We are absolute advocates of crate training for dogs, and we mean for life. For puppies it helps with potty-training behavior and also protects their health and safety when left unsupervised. As your dog ages, it continues to be their safe space and gives them a place of their own to get away and relax. Also, even when you have the best-trained dog you can completely trust to roam the house unsupervised, you may still find it exceptionally useful when life throws you a curveball. More on that below.
To begin with, what is the difference between a dog crate and a dog kennel? To be honest, the answer to that question seems to live in the grey zones of definition somewhere between ‘it depends’ and ‘who you ask’. Dog kennels are most typically the type of containment which are a bit larger, giving the dog more roaming space, and often used outdoors, whereas dog crates are what most of use in our homes or for transportation.
But again, we and many others tend to use both the terms ‘dog crates’ and ‘dog kennels’ interchangeably, and there are plenty of large crates which give dogs more room as well as dog kennels which are portable or can be used for transport. For a bit of consistency, we’re going to try and refer to the indoor and typically smaller ones as dog crates and reserve the term dog kennel for the outdoor, or outside-of-the-house (barn, garage, boarding space, etc) larger spaces.
I wasn’t always a fan of crate training. Before we knew better we thought it was cruel to lock a dog down in the confined space of a dog crate. Boy was I wrong. While in college, before I could get my own dog, I was lucky enough to live with roommates who brought home a rescue mutt named Jaxson. Jaxson was a golden-retriever/chow mix and by far one of the smartest and sweetest dogs I’ve ever known. He was one of those dogs you could just talk to and show him a trick once and he’d nail it.
Anyway, my roommate was smart and knew better and got a wire dog crate for Jaxson. It was big enough for him to lay down, stand up, and turn around in but also fit conveniently on the landing on top of the stairs. That first afternoon I was the last one to leave the house and was instructed to leave Jaxson in his crate. I just couldn’t do it. I chose instead to lock him in the downstairs bathroom. It was much larger, nicely carpeted, and had a window he could see out of.
Bad mistake. My roommate found me at work a few hours later and after yelling at me went on to describe how Jaxson had freaked out, dug up the carpet, tore down the blinds above the window, and significantly damaged the door trying to scratch his way out. The physical damage was secondary to how bad I felt knowing Jaxson was so upset and scared. It was awful. The poor pup. From then on I too used the crate for Jaxson and quickly learned how much he actually liked it and even chose to go in it when we were home so he could take his naps, etc. We’ve used one for all our dogs ever since… except when we didn’t.
Our dog Sadie was also crate-trained and an exceptionally good dog. After using it for about nine months and gradually going from leaving it unlatched, to just open, we moved houses and didn’t bother using it again assuming it wasn’t necessary. While it’s true that Sadie didn’t ‘need’ her dog crate, many years later she blew her ACL and required bed rest. That is when we learned how smart it would have been to continue keeping her dog crate in use. We tried using the pet gates we had available to keep her confined to a smaller section of the house, but the time we came home from lunch and she had somehow managed to jump the gate with a broken and mending leg made our stomachs drop.
Lesson learned: Get a dog crate and always have it available and part of your dog’s regular life. Even well after they are well trained and completely trusted.
Another great reason to always have a dog crate as part of your daily routine and available to your dog are in the events if you ever have to travel, or worse, evacuate. Lots of shelters will only accept pets if they are in contained and during what is obviously an already stressful situation, it will be extremely helpful and a great peace of mind knowing your dog is safe and secure in their own and familiar space.
The most common type of dog crate is your basic metal wire and almost all dog kennels are definitely metal, very often of fencing material. You’ll want to make sure they have a solid, flat-surface bottom which is typically a removable hard-plastic (chew proof) platform. You definitely don’t want your dog walking on wire mesh in either a dog crate or a dog kennel. We place a pad or bed in our crates once we know we can trust our dogs to not chew them up.
As mentioned above, we suppose dog kennels can be as large as your space allows, but your dog’s crate should be just large enough for them to stand up, turn around, and stretch out when laying down, but it’s not necessary or even beneficial to give them much more space than that. When potty-training if they have enough room to relieve themselves on one side and then go lay down on the other end, they likely will. If they don’t have that extra room they will more quickly learn to wait until they can go outside.
We also put a cover over our dog crate to make it more of a cozy ‘cave’, and any outside dog kennel should definitely also offer a cover or sorts to protect from sun or rain. Just be aware of what sort of materials you’re using and make sure your dog doesn’t pull it in and chew it up, choke, etc.
Dog kennels are more sturdy and trustworthy when well-anchored and built to be more permanent, while dog crates which are collapsible for both storage and transport can prove very useful. Our two large metal crates for each of our dogs are regularly folded down and brought with us when we drop our dogs off at the in-laws when we travel. While they are very familiar with staying there and have a great time playing with their other dogs, it’s really nice knowing they can put the dogs in their own comfortable space and know they are safe and secure when it is better they are out of the way or locked down for safety and convenience.
Our dog crates have the simple one-door design, but there are plenty of models which can either be accessed on two sides or even a top-lifting lid for access. There are also nylon and plastic models which can be very convenient for weight and storage, and even a few which are safety-rated for crash testing. We definitely recommend investing in a good one like this if you regularly transport your dogs in vehicles, including trucks, planes, etc.
In conclusion, we’ve learned our lessons over the years and definitely recommend the regular use and availability of both dog crates and dog kennels. Not that we want your dog locked down in a confined space all day, but that they should have these safe and secure spaces available to them at all times and something they are regularly accustomed to and enjoy. Even the best dogs will benefit from having their own space, from the time they are puppies and potty-training to anytime they must travel, stay somewhere strange, or recuperate from sickness or surgery their own crate or kennel will prove valuable throughout their lifetime.