What is a dog crate and a dog pen, and when and why are they needed?

The responsibility of caring for a dog is one that requires the dog owner to understand how to best meet the care needs of their canine companion.

Acquiring this knowledge should be a primary goal in order for a dog’s well-being to be promoted. I’m continually learning something new anytime I decide to research an area of concern or thought I have about what it takes to care for a dog.

Cute pug dog sleep rest on the floor, over the mat and tongue sticking out in the lazy time

I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. By the time I have answered most of my curiosity originating questions, I will certainly be prepared to bring my dog home. By the time I reach this stage, my mind will have become accustomed to the basic requirements of dog parenting.

There are many things I would have taken for granted if I had not embarked on this journey, and other things I would have been oblivious to if I had not committed to doing prep research.

Some subjects relating to promoting a dog’s well-being that I may have overlooked include things like dog dental health hygiene. For instance, now I know that dogs need a toothbrush, and there is even beef or chicken flavored toothpaste available on the market. Oh, and don’t forget the dog wash bag, and for the diva doggies, the dog makeup bag. LOL

One of the most important items in the dog-related product line that I keep seeing crop up is the dog crate and the dog pen. I initially thought these were one in the same product and assumed that you either had one or the other.

As usual, I decided to visit my good-old-friend Google to learn about what is a dog crate and a dog pen, and what are the differences between these products. Google didn’t fail me; I learned things about dog crates and dog pens that can now allow me to make informed decisions and take practical steps as a newbie dog parent.

Split opinion about the use of a dog crate

dog behind a metal fence

It didn’t take me long to discover that there is a split opinion about using crates for dogs. I discovered some polarizing articles; one, in particular, is titled “A dog crate is a cage is a prison.” Wow, those are some really heavy choices of words. Another article aiming to create a discussion by weighing up the pros and cons is titledTo Crate or not Crate.”

What is a dog crate?

A dog crate is a form of an enclosure with a door where a dog can be kept for transport, training, or space where a dog identifies as its personal space.

A dog crate can come in many shapes and sizes and in a variety of materials. A dog crate can be made from plastic, metal, fabric, or in a combination of these materials just mentioned. Below are examples of some of the common types of I came across.

I was pleased to see that crates come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and irrespective of the type of dog I get it’s relatively easy to filter through options of dog crates for large dogs or dog crates for small dogs. Furthermore the  designs and didn’t have the prison/cage feel mentioned in the article “A dog crate is a cage is a prison.”

Plastic dog crates that come in a combination of metal wiring in places

Young papillon standing next to a crate

Then you have the wire dog crates

These are the ones that are commonly seen across the web when you type dog crates. These can be creatively assembled and disassembled for convenience.
Crated Dog

Then you have the fabric soft-sided dog crates.

I can almost imagine this category of crates being ripped through and destroyed easily. Although, it will depend on the size of the dog and the dog’s temperament.
Spanish greyhound at car dog crate looking out

Then you have the fashionable dog crates

I believe that this range of fashionable dog crates serves the demographic of interior decor lovers combined with your dog lover all embodied in one person.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as the fashion crate, but it appears that the fashion crate industry is booming. Light bulb moment ( possible business idea? Hmm.)

dog laying down in a stylsh dog crate

Then there are the heavy duty dog crates.

Now some of these look like mini FortKnox. No breaking in or breaking out.


All the crates most definitely have a purpose or serve a purpose. The purpose I most definitely agree with is using crates for transporting dogs. I’ve seen some really terrifying videos of dogs falling out of car windows. I’ve tried to highlight the importance of car safety for dogs when traveling in this post titled, “The dangers of dogs leaning of a car window when the car is moving” I can guarantee that after reading that post, you will never see a dog out of a car window the same way, especially after seeing some of the videos presented in the post.

Are dog crates safe? How long should they be used for?

two small puppies walk through metal bars

The argument for the use of dog crates, according to Clicker Training, suggests that when a dog crate is used correctly, it can be used to effectively train a dog, offer security for dogs, and prevent damage of property within the home. I certainly agree about preventing damage within the home. Caring for a dog comes with fixed financial costs that cover things like the purchase of food, toys, health care insurance, and daycare. These fixed costs can mount up to include unforeseen costs if a dog decides to turn the armchair into a chew toy. If a dog crate can prevent this, then I’m in favor, especially because it will prevent me from taking out any frustration on my dog.

The post from Clicker Training goes on to compare the dog crate to a child’s bedroom, suggesting that a crate is where a dog can go to feel safe, secure, and have a sense of space that belongs to them.

I can understand the attempt to make a comparison, especially because owning a dog has been compared to parenting children. But I wouldn’t go as far as to compare a crate to a child’s bedroom. Trust me, I’m a parent.

One of the other common themes I’ve encountered is dog owners being referred to as dog parents, and I touch on this idea in this post that questions if keeping a dog is comparable to raising a child. For this reason, I can see why the opinion of a crate being like a child’s room may seem fitting, but seriously, I’m not so sure about this.

Some ideas I have come across have suggested that we humans have a disdain for crates because we hold it up against our humanistic lens to make comparisons and conclusions based on how humans perceive small spaces and confinements. Americanhumane.com states that dogs are denning creatures.

The conclusion I gather from the video above is the phrase “intelligent use of a crate.” I personally interpret the phrase “intelligent use of a crate” to imply using crates in situations like potty training, transportation, timeout, relaxation, and sleep, especially in the early days and just general training.

That’s why they like to hide in closets, under tables, and under chairs, because their nature is to have a den where they can retire to. Ok, interesting way to look at it. Some dogs like to build dens or find dens. I guess this is why wolves have caved in the wild.

small dening under a table

Kidzone.com highlights the denning trait in the dog’s ancestor, the wolf. Wolves scout an area (either a den, cave, or open space) suitable for sleep. Wolves then go on to temporarily settle when they have found a suitable space that can accommodate the wolf pack and offspring.

 Chihuahua dog hiding under in the bed


What are the impacts of a dog crate on a dog?

large dog laying down underneat furniture


Peta.com suggests that dog crates can cause a lot of detrimental harm to dogs. The post goes on to say that crating a dog is an easy way out of training your canine companion properly and that it is only stalling the inevitable fact of eventually having to start proper dog training.

This opinion provides an insightful point of view that strongly suggests that training a dog should begin from day one. With this approach, and from my general life experiences, I would think that finding consistency will be the challenge with this. However, I’ve always found that beneficial and valuable things in life are sometimes the hardest things to start and be consistent with.

What is a dog pen?

Pick of the Litter Bulldogs in a dog pen

Like dog crates, dog playpens come in exactly the same material, and from what I gather, a dog pen is just a glorified crate that has more space than the de facto dog crate. A dog pen affords a dog more room to move around and can be placed indoors or outdoors.

The rule of thumb for dog pens, though, is that they are not recommended for larger dogs or highly energetic dogs. Apparently, some clever doggos’ even learn to get out of dog pens. When considering the practicality of using dog pens, I just get ideas about a dog constantly trying to escape. Is it bad to use the word escape? It’s not dog prison, so I think escaping is the wrong word. Breaking free? No, not the word either. Getting out? Nope, that too. But I hope you get the point I’m trying to make.

A dog pen or exercise pen is exactly for that purpose- to exercise. But from the pictures I’ve seen of many different dog pens, unless the dogs are really small, then dog pens seem like a pretty pointless option. A dog pen seems to be more suited to puppies, and Purina.com emphasizes this. I think that a clever dog can maneuver its way out of a dog pen, and even move the pen around the room because it is not fixed down.

What do dogs think about a dog crate or a dog pen?

Below is a video of a dog escaping from a dog crate. If a dog this large can escape from a dog crate, then what’s the point of putting a large dog in a dog crate of this size. Hmmm. When I figure it out, I will update this post. This is a video of a clever dog using his escape artist skills to maneuver out of the confines of a crate.


Below is an example of another canine trickster scaling his way out of a dog pen. I think we humans sometimes underestimate the intelligence and persistence of our canine companions. My observation from these videos is that it is an evident fact that dogs do not want to be confined

Now that I have presented examples of dogs escaping their pens and crates, my concluding thoughts from the two videos are that a dog crate and pen have their place and serve their purpose when used correctly through the lifespan of the dog. But, in particular, I think that dog pens are more suited to puppies. For larger or wiser dogs, dog pens are just glorified crates that are apparently less effective.

From the antics of the escape artist dogs in the clips above, we can easily conclude that dogs don’t like to be confined. They just want to be free. Free, I tell you, free. Ok, all jokes aside.

Final thoughts

The fact that a dog desires the liberty to move around freely places a strong emphasis on a dog’s caregiver needing to train the dog consistently, from as early an age as possible. This is so that a dog can develop a good understanding of their boundaries and be trusted to be free around the home.

So, it seems like dogs don’t like crates or pens, but in some cases, they are necessary, especially when training a puppy or when you have to leave the home for a long period of time. 

But what’s the alternative? What are the alternatives to dog crates? Dog training is one of the most important things a responsible dog owner should dedicate their time to. 

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