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Choosing a Crate For Your Dog

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Your home is your castle, sanctuary and safe place to retreat. You can offer your dog this same comfort by selecting the proper crate and demonstrating to your pet that it is his private space. Crate training is important, as there are a variety of situations in which kenneling your pet may become socially, medically, or even legally necessary. Consider it as part of his overall training.

Even if your pet lives primarily indoors, don't underestimate the usefulness of a crate. Your pet will travel safer in the car if he is confined. In the event of an accident, the kennel will provide some measure of protection and keep a scared dog from running away in an anxious moment. A kennel may also be medically necessary. At times, your veterinarian may recommend confinement so your pet's activity can be reduced or so that some condition may be monitored. Lastly, there may be social situations in which crating is necessary. You may have a friend or guest who is timid about dogs or a pet that is aggressive to strangers. A dog that can stay quietly in a kennel can make the situation easier.

Define Your Goals

When used properly, with well-defined objectives, a crate is an invaluable tool. Crates and kennels vary in size and function. Select the proper one for your pet's needs. Set your objectives. Before shopping for a crate, consider a few factors. What is the kennel to be used for? If your dog will be kenneled in your home while you're gone, buy the largest crate your budget and space will allow. Your dog should be able to stand, lie down, or sit in any position in the crate without restriction. The crate should be roomy enough to accommodate a water bowl or have a water bottle attachment. If the surface your dog will lay on is wire, put a pillow or blanket in a corner for comfort. If your dog will need a kennel only for an occasional short trip, a plastic travel kennel is adequate.

Consider the size of your pet and think ahead. Buy a crate that will accommodate your dog at an adult size. If you buy a kennel that the right size for your puppy, it may only be useful in 6 months.

NEVER use the crate as punishment. Your dog should regard his crate as his haven. If you use the crate to isolate or punish your pet, he will come to associate his crate with unpleasant circumstances and feelings. Acclimate puppies early by offering food or treats in the crate, or by throwing favorite toys into the back of the crate for them to retrieve. Make the crate an everyday object, not something he sees only twice a year.

Types of Crates/Kennels

Wire Frame Crates

Wire frame crates are made from heavy gauge wire or stainless steel on all six sides. This increases ventilation and visibility for your pet. Many types of crate can be collapsed and folded up for storage or transport. The bottom of the crate can be solid or raised. Raised floors keep your dog elevated over a solid pan that will catch any food, water, or waste that would otherwise accumulate in your dog's living space.

This type of crate is especially useful for house training and protecting young puppies or dogs that may become destructive when left alone. These crates are designed with two access doors, one on the front and another hinged panel that comprises the top. This access to the top of the kennel is especially useful when containing a litter of puppies. You can open the top and pick up one puppy without the rest charging out the door. When selecting a crate of this type, consider the size of the wire, be sure your dogs paws won't fall through the bottom grid. Check for any sharp edges. Check the front door to see if it is spring loaded, these doors can snap shut on a paw or tail.

Solid Frame Crate

These kennels are constructed from plastic, fiberglass or Plexiglas and are most commonly used for your dog's travel needs. They are sturdy and have solid bottoms. Usually only the sides are slotted for ventilation. Most of these crates have separate tops and bottoms that are assembled and secured with nuts and screws. The front of the kennel frame supports a wire door. They are easy to take apart for cleaning and storage. This type of kennel is a good choice for transporting your pet to the veterinarian and is the standard for air travel. This type of crate also provides a greater degree of protection for your pet if something should fall on the kennel or if there is any impact. Since this kennel has fewer ventilation slats, the interior of the kennel is darker and may be a more desirable environment for quieting an anxious pet.

Soft-sided Kennels

A variation to the solid plastic kennel is the soft side kennel. These pet taxis are reminiscent of gym bags; all the sides are made from breathable fabric material and are ventilated with nylon netting. These types of carriers should be restricted to use with small dogs of 10 pounds or less. They are comfortable but their disadvantage is that they offer no protection against impact and can be penetrated by sharp objects. They also get wet and can take a long time to dry. These carriers should be used for short local trips only.

Exercise Pens

Exercise pens are a variation of the wire frame crate. An exercise pen is like a folded fence. It has no top or bottom but joins end to end to form a confined space. Exercise pens are best for dogs that already have an understanding of confinement. They are not sturdy enough to hold up against a dog that will climb, dig or charge at it. They are an excellent choice for keeping puppies in a small area in the house or yard. These types of pens are common at dog shows and fun matches for their ease of portability and set up.

Still have reservations about crating your pet? You shouldn't. Crate trained dogs are often happier when they are in a small enclosed space, and if you don't provide one they will often seek one out anyway, perhaps nesting under a table. Confining your dog to one room may not be adequate protection for your property. Never underestimate the damage a teething puppy can do while your back's turned. If your pet is crated, you can leave the house with peace of mind that your pet and your home are both secure. Remove collars and tags before leaving your pet in the kennel. If your dog is a model citizen and has outgrown the need for a kennel, your local animal shelter or humane organization will gladly accept the donation. But many well-behaved grown-up dogs still appreciate the shelter a crate provides even if the door is never closed, so don't short-change them.

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