Dog Kennel Guide: Finding The Best Dog Crates
Cages, crates, kennels… none of these terms sound very cozy or homey to dog parents. It can be tough to wrap your head around keeping your beloved canine in something called a crate or cage. But to your dog, the cage, crate or kennel you choose may readily become the equivalent of their “room” – your dog’s personal safe space. For our purposes, we’re really just looking at the best dog crates.
That being said, since there is no getting around the “cage versus crate versus kennel” debate, you can know that for the purposes of our guide, we use these words interchangeably. There is a learning curve involved with choosing the right personal space for your dog at home, when traveling, as a puppy and in transitioning to adulthood. We’re going to try to make this a little simpler for dog owners to get the right cage for you.
Dog Crate, Dog Cage or Dog Kennel?
Call it what you like… people use them all interchangeably.
Way back in the beginning (aka when modern pet supplies were first invented), it is likely the “cage” was typically made of wire and was designed to fold or collapse for travel and storage. It is equally likely that the “crate” was made of plastic or wood and was not designed to be portable.
But today, the terms tend to be used pretty much interchangeably, as do the specifications.
We could just call them “dog homes” and eradicate the confusion. This would come in especially handy since in most cases, the use of cage versus crate versus kennel is born of marketing and branding goals rather than form or functionality.
So from here forward as you research, know that substituting a phrase like “best dog home” or “best dog enclosures” for will likely yield the same results kennel, crate and cage.
Best Dog Crates: Characteristics To Look For
These are the things you should look for in any dog crate you are considering purchasing.
When you begin shopping, it won’t take you very long to notice there is a lot of variations between different makes and models of crates, kennels and cages.
Here again, remember that much of the variation you will see often has to do with brands trying to differentiate themselves from other brands rather than a true difference in form or function. Avoid getting caught up in these, as you may miss the most important criteria for choosing the very best dog cage for your dog.
Qualities to look for when finding the best dog cage for your dog:
Dog Crate Safety
Safety is so huge in terms of importance to both you and your dog that it has to be mentioned first.
The best dog cage for your dog will be a place your dog will come to recognize and trust – a place of shelter and rest. You want to make sure it can hold up its end of the deal.
So look for each of the following safety attributes:
- Structural Safety:
Make sure the structure is sound. Just as you hope the roof of your home will never randomly fall down on you, you want to be sure your dog’s crate or cage won’t suddenly collapse and cause your dog injury or make him forevermore terrified of being in a crate.
- Materials Safety:
Make sure the materials used for the crate itself and its fixtures and fastenings are safe for dogs. Remember your dog may chew on the enclosure. Will the material withstand robust chewing? If pieces break off, will they harm your dog in any way? Is the enclosure material food-grade and non-toxic? Are there any moving parts your dog may be able to pry loose and swallow?
- Travel Safety:
If you are selecting a cage or crate for use in the car and/or for staying out of town, you want to be sure it will a) hold up in case of a vehicle crash or accident, and b) keep your dog contained and secure when you are in new places. You will also want to adjust the crate size for travel so there is less likelihood of injury to your dog from being thrown suddenly in the event a car accident occurs. If you’re using a plastic crate, seeing if it meets the IATA’s standards for airline shipping is a good idea to get a good baseline starting point.
You definitely don’t want to give a
new puppy a ton of extra space in his crate, but
it looks like this husky puppy might be
ready for the next size up.
Find The Right Size
Kennel For Your Dog
Just as there is no single “best” crate for all puppies and dogs, so too there is no one size that will adequately fit all puppies and dogs. In other words, clearly, a larger dog will require a larger crate.
If you want to know the bare minimum size you should even consider keeping your dog in calculate the proper crate size through doing a little bit of math. Your dog should be able to stand up to full height and turn around fully inside the crate with comfort – this is a must.
- Use Reason:
Measure your dog’s height (from bottom of the foot pads to top of the crown of the head). Add 2 inches to your dog’s height for a travel crate and up to 6 inches for a regular crate.
Measure your dog’s length (from tip of the nose to end of the hind quarters). Add 2 inches to your dog’s length for a travel crate and about 6 inches for a regular crate.
If you have a choice between “the next size up” crate and a size that is just shy of being cramped, you will need to use your best judgment. But many dog experts cite the wolf den example as a reason to go smaller if you have a choice. The sense of close quarters is part of what creates the feeling of safety in the wild.
- Size up:
Remember, if you are choosing a crate for a growing puppy who is likely to achieve full-grown size in fairly short order, it can be a wiser choice both financially and fit-wise to size up so you only have to buy a crate once. This holds especially true if your pup is already largely or fully housebroken. Like we mentioned earlier, Midwest Pet Productsare some of the best crates for dogs in this regard because they come with a divider panel.
Finally, in most cases, a larger crate will also be a heavier crate. So you will absolutely want to know you can lift and manage your dog’s crate on your own if you have to. Since there are many materials options (keep reading!), you will want to have a go at lifting, moving and positioning any crate (for home or travel) before you make your final purchase decision.
Sherpa pet beds can make
your dog’s crate a lot more comfortable.
The sherpa fabric stays cool in the summer
and warm in the winter.
You Can Make Your Dog’s Kennel Super Cozy
If one of your big concerns is comfort for your pet and having him in a cage or crate and you don’t want to feel like you’re putting him in “confinement,” there are some pretty easy remedies for you.
One of the best things you can do, something we often do, is to put an old blanket that you have slept in for a while into your dog’s crate. Your scent is comforting to the dog’s nerves and the blanket also provides physical comfort on the bottom of the kennel.
If you’re going to find the best dog kennel for your dog, it’s probably worth taking a look at some good pet beds. One of the nicer things about Sherpa beds is that it’s pretty easy to move them in and out of the crate. They also come in six different sizes, so you have a consistent bottom to your crate, which can be important for potty training.
Ready for the really good news? They are machine washable.
More Tips on Finding the Best Dog Crate for Your Dog.
As you can tell, there is no single “best” dog cage that is going to be the best for every single dog.
There is only the best answer for you and your particular size and breed of dog. Our goal here is to help you find clear information so you need to make an informed choice about the best dog crates for puppies and dogs. If you have a giant dog breed, there are a lot of different characteristics in the right cage versus a small dog breed, certainly.
Remember, if you are currently caring for a young puppy, you can expect that selecting the best puppy crate will be entirely different than finding the best dog crate, especially if your puppy is not going to stay little for long!
As a puppy owner, since large dog crates can be pricey, you may want to opt for a modestly priced puppy crate and save your hard-earned cash for the big cage yet to come.
On the other hand, if your puppy is small now and there is every indication s/he will remain so, you may be able to get away with simply looking at the best crates for small dogs and continue using the same crate in puppyhood and adulthood (an win-win cost-wise and also in terms of not having to acclimate your dog to two different crates over a short period of time).
Buy One Crate Instead of Five.
A major expense for dog owners is getting a new dog
kennel each time their puppy outgrows the old one.
If you have a breed that has significant size growth as it grows from puppy to adult, you can buy one kennel instead of 5. Midwest Pet Products has an entire line of wire dog kennels that come with a divider panel.
We’re speaking from personal experience here. Several of us on the Animal Hub team actually use Midwest cages and crates for our dogs. Like we said earlier, we don’t think there’s a single “best” dog crate for every dog, but we definitely think Midwest makes one of the best dog kennels!
And one other nice thing… if the pan on your dog’s cage ever cracks, Midwest makes it super easy to get a replacement. They don’t make you buy an entirely new cage like some brands, you can simply order a new pan.
Puppiesgrow like little weeds, as you know. Since the best large dog crates can be pricey, if you don’t want to go the divider panel route, you may want to opt for a modestly priced puppy crate and save your hard-earned cash for the big cage yet to come. Of course, if your puppy is a small dog breed and there is every indication s/he will remain so, you may be able to get away with simply looking at the best crates for small dogs and continue using the same crate in puppyhood and adulthood (a win-win cost-wise and also in terms of not having to acclimate your dog to two different crates over a short period of time).
The “Dog Crates are Cruel Versus Kind” Argument
In some places, you will hear cruel and kind used interchangeably when it comes to dog crates and cages. You also won’t have to research too long before you come up against arguments for and against the use of crates, cages and the like.
The key for “pro craters/cagers” is simply this: the purpose for and means by which the enclosure is used will largely determine whether it becomes a positive or negative experience for your dog. We know that we can use positive experiences to shape our dog’s viewpoint on new things.
Just as we all appreciate having a bit of quiet and privacy when we feel like it, but don’t ever appreciate being forcibly confined on behalf of the same, so too will your dog be able to feel and sense whether you are using an enclosure as a productive, positive tool or as a punishment.
In other words, you, and not the crate/cage/kennel itself (regardless of which type of enclosure you select), will determine your dog’s relationship with his or her space.
We’re actually not going to cover the broad viewpoint that dog kennels are cruel, because we are firm believers that you should crate train your dog.
Wolfto dog and den to crate – that’s one way to look at it. It can also be helpful here to look into your canine’s own history and ancestry to attempt to reframe how your dog might look at the offering of a personal crate or cage. The wolf (canis lupus) is the commonly recognized ancestor to the modern dog (canis lupus familiaris). There is a well-established scientific basis of proof standing behind the genetic connection (regardless of how little the two may tend to resemble one another today).
During the day, wolves living in the wild hunt, travel, mate and train the cubs in packs. But at night, wild wolves of all ages hunker down in dens of their own making. They do this to shelter away from predators and sleep safely.
So here, it just stands to reason that so long as a dog cage or crate is used positively and with similar associations, your dog is unlikely to see the addition of a private, comfy cage or crate as anything other than an instinctual need being readily met.
NOTE: Wild wolf cubs also learn very early on not to soil their dens. So giving a new puppy his or her own personal sleeping area in the form of a cage, crate or kennel can be an invaluable aid for housebreaking training!
An Awesome Indestructible
A pricier option, it’s not an easy choice to decide to go with a crate like this. When you know you’re looking for the best dog crate, you should also think about the fact that you’re making an investment. The value in this crate is really high.
Something to think about though is that even a call to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control is $65. The average bill to visit a veterinarian in the US is $50. If your dog escapes from his cage and swallows the wrong thing, foreign body removal surgery for dogs can cost you $2000.
The point here is not to suggest that a heavy-duty crate like this is the best dog crate for everyone, rather, if you know your dog is prone to escape there is high-value and likely financial savings by getting the right crate now. The Impact Case is not the only heavy duty dog crate, but there is definitely a lot to like about it.
What Type of Material Will Make The Best Crate For Your Dog?
Choices, choices, choices….
If you are someone who loves having lots of options, you will be in choice heaven while shopping for the best crate for dogs.
If you prefer your shopping to simple and streamlined, however, you’d better get ready. Shopping for a dog crate or cage can be anything but.
There are a few common materials that
quality dog crates are typically made of.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each:
Wire dog crates are really common
and a lot of pet owners use them.
The Carlson Secure and Compact dog crate
uses all steel construction.
If you’re conscious about the
look of having a wire dog crate in your
living room, there are a lot of options
for crate covers.
The Best Wire Dog Kennels
Wire cages have been around since, well, pretty much forever. Before they were adapted for domestic pets, they were used with wild animals and in zoos. A wire cage is one that has metal on all 4 sides. Sometimes they are called “metal cages” instead. These are the pros and cons of the best where dog cages:
Pros of Wire Dog Cages:
- Your dog can see out from all 4 sides.
- You can see your puppy easily (a real “pro” during housebreaking training!).
- Your dog won’t feel overly confined.
- Often these cages have a sliding under-tray to make clean-up easier (another “pro” for housebreaking training!).
- They are easy to clean.
- These cages offer excellent ventilation to keep your dog cool and comfy.
- They are perfect for show, since visibility is high.
- They are strong cages – though might not be perfect if your dog is a Houdini.
Cons of Wire Dog Cages:
- A highly visible puppy may be apt to whine or bark when s/he sees you.
- A highly visibly puppy or dog may feel less secure (in terms of the original purpose for a den in the wild).
- Dog dander, hair and dirt can get wedged in at the cross-bar points and this can be really annoying to clean off!
- Rust can be a problem over time.
- Unless you enjoy bodybuilding, you may find all but the smallest wire crates are pretty heavy (even the portable ones).
The Best Plastic Dog Kennels
Plastic crates have become increasingly popular for dog parents in recent years. Made from food grade, non-toxic plastic materials in most cases (but always check to be sure!), these crates feature a wire entry/exit door on one side only.
Pros of Plastic Dog Crates:
- Have more privacy, den-like feel and potentially warmth as well.
- In some cases, you can purchase an airline travel-safe and approved plastic crate.
- They tend to be lightweight, so they are good for travel and at home.
- Some models have a top gate as well so you can lift your pet out easily, this is more typical of plastic crates for smaller breeds.
Cons of Plastic Dog Crates:
- Plastic cages do not fold for travel or storage, BUT some models do easily come apart top/bottom so you can at least stack the two halves.
- Plastic cages can make housebreaking accidents (and smells) a lot less fun to clean.
- Plastic cages can make even sociable dogs feel isolated, frustrated and bored from feeling away from the “pack” (aka you).
- Plastic cages are not as easy to clean – for a thorough job, you have to dissemble the whole crate and then put it back together.
The Zinger Deluxe dog crate
weighs in at about one third the weight of
similar steel dog kennels. It also comes with a
a flush mounted slam latch that is keyed for security.
The Best Aluminum Dog Crates
Aluminum crates are very attractive, naturally sanitary and strong and secure for travel. For these reasons and others, they have become the preferred cage type for some breeders, hunters and dog enthusiasts.
Pros of Aluminum Dog Cages:
- They look a lot nicer than some other metal crate options.
- They are made of lightweight aluminum – so not as heavy as you might expect.
- They are easy to clean and sanitize.
- They can be collapsible for travel or storage.
- They offer both good ventilation and a high level of privacy and security.
Cons of Aluminum Dog Crates:
- Aluminum cages can be pricier than other types.
- Aluminum cages are not as widely available in regular pet stores as other types.
- Dogs bent on breaking out from time to time injured themselves attempting the impossible in one of these crates.
The Best Soft Dog Crates
Soft-sided crates are often the crate of choice for day trips, longer travel or jaunts to the park or beach. Typically made of soft canvas or nylon material, they come in a variety of attractive colors. Choose a soft-side dog cage or crate for short travel, day trips and temporary outdoor shelter.
Pros of Soft Sided Dog Crates:
- Canvas or nylon crates are super-easy to store or transport.
- Soft-side crates are very lightweight to carry.
- The soft sides also include areas of mesh for great ventilation.
- Some are airline-approved for in-cabin travel.
Cons of Soft Sided Dog Crates:
- These are absolutely not the right crates for extended car travel safety.
- You don’t want to use a soft-side crate with any puppy or dog that isn’t housebroken.
- Dedicated chewers and escape artists will find this crate type offers little challenge to their skills.
- Sharp-nailed, strong dogs can easily shred the soft sides and mesh of these crates.
Merry Products wood dog crate
is pretty cool. It comes in two sizes
and can be used as a crate or a gate.
The Best Wood Kennels
Wood cages are not as popular or numerous as they used to be. But they can be incredibly attractive, especially when used as a permanent home crate. Some modern dual-purpose wood crate designs can actually be used as tables as well (i.e. visualize your dog sleeping in his or her attractive wooden crate/table right next to your bed).
Pros of Wood Dog Cages:
- Some of these things are really pretty to look at.
- More durable than the newer alternative – the soft-sided crate.
- High visibility for both you and your dog.
- More “natural” looking in terms of materials.
- Some will fold down for storage.
- Table-top ones are available, which can make a cool nightstand or end table.
Cons of Wood Dog Crates:
- Not chew proof!!
- You don’t want to use a wooden crate with a puppy or dog that isn’t yet housebroken.
- This isn’t a crate you could use for travel.
Here is a sample of what many quality dog crate
manufacturers will use as a sizing guideline:
Introducing Your Dog To His New Cage
Whew – that was a lot. After you order your cage and it gets delivered, there’s a few things to do.
You’ve spent a lot of time picking out the best dog cage for your dog and now you need to make sure you properly introduce your dog to his crate and that he welcomes it and understands its benefits.
These dog crate dos and don’ts can help you accomplish that goal:
Things you should do with your dog and his new kennel:
- Do take the help of favorite toys and treats to introduce your dog to the crate.
- Do try feeding your dog in the crate to associate it with the most positive things.
- Do use a pleasant tone and language when introducing the crate and inviting your dog inside.
- Do make sure your dog has had a chance to pee and poop before confinement.
- Do play with your dog before introducing the crate (so it is more likely it will be viewed as a safe place to nap/sleep).
- Do make initial confinement periods short to allow your dog to adjust.
- Do use the crate when you are home as well as you are away.
- Do leave the crate open all the time at first to make the process easier on your dog.
- Do always make sure the temperature and ventilation is sufficient to your dog’s needs before crating.
- Do crate your dog if there is a new pet in the household or there are children present while you are not available to supervise play.
- Do crate your dog to get him or her used to traveling before a big trip, in case of an emergency or to prepare for regular errands such as grooming or vet visits.
- Do crate your dog if s/he routinely causes major damage to household furnishings, doors, walls, et al.
- Do set the crate up near where you are – dogs are social by nature and typically prefer to remain with their “pack” as much as possible for protection, security and companionship.
Things you should not do with your dog and his new kennel:
- Do not attempt to force your dog into the crate dog if you see obvious fear signals.
- Do not leave your dog in the new crate if it is obvious s/he is afraid.
- Do not use harsh words when using the dog kennel, even if it is for a time-out period. Use encouraging tones to paint the crate in a positive light.
- Do not ever force your dog to use the crate if “crate hate” develops (you can use other confinement tools, such as gates, play pens or small rooms until you can resolve the crate hate).
- Do not ever leave your dog in the crate past when s/he can hold their bladder or bowels.
- Do not continue to crate a dog that has begun to deliberately pee or poop inside the crate.
- Do not ever discipline a dog that is doing its business inside the crate – instead, seek out and solve the reason why this is occurring.
- Do not leave a dog that has the need to move about for medical or rehabilitative reasons inside a crate for extended periods of time.
- Do not crate your dog because they are bothering you due to boredom or high energy.
- Do not crate your dog if part of their role is to be able to bark and visibly protect your home while you are away.
- Do not let other household pets or children use the crate – make the crate your dog’s private, personal space.
If this is your first-ever time shopping for a dog crate, whether for large dogs or small dogs, check to make sure there is a return policy. In most cases, you can return a dog crate that turns out to be unsuitable so long as you follow the manufacturer guidelines.
And keep in mind that YOU will be the primary determinant of whether or how much your dog views the crate in a positive light. Your presence, your company and your encouragement can go a long way towards starting your dog’s relationship with the crate off on the right foot.
And most importantly, have fun with your dog.