Crate Training 101 [Part 2] – How to Choose a Dog Crate

Responsible Crate Training | Vanillapup

Before you start on crate training, it’s important to choose a dog crate that is suitable and of the right size for your dog. Professional dog trainer Barbara Wright tells us how.

What is a dog crate?

A dog crate is a small enclosed kennel with a door, where your dog can be safely confined in unsupervised, whenever necessary.

There are various types of crates

1. A travel plastic crate
Petmate Ultra Vari Pets Kennel

Dogs naturally like dark, cozy and safe areas. Hence, a plastic crate would feel more like a den than a cage to them.

This type of crates can be also used for plane travel and are great for car travel, as it rattles less and helps to contain hair and dirt. It is sometimes used in place of an outdoor kennel (by taking the door out) when the dog is older and no longer needs to be confined indoors.

Most importantly, smooth plastic (not wire or steel) material creates a lower possibility of injury inside the crate.

The issues you may face with plastic crates are that they are a bit more cumbersome to store, are generally more expensive, and larger ones are often harder to find in shops.

Tip: When choosing an air travel crate, ensure that it is of good build quality and is approved by airlines.

2. A wire crate

MidWest Polyester Wire Crate Cover

A wire crate looks more like a traditional cage and doesn’t generally give a den feeling.

If you have it, we recommend covering the crate with a blanket or a crate cover to make it more appealing to your dog. They can usually be folded to go flat for easy storage.

3. A fabric “tent-like” crate

Petnation Port-A-Crate

Usually, we do not recommend fabric crates for puppies or dogs who would be using their crate unsupervised.

They generally don’t last. And as your puppy grows older, his teeth will be stronger and if he’s a chewer, the zippers and seams will probably be destroyed.

Finding the right size

Now that you have decided on the type of crate, it’s time to choose the correct size!

It is important that your dog feels comfortable in the crate. The following diagram shows the requirements for airplane travel, accepted by most airlines. This sizing method is useful in determining the minimum size of the crate for your dog.

Dog Size Measurement

The length of your pet (L) should be taken from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail, and the height of your pet (H) should be taken from the top of the head to the ground.

If your pet has ears that are erect (e.g. German Shepherd), you need to measure from the tip of ears to the ground (especially when entering the UK).

Both measurements must be taken when your pet is standing erect. Add 5cm to both (L) and (H) measurements to get the length and height that your dog’s travel crate needs to be.

With a puppy, it can be complicated to know what crate size you will need when he is grown up. If you are determined to get a crate that will hopefully last for the rest of his life, it is best to ask the breeder for the sizes of his parents and calculate your puppy’s crate size based on that.

It’s advisable to start with a smaller crate

There are benefits in starting off with a smaller crate and then upgrading it as your puppy grows:

1. You will be able to move your crate around easily if it is small:

  • In the beginning, your puppy will be sleeping often and will not be able to hold his pee for very long. This means you will need to crate him often and the mobility of the crate in those early days can be very helpful
  • Most dogs who cry in their crates don’t cry because they are in the crate. They cry because being in the crate means isolation. In order to prevent anxieties and other problems, you will want to ensure that you are not further than what he can tolerate. Therefore, if you can move the crate around with you, it’s easier to train your dog to like the crate as he can be near you most of the time; teaching him that confinement doesn’t always mean he is on his own. Once your dog learns to be happy in the crate, you can slowly increase the distance between the two of you.
  • It will be easier to fit the crate in your car or take it along when you take your dog out.

2. A small crate is also a cheaper option for you to try the idea out

Successful crate training involves your puppy being happy to hold his pee and poo and to feel safe and relaxed in the crate. To achieve this, the crate should only be large enough for him to stand up freely and turn around in. If your crate is too big, we recommend you to block off a part of it by putting a cardboard box inside.

Crate training series:

1: What is crate training and why you should do it

3: Getting prepared for crate training

4: Crate training your dog the right way

Please read: important rules for responsible confinement training

Yorkie on a walk | Vanillapup

Your dog should never be confined for many hours at once. Slowly increase the amount of time your dog spends in a crate to a maximum of 5-6 hours a day.

1. Balance confinement with freedom

All dogs need mental and physical stimulation and companionship. If you are teaching your dog to be in a crate at certain times of the day, you need to make sure he also gets daily walks, playtime, time to run free and time with you.

2. Keep your dog close

When using a confinement area for long-term management, it is important that this area is close to the family – exposing the dog to experiences with us. Confinement training involves including your dog in family life and not excluding him from social companionship.

3. It’s about fun, not punishment

Confinement always needs to be fun (give things for entertainment), never punishment.

The aim of confinement training early on in training is to prevent your dog from learning bad habits and to teach him to be comfortable being confined when necessary. As your dog’s behaviour gets more trustworthy you can then allow him more freedom.

Photo credit: _tar0_ via / CC BY

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Barbara Wright
Founder at Positive Puppies
Barbara Wright is the founder of Positive Puppies, Sydney's premier dog training, walking, and boarding company. She is an honours graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers at San Francisco SPCA with Jean Donaldson.

Barbara is a mother of five - two children, a Border Collie called Ace and two free-flying Cockatiels.


  1. Brian Chang

    June 9, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Hi, I’m going to be a dog owner for the first time. This is very useful article especially at times I will be away from home. I understand these different type of crate but will plastic enclosure work ?

    • Vanillapup

      June 9, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Brian, congrats on the new furry addition! Glad that this post helps. A plastic crate is highly recommended. When you say plastic enclosure, are you talking about fences/baby gates? If you are using those, then it would be more of a confinement than crate training. By allowing more freedom, it may be harder for you to house train your dog. They also don’t resemble dens (no shelter above) that may make your dog feel more secure. Hope this helps and let me know if you have further questions!

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