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Alternatives to Crate Training a Dog

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Friday 15 July 2022
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
dog crates alternatives
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Crate training is an invaluable tool for training dogs and puppies. Not only does crate training reduce stress later on when your dog needs to be caged, but it also helps with the housebreaking process for young puppies. However, there are times when some owners are hesitant to use a crate for their dog or have other reasons not to use them. This is where alternatives to crate training a dog might become useful.

Dog crate training alternatives should confine your dog but offer them enough space to stay comfortable. As such, some experts suggest other options like using a dog playpen, a dog gate, or using dog daycare services to keep your dog occupied. Whichever option you choose, it’s important to start early.

Importance of Crate Training at an Early Stage

Crate training is a vitally important part of dog training. Puppies, dogs, and senior dogs alike can benefit from being crate trained. Although many pet parents feel guilty for crate training their dogs, crate training offers a useful training tool for puppies, a safe haven for senior dogs, and can be lifesaving in emergencies. Because of this, most vets and trainers recommend crate training puppies from a young age.

In an emergency, crate training may be the difference between safety and tragedy. For example, you may need to evacuate your dog in an emergency, and having them already used to being in a crate can lessen their stress and prevent injury. Your dog may also require cage rest after surgery. Dogs are less likely to suffer from complications following surgery if they can relax in a crate.

Crates also make it easier to transport your pup when traveling, so training them to be content in a crate can make travel much more pleasant. Lastly, crate training is a great method of housebreaking a puppy. Because dogs do not want to soil their sleeping areas, crate training helps your puppy to learn to hold and strengthen their bladder.

The bottom line is that it’s always best to start training early. Whether it’s crate training or obedience training, getting an early start teaches your puppy from the get-go how to behave. This reduces any confusion and anxiety for your puppy later on.

importance of dog crate training
Most vets and trainers recommend crate training puppies from a young age.

Crate Training Alternatives to Try

For a small number of dogs, crate training may be out of the question. But first, always consider why your dog is not faring well with crate training. Is the crate the right size? Can your dog move around comfortably, and is it clean? Has another dog been inside the crate that they can still smell?

Were crates used as punishment in your dog’s previous home, leading to negative associations and trauma? Your dog’s crate should be a safe space, not a tool for punishment.

Puppy Daycare

It’s important that your dog doesn’t spend too long in their crate. A dog who is crated all day and night will not get enough exercise or mental stimulation and can succumb to depression and anxiety. You may need to seek out a dog daycare or pet sitter to reduce the amount of time your dog needs to spend in their crate each day.

Make sure to only take your puppy to a service that is safe and enriching for your puppy. Before agreeing to a puppy daycare program, be sure to check a few things first. Tour the facility. What percentage of the day do the dogs spend outside versus inside? Will your dog have access to fresh food and water?

Will they get any food or treats without your consent? Who will be interacting with your dog, and what are their qualifications? What is the process if there is a fight between the dogs? Also, be aware that puppy daycare in itself will not housebreak your puppy. Even with daycare services to help you, it’s important to train your puppy at home wherever you can.

Dog Gates

If you need to keep your dog confined to a certain area, dog gates could be of great help. By confining your dog behind a dog gate, you can keep them in a room where they feel comfortable but not as confined.

There are many options for dog gates, both mounted and freestanding, so make sure you pick one that suits your dog’s needs. Just be aware that your dog may be able to jump over the gate, and may injure itself in the process if they do.

Some dogs will also chew on gates out of frustration. This is especially true for dogs with separation anxiety, who might chew through gates to escape. Make sure that you do not confine your dog in an attempt to control their anxiety. Always seek the help of a professional in these cases.

Dog Playpens

A viable alternative to a crate is a dog playpen. Many dog owners are more comfortable with this option as it offers their dogs more room to move around. An exercise pen also allows space for more bedding and toys, helping your pup to stay mentally stimulated during their time cooped up.

Furthermore, dog playpens come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. So, there should be a pen that meets your dog’s needs.

However, be aware that a playpen does not offer all of the socialization and stimulation your puppy needs. Be sure that you do not leave them in their pen for more than three or four hours at a time if they are under 6 months of age.

And, be aware that a playpen may not be a suitable option for adult large breeds as an escape is very likely. Another downside is that playpens often require more space than crates do. So, if you live in a smaller apartment or house, a playpen may take up a lot of space. Playpens are also often less stable, so rambunctious dogs may knock them over, which can be disastrous for you and your dog.

Using a playpen can be a brilliant alternative to the crate. This is because the pen offers enough space for the dog to move around but also confines it in the gated area of the house. Also, this can be used not just during the night but also in the daytime when you leave your dog unsupervised and wish to keep it safe. You can place the dog bed inside the playpen along with a bowl of water when you are not around. The extra space in the playpen would let the dog move around comfortably and play or rest until you get back.

Garrett Yamasaki, from We Love Doodles.
dog crate training alternatives
It’s important that your dog doesn’t spend too long in their crate.

Alternatives To Crate Training a Dog: FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about alternatives to crate training a dog? Feel free to check out our Frequently Asked Questions for more details. If in doubt about your puppy’s health, always ask your vet for advice.

Is it okay not to crate train your dog?

Some owners choose not to crate train their dogs. However, it is advisable to try crate training your dog for several reasons. Crate training is an effective way to limit your puppy’s access to parts of your house whilst they learn appropriate behavior, cutting down on the number of accidents, and reducing damage to furniture.

It can also give you more peace of mind when you are away from home during your pup’s early months. If your puppy is used to being in a crate, it will also be easier for them to travel, to be in a cage at the vet, or to be confined for any other reason later on. You may choose to use a crate in your dog’s adulthood as their safe space.

This is particularly useful for dogs who suffer from anxiety or are reactive to noises like fireworks, as having this safe haven can reduce stress levels.

When should I stop using a dog crate? 

You should stop crating your dog if you are crating your dog to manage their anxiety. If your dog has separation anxiety or any other anxiety disorder, crating them may stop your house from being destroyed, but it does nothing to treat the problem at hand.

It may even make your dog more anxious and put them at risk. For example, your anxious dog might break their teeth trying to chew its way out of the crate. It’s normal for your puppy to whine or cry during their crate training, but frequent attempts to escape and self-injurious behaviors show that it’s time to take a few steps back.

Baby steps are very important, so don’t force your dog if they are not ready.

Can I lock my puppy in its crate at night?

Your puppy can spend the night in their crate. However, they cannot spend the entire night indoors. Puppies have weak bladders and are unable to hold their urine for long periods of time. The general rule of thumb is that your pup can hold their urine for about one hour every month of age. You will need to take your puppy out of its crate to take them to the toilet.

If you do not do this, your puppy will have accidents in their crate and become stressed by the confinement as they cannot escape going to the toilet. This also makes their sleeping quarters unhygienic for them and puts them at risk of bacterial infections.

Should I ignore my puppy if he’s whining in the crate?

It’s normal for puppies to whine in their crates. This is because puppies are not used to confinement, and may be confused and lonely at first. One of the biggest mistakes that pet parents make is giving their puppies attention or removing them from the crate when they cry.

You should avoid taking your puppy out of their crate until they are quiet and calm. This teaches your puppy that quiet, calm behavior results in a release.

Do dogs need a bed in their crate/safe space?

Your dog’s crate should be a comfortable space. As such, you might add a bed, blankets, or other padding to their crate. You’ll want to make sure that the crate is inviting for your dog. To do this, you can also add their favorite toys and treats to make them more accommodating for them. Just be sure to clean your dog’s bedding regularly, especially if they are not fully toilet trained yet.

While crate training is undoubtedly useful, there are alternatives to crate training a dog that can be helpful, too. Making use of sturdy dog gates and dog playpens where possible can offer your dog more space. However, these options are not without their downsides.

Be sure to thoroughly research crate training for your puppy. Do not use a crate as a tool for punishment. Also, do not lock your puppy in the crate during their first time inside it.

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