I can’t even remember a time before I had a playpen for my dogs.
I mean, there was a time but apparently it was so unnoteworthy or stressful that I blocked it out.
So why do I think that a dog playpen is a must for every dog owner?
I’ll get to that later. But first, why not just use a dog crate?
Note: I have small dogs but pet pens can also be used for larger dogs. I have links to two different sizes of our favorite dog playpen at the bottom of this article.
Is a Dog Playpen is Better Than a Crate?
You studied the supplies you needed for your new dog and the first thing you purchased was a dog crate.
So now you’re wondering if you need a dog playpen – can’t you just use the crate?
Or you may worry that you made the wrong choice and you should have bought a dog playpen instead.
Is a playpen better than a crate?
The short answer is that both are very useful to have. They each have different uses and benefits.
Benefits and uses of a dog playpen:
A dog playpen will make your dog feel less closed in
A pet pen contains your dog but in most cases a larger space than a properly-sized dog crate provides.
For this reason, a playpen is good choice for dogs that aren’t crate trained yet and won’t tolerate being confined to a small enclosed space.
Your dog is free to play
Since a dog playpen affords more space than a dog crate, a pet pen is the best option if you expect your dog will be awake and active.
A dog playpen gives your dog a larger space so they can actively play and tire themselves out.
Sure, your dog can choose to sleep in there but they can also walk around a little and frolic with toys.
You can provide a safe potty space
The correct size dog crate will be just large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in.
Without getting too deep into the reasons for choosing a dog crate of this size, the small enclosed space will discourage your dog from “soiling their den”.
If you are going to be away from home longer than your dog can wait for a potty break, using a pet pen to keep your dog contained is better because you can place a potty pad in it.
This way your dog won’t accidentally potty in their crate because they couldn’t wait any longer, thus teaching them that going potty on their blankets and bedding (which may translate to carpet and human beds too) is normal and acceptable.
A pet pen is more convenient
While most dog crates fold down, if you are like me, your dog’s crate sits in the corner with stuff piled on it.
Since my dogs often spend hours sleeping in their crate, there are two crate beds and a blanket in there.
Also, each dog has her own crate.
I’d much rather take one dog playpen when we camp or travel, that can be set up and taken down in under a minute, than collapse and move their two dog crates and all the bedding each time.
In almost all cases, a portable pet pen will weigh much less than a large dog crate or two+ of any size.
Benefits and uses of a dog crate:
Sends a clear signal when potty training your dog
You can use the crate to help with potty training a puppy.
If your puppy won’t go potty outside, you can place then into a dog crate when you go back in the house to make sure they don’t sneak off to potty somewhere they shouldn’t.
It also sends a clear signal that they don’t get fun playtime until the deed is done.
Why not use the playpen for this?
You could but I have found the dog crate is much more effective because the smaller space restricts play and makes “time out” less fun for your puppy.
A dog crate is a safe space for your dog
The space inside a dog crate is smaller and cozier than in a pet pen.
If you have properly crate trained your dog, your dog may grow to view this “den” as their safe haven.
Your dog may seek out their crate when they want to feel comforted while you are gone, while visitors are in the house, and during holidays where there are loud noises outside.
A dog crate is better as a recovery suite in case of injury
When a dog is injured and needs to recover, whether it be in lieu of or after surgery, a veterinarian almost always presscribes some duration of restricted movement.
Since 25% of Dachshunds will have back issues in their lifetime , this is a real and frequent need for Dachshund owners.
The aim of this restricted rest is for a dog to move around as little as possible, including minimizing standing and walking.
A dog crate is small enough that it will discourage this kind of movement.
Dog playpen vs dog crate
As you can see, I think it’s important to have a dog crate and dog playpen for your small dog.
Except in rare cases, the dog crate stays at home. The small dog playpen is what I take with us when we are on-the-go.
Here are some other situations when I am most thankful I have a playpen that is easy to tote around and quick to set up.
5 Uses for a Small Dog Playpen
You may be wondering why I’m convinced you need a dog playpen for your small dog.
It’s because ours has come in handy in so many situations that now I can’t imagine NOT having one.
Here are the scenarios when I use our covered, portable dog playpen most frequently.
1) When I was raising a puppy
A dog playpen makes raising a puppy less stressful.
My most recent puppy was super cute, and also super active, curious, and into everything. I felt like I couldn’t turn my back for a minute.
I placed her into a playpen any time I needed 5-10 minutes to do some basic things without having to watch her like housework, run out to get the mail, and shower.
Raising a puppy is crazy. Using a dog playpen to manage your puppy is a sanity-saver.
The playpen also helped a lot with building a relationship between my puppy and my older dog.
When my puppy was in the playpen – which has mesh sides – the dogs could stiff each other, and get used to being around each other, without the puppy being able to physically harass my older dog.
2) Protecting my dogs while camping
Using a covered pet pen when camping helps my dogs stay safe and me stay relaxed.
The covered pet pen is helpful for:
- Providing a safe space from bugs that might harass or bite them
- Providing an extra barrier between them and potentially harmful wildlife
- Helping to prevent dog fights if an off leash dog was to run into our campsite
- Keeping my dogs contained to the campsite without using leashes that can tangle, trip people, or melt in a campfire
3) Keeping my dog from running off
A pet playpen is a great tool for picnics at the park, dog friendly concerts, or days at the beach.
When I bring the playpen, I can ensure my dogs can’t wander off without having to:
- Constantly hold onto their leash
- Worry about having something to tie the leash too
- Causing a tripping hazard for others (this is especially important when there are people on bikes – lesson learned).
4) Keeping my dogs cool on sunny days
When it’s sunny out, I want to provide my dogs a shady, cool space.
The problem is, there is not always shade where we go. Or, if there is, there isn’t much and it’s likely already occupied.
A dog playpen that has a UV canopy provides a shady space no matter where we’re at.
5) When I’m staying in someone else’s house
Of, course, I prefer to stay only where my dogs are allowed.
But “dog friendly” means different things to different people, especially if they are not dog owners themselves.
When I am staying in a home that is not my own, a pet pen comes in handy for:
- Preventing my dogs from getting on their furniture
- Preventing my dogs from roaming the house and getting into things they aren’t supposed to
- Keeping my dogs from harassing their cats or other pets (or eating their food!)
- Preventing them from getting to a litter box to indulge in a little “kitty roca”
What to Look for in a Portable Dog Playpen
Here are the things that are important to me when choosing a dog playpen.
- Isn’t too heavy yet is heavy enough that it won’t blow away
- Is collapsible but is sturdy enough that it won’t or collapse and my dogs can’t fold the sides over with their weight
- Sets up, and can be taken down, in seconds
- Has a removable cover
- Has walls that are tall enough that my dogs can’t jump over them
Our Favorite Small Dog Playpen
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. Also, some brands compensate me for sharing them with you.
The pen pen we use is the indoor/outdoor foldable steel pet exercise playpen from Carlson Pet Products.
It fits all my requirements above. To summarize:
- It’s portable
- It doesn’t take up much space in my car
- It’s lighter than two small dog crates
- It sets up, and breaks down, in seconds
- It has a full-coverage canopy (with ventilating mosquito mesh on one side and a UV protected polyester on the other)
- It has a sturdy frame so I don’t need to worry about it collapsing on my dogs
- But it’s heavy enough that it won’t blow away in the wind
I also really like it because:
- The mesh walls have a reinforced, protective coating that makes it possible to wipe them clean, and sanitize them, if needed
- It has a little dog door that zips open to allow your pet to come and go if they want. One of my Dachshund LOVES to do this.
You can buy the Carson 6-panel Deluxe Dog Playpen on Amazon HERE.
If you have a larger dog, you may want to check out the 8-panel version of this pen HERE.