floor inside.

Most dogs generally like crates when properly introduced to them, since they simulate the confined quarters of a den. A dog bed or blanket put inside the crate transforms it into a cozy home.

If you have children, make a rule that the dog cannot be played with or disturbed when in his crate, because that is his special place where he can go when he wants some quiet time.

Time for an afternoon nap.
Time for an afternoon nap.
Photo © Terry McNamee 2013

There are now lightweight, fabric crates available that are very easy to fold up and carry. These are intended for short-term, temporary use, such as visiting a friend, going to the beach, taking to dog obedience classes, and so on, and should only be used by dogs that are already fully crate trained.

The dog must be supervised when using one of these, because he can chew or force his way out if he really wants to escape, but these crates can be useful to have on hand.

A fabric crate.
A fabric crate.
Wikimedia Commons
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Why I Use a Crate In My Home

All of my dogs have slept in their crates at night, with the crate doors shut. I was very thankful that I had established this as a normal practice one night a few years ago.

During the middle of the night, there was a very bad electrical storm, and the rain was coming down in torrents. At 3 a.m., my house was hit by lightning. The boom rattled the entire house, and everything lit up with a blinding flash. The strike destroyed the chimney and part of the roof and even took out a baseboard near the chimney in one bedroom. The phone was out, so I used my cell phone to call the fire department, and we all got out of the house immediately.

My two dogs went nuts when the lightning hit, since the chimney was right next to the wall between the kitchen and the room where they were kenneled. Since they were safely in their crates with leashes right next to the crates, where I always kept them, I was able to get them leashed and out the door to safety immediately.

We were lucky. It was raining so hard, there was no fire. What if there had been? If my dogs had been loose in the house instead of in their crates, they probably would have bolted and hidden somewhere, and I might not have been able to get them out of the house in time.

Other Times to Use a Dog Crate Indoors

When I bath my dog, she is always damp even after towelling, so I put several clean towels in her crate and put her in there with a biscuit for half an hour or so to dry off. I do the same if she's been out in the rain or snow and gotten very wet. It really saves having wet dog pawprints on everything!

If I have to have an outside door open for some reason for an extended period of time (such as having repairmen traipsing in and out), she goes in her crate. I live just half a block from a busy four-lane road, and if she got out unnoticed, she could easily get hit by a car or truck. This way, I take no chances with her safety.

Most of my visitors are fine with dogs, but occasionally one will be nervous or fearful. Again, if she can't go outside for the time the visitor is here, she goes in her crate.

Why is she happy to be crated? Because she always, without fail, gets a treat when she goes in. The only time she gets these particular treats is when she is put in her crate. When bedtime comes, she asks to go to bed!

Updated: 05/13/2013, TerryMcNamee
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