a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: About Crates vs X-Pens For Dogs, My History Thereof

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

About Crates vs X-Pens For Dogs, My History Thereof

SUMMARY: In which I spew more about becoming a crate utilizer and the eventual rehabilitation of x-pens.
Backfill: started this as part of my Feb 9 '21 post and split it out.

See yesterday's post for a parallel backstory--

My family's dog, Sam, never had a crate.  It was an odd contraption that I had seen at a dog show, maybe, and how could anyone DO that to their dog? Neither Amber nor Sheba had crates--they lived and slept either in the house or confined in the yard in some way. If we went somewhere, they were loose in the car. 

[Throws back of hand against forehead: So young and naive!]

Remington got me moving: Dog sports! But still no crates. Just not something in my world view. Never even thought about them really. In obedience classes, we simply held onto our dogs' leashes.  For tracking classes, that remained true at our beginning level. 

My first agility class was in early to mid-1995 (I'm so sad that I have been unable to find the exact date).  The instructors taught on their own [very large!] property, so we had amenities such as plastic patio chairs lining the front of the field for us to sit on. Many of us used them to park our dogs on when we needed to walk through a course. A very distinct location to the dogs, like having invisible walls.

After some months of this, the instructors brought in an expert from out of town for a weekend seminar, which I of course signed up for. At about that time, they became (understandably) annoyed at the frequency with which their chairs sported muddy footprints, and said all dogs on the ground if they'll stay, or in a crate.  I said that I didn't have a crate. Might have said that I didn't plan on getting one. Instructor looked at me, a bit mystified, and said, where are you going to put him during the seminar?  I might have said that I'd bring a chair for him to sit on, and she said, basically, no.  

I hadn't the vaguest, foggiest, dimmest idea of what to get or what to look for or where. Might have asked her for info, might have asked classmates. Someone said that if  I didn't want a crate, I could use an x-pen.  (I hadn't the foggiest there, either--but learned.)

So, I started real agility life (that is, beyond basic training) with only an x-pen (exercise pen), late in 1995. For Remington, so it had to be the highest height--he stood 24" at the shoulder. Therefore: tall, heavy, awkward. Because, who would want to leave their dog in a crate all day at agility or seminar things? But, oooooh so miserable to haul it around. 

Used it only at competitions--six our first year--or seminars. He'd stand in one corner or along one side of the pen and look stressed. Poor thing, I thought; he must be heartbroken at being confined.

But I discovered, possibly incidentally, possibly at someone's suggestion, that he would lie down and relax, even doze, only if I condensed the pen to a smaller size and covered the top and two or three sides with fabric. And that was OK, because No Exercise was happening in the uncovered, large no-x-pen! 

An epiphany: That's why not everyone eschews crates!  But I already had the x-pen, so I continued to use it as if it were a crate. Doh. 

When Jake arrived in mid-1997, I used the x-pen at its full size. Plenty of room for 2 dogs. Even though they hated each other, they tended to ignore each other if at all possible.  So I figured it would be fine.  It worked for a while -- three event weekends, to be specific.  

I remember clearly the evening before a trial in Placerville, in April 1998, after I had set up my gear and gone off to get in line for early check-in.  As I stood there, schmoozing with others, I was astonished to see someone walking down the nearby sidewalk with a dog that looked so much like Jake (!) on a leash.  Back then, I was such a newbie: Didn't know many people, didn't know many dogs, and back then there was such a variety of breeds and mixes! It was plausible that another dog would look similar to Jake...  and it took me several long seconds to realize it was Jake!

I trotted over, and the woman said, "There you are! He and Remington [so clearly she knew who Rem and I were--I don't recall that I knew who she was] were fighting viciously in the pen, and a couple of us separated them. Didn't want to put them back together--so came looking for you."  Yep, those boys, did this thing far too often at home, so what's a girl to do for the rest of the weekend that hadn't even started yet, 3 or 4 hours from home ?! 

I believe that Doggone Good Elizabeth had crates for sale on site and that I bought my first Cabana Crate that evening or the very next day: Gorgeous teal and purple, exactly my colors! And the largest size, for Rem to stand up in. Jake got the x-pen to himself.  

Eventually, I became all crates, all the time for agility events. But, whenever possible, I'd let Rem revert to his clever historic adored imitation restraint system (aka C.H.A.I.R.S). He seldom left it; standing on the arm merely gave him a better view of All The Things. (His and Jake's crates are all purply there--we are surrounded by zillions of x-pens.)

At the USDAA national championships, 2001.
Very professional.
I love his triangular eyes. Not always this visible.

But I still never used them at home until Boost arrived as a puppy [after Rem, Jake, and Tika] who definitely needed a secure place to rest and stay OUT OF All The Things.  I borrowed a smaller-sized VariKennel for her until she outgrew it, at which point she had earned the right also to be safe, left alone in a Cabana Crate.

I still have the old x-pen. In fact, I eventually bought another, smaller one. Turns out they come in very handy as fencing inside the house when I need to keep dogs in or out of certain areas. Or confine them outside in various ways with a bit more room to move around

In my back yard, watching the rehearsal for my sister's wedding.
OMG isn't that puppy CUUUUUUUTE!

At trials, such as on very hot weekends,
to give them more room and more options for airflow or lying on cool lawns!
But can still seek refuge in their own home crates.

Older puppy (mostly housebroken) confined to one end of the office
to play or rest and
to keep her away from things she shouldn't get into while I'm busy AND 
to protect her from Jake, who hated that she had entered his world.

To keep the new dog off the bed and accustomed to being off the bed
because (a) Tika and Boost were already on the bed, and that was plenty,
and (b) because I was *finally* going to have all new dogs never sleep on my bed,
and (c) I put him in the soft crate but he kept digging at it.
That lasted about 10 minute: He went from there onto my bed with a single leap. 
Color me astounded.

See also:  


  1. I never had a crate until Katie...she was the only dog I did school with, or trials. And I got it for trials so I could walk the course and leave her somewhere I could see her v.s. the car. I would never leave her in the car! Some people did that. Anyway, now she's happy about it (mostly) and uses it in the car when we travel, though she'd rather just be on the back seat ,or even better on the front seat but mama is mean and says no.

    1. Mean humans!
      I didn't start using crates in the car until I got Tika. I had Remington and Jake in very sturdy, well-tested seatbelt harnesses that they had become used to over the previous 4 or 5 years, which is when I got smart about restraining dogs in the car. They were getting up in age and so I didn't want to start trying to get them used to traveling in crates, although by then they were plenty accustomed to staying in crates at trials. (AND Remington LOVED standing up the entire time we were driving, particularly looking for cows-- couldn't take him away from that.) In fact, getting Tika and deciding that dogs would travel in crates was the impetus to get a minivan instead of a fun-to-drive car like my prior ones had been. Because a crate wouldn't have fit into my 4-dog sedan along with 2 other dogs on seatbelts.

      Getting a dog used to being crated for longer times I think requires that the dog be aware of where you are and then gradually increasing times when they can't see you. At least, that's how it has worked for my previous dogs. Chip and Zorro haven't had nearly enough of that kind of practice. They'll sleep in crates in my bedroom at night, but if I get up and go downstairs, say in the middle of the night, without them, I don't trust them to not claw holes in the mesh of the soft crates.

      But, yep, like Katie, they'd all rather be in the seats, preferably the front, if they had a choice.

      Hmmm, this feels like I just wrote another related blog post right here! ;_

    2. Yep. Originally the crate was in the back but she couldn't see me so she howled. So then I folded down half the back seat so she could see me from her crate in the way back and that was OK...but then I worried about being hit from behind, so I moved the crate up to the middle of the car and she is much much happier because she is CLOSE to me...but her dad drove her home from Alabama in 2018 (when I flew home to see my doctor) and she got to sit on the back seat in her seat belt thing and he has pictures of her just grinning. Dad is super cool. Mama is...well...you know...mama.

    3. Middle seat is definitely safer in a crate than against the back door. I worry about this with my pups but don't have a good way of doing that with the larger crates.