Dog Crate Buying Guide: 2018 Edition

A large black dane dog laying on a couch

Dog Crates Are An Important & Popular Tool

While not everyone may be a fan of dog crates, it’s impossible to deny their popularity and with good reason! Dog crates come in a wide variety of styles offering different features and serving different functions, all designed to make your dogs life a little easier, safer and comfortable – serving as your dog’s bedroom, favorite hangout spot and personal refuge.

Introducing Your Dog to its New Crate

A dog’s crate should always be reserved as a safe, calm and happy space for your dog and never be treated as a punishment. As with all forms of behavior modification, if your dog displays any sign of fear, resistance or aggression towards the crate, consider changing your approach to introducing the tool.  As a rule, you never want a dog to become more aware of any stimuli it is resistant or hostile towards. Instead focus your efforts on convincing your dog that its new crate is a pleasant and inviting space – or at a minimum, one that they don’t mind being in. Avoid closing the crate door when your dog is first introduced it, as this may exaggerate any fears of confinement and potentially make your dog feel trapped. Instead, when first introducing the crate make it a point to spend time near your dog with the gate open, liberally giving your dog treats and praise to help reassure your dog that this is their new happy space.

Every dog is different, some are more food motivated, others have attachment items such as a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket that can help make the new association a more positive experience. We recommend trying a multi-pronged approach when introducing your dog to its new home away from home and generally speaking, try to make the experience as overwhelming pleasant as possible. Always reward your dog with praise when they use their crate on their own.

How to Pick the Right Dog Crate

There are a lot of different dog crates on the market. Without narrowing the field, it can be a little overwhelming. We recommend narrowing the field by starting with the crate’s basic function or primary purpose. Before selecting a dog crate ask yourself, “How will I actually use this?”. Typically answering that question will make the required feature set and optimal design obvious. Some crates are designed are multifunction hybrids, serving multiple purposes all in one. But most dog owners who begin crating their dog quickly realize the benefits of owning multiple crates that service unique and specialized functions.

Training Dog Crates

Dog crates can be a versatile training tool – providing dog owners with both positive (adding a stimuli) and negative (removing a stimuli) reinforcement methods. How a dog crate is successfully used in training can vary greatly from dog to dog and can even change as your dog’s relationship with their crate evolves. Many dog owners have found dog crates to be especially useful when calming overly excited pups, accelerating litter training, preventing begging while human family members are eating and improving a wide range of other canine behaviors. Dogs, even puppies, are hardwired instinctually to not soil or mark while inside a crate (many behaviorists and vets theorize this is due to a crate’s similarities to a brood den).

Containment Dog Crates

There are many reasons you might need to contain your dog to a crate. Even if you let your dog roam freely throughout your home there are times when containing your dog is unavoidable. Having a crate ready-to-go – especially in unexpected or emergency situations – can be a real blessing. For other dogs, containment is just a regular aspect of their day-to-day life with them spending time confined to their crate while their owner is at work or asleep. While it is ok to crate your dog often and regularly, be careful to never crate your dog for too long. Dogs that are left inside of crates for too long without human interaction and exercise often become depressed, anxious and irritable. Never leave a puppy in a crate for longer than 3 hours at a time as they often have small bladders and simply can’t hold their waste that long.

Ease Transitions & Introductions

We work with many rescue and foster groups at the Puptrait Studio. Every single one of these groups recommends a 2 week shut down period when introducing a dog to a new home. The shut down period is a simple, but effective technique that starts by isolating the dog to their crate and then slowly introducing them to additional rooms and areas of their new home. The idea being by slowing introductions you are making it easier for your dog to adapt and process their new environment without risking them being overwhelmed.

Reduce Stress & Anxiety

While certainly not the only approach to improving a dog’s anxiety, giving your dog a safe and comforting space to hideout in can be a great comfort. Whether your dog is scared of thunder storms, the sound of nearby construction, or simply suffers from separation anxiety whenever left alone, the comfort of a crate can be a reliable low cost and non-pharmaceutical alternative to other treatment methods.

Minimize Destructive Habits

Most dogs love chewing on things. Some dogs, especially younger dogs and puppies, don’t always have an easy time determining what is safe to chew and what isn’t. While nothing is a substitute for constant and dedicated supervision, a crate can be an easy and stress free way for your dog to be limited to playing with more appropriate toys and chews when left unattended. This is an especially useful technique for people with puppies who find themselves often waking to chewed shoes, purses or furniture.

Injuries & Post Surgery Care

In instances where your dog has received surgery or injured itself, a crate can make it much easier to limit your dogs mobility and reduce the risk of re-injuring a healing wound. This is especially true for moments when you may be unable to directly monitor your dog (ie. while sleeping, running errands, showering, etc.) and in instances where another pet (especially puppies) or younger family member might not be able to understand that your injured or sick dog might not be up for more physical or aggressive play.

Transport Dog Crates

Traveling with your dog can be an amazing experience. But if you don’t plan accordingly, it can be more stressful than it needs to be – both for you and your dog. Bringing a dog crate checks a lot of boxes on most trip check lists. A travel crate is required by most airlines before they will allow passengers to bring their non-service animal pets aboard, regardless of whether your dog is traveling in the cabin or in the cargo hold. It can help minimize a dogs stress and anxiety by providing them with a familiar and comforting piece of home with them regardless of where their adventures might take them. And if you must venture outside of your hotel room without your dog, a crate can be a great to help prevent your dog from accidentally racking up a serious bill at the mini bar.

PRO TRAVELING TIP: There are 65 Kimpton Hotels spread out in cities across the United States of America. All Kimpton Hotels are dog friendly and they welcome dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes. Seriously – we photographed a 125 lb Pit Bull / Mastiff mix foster at the Hotel Monaco Baltimore for a product shoot and they didn’t even blink when we walked her in.

5 Safety Tips for Traveling in a Car with a Dog Crate:
  1. Leave plenty of space around your dog’s crate at all times.
  2. Make sure fresh air can easily flow in and around your dog’s crate.
  3. Securely attach the crate to the floor or buckle it snuggly into a seat.
  4. Check all locks and latches to make sure your dog remains safe and secure in their crate.
  5. NEVER leave your dog in a parked car unattended. Even with the windows open, a parked car can heat up to extreme temperatures quickly.

Flying with Your Dog? Keep IATA Compliant

Most commercial airlines require that all dogs be transported in an International Air Transport Association (IATA) compliant pet crate.

Minimum IATA Requirements:
  • Must be large enough for the animal(s) to stand, turn around and lie down in.
  • Must be made of a sturdy plastic.
  • Must have a secure, spring loaded, all around locking system with the pins extending beyond the horizontal extrusions above and below the door.
  • Must have both water and food bowls attached to the inside of the front door and be refillable from the outside without opening the door.
  • Must have ventilation on all sides for international travel and 3 sides for domestic travel.
  • Must have “Live Animal” stickers on the top and sides in letters at least 1″ tall.
  • Wheels must be removed or taped securely to prevent rolling.
  • Must be identified with the pet’s name and the owner’s contact information.

Choosing the Right Size Dog Crate

It is not unusual for a dog to spend a few hours in a dog crate at a time. Size can be an important factor to consider when selecting a dog crate to help ensure your dogs comfort. You want to find a crate large enough that there is plenty of ventilation, the dog can turn around comfortably while standing (roughly 3 – 4 inches above their standing head height) and still feel protected. But you don’t want to purchase a crate so small that your dog feels trapped or a crate so huge that it no longer feels like a den. In metaphorical terms, you’re looking for a comfort blanket, not a straight jacket or a tent – something snug enough that they know it’s there, but not constraining.

Which is Better – Wire or Plastic Crates?

A lot of dog owners swear by metal wire crates, as they allow maximum air flow, are collapsable and in turn are easier to store and move (especially in larger sizes). That said, personally I’ve always preferred hard plastic dog crates. Plastic dog crates provide enough air flow that dogs can breathe easy enough, but they also do a fair job retaining heat and providing a comfier, more snuggly environment than their wire counterparts. A plastic crate is also less likely to rust or have hard edges that might catch a dog’s toe nails or collar. But at the end of the day it all really just comes down to personal preference and even then, those aren’t your only two material options. There are a number of fantastic designer crates on the market made from wood and other fine materials, that look more like furniture than dog products.

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