Types of Dog Gates

The selection of dog gates for use indoors – and even outside your house – has exploded in recent years. Here are the most helpful dog-gate types.


There is no end to the useful applications for dog gates – and today, there’s no end to the sizes, types, and designs of dog gates that are available. It’s so easy to use them to help you and your dog live more happily together; the most difficult part might be choosing which ones look best in your home.

Here are the main types of gates available and what applications they are best for:

Pressure-Mounted Gates,
Tall Dog Gates, Gates With
Small Pet Doors

These gates are probably the kind that most dog owners are familiar with. Most have rubbery casters on both ends that will hold the gate against both sides of a doorway and some sort of mechanism that expands and contracts the width of the gate to make it fit tightly in the doorway.

If you have medium-to-large dogs as well as smaller pets in the home, buying a gate that has a small-pet door built into it can allow the cat, rabbit, or other small animal to run through the gate easily, but prevent the dog from following.

The type we like best have easy-to-use openings – a doorway you can open and shut within the gate. To maintain the stability of the gate when it’s opened and closed, these have a small bar that spans the bottom of the doorway, which you have to step over. Many companies offer extensions of various widths for these gates, usually sold separately.

My favorite model of this type works like this MidWest Steel Pet Gate, with four discreet little rubber discs – “pressure mounts” – that are applied to the door frame with sticky tape (for extra security, each can also be fastened to the door frame with a single wood screw). When the gate is not in use, I remove the gate altogether; the discs stay in place. When I’m hosting puppies, I just pop the gate ends back into the discs and expand/tighten the gate with its tension knobs.

A similar model is Carlson Pet Products’ Extra Tall Walk-Thru Gate with Pet Door. This gate mounts and is adjusted in the same way as the MidWest gate, but has a small, cat-sized (8-inch square) doorway built into the gate. As long as your dog is larger than a cat, with the gate closed and the cat door open, your cat can come and go (or escape your dog, if need be) while your dog is securely contained behind the gate.

We don’t recommend this old-fashioned type of gate. Most folks find the adjustment bar a pain to set and operate, and end up just wrestling the gate in and out of the doorway – and unless it’s set to a particularly snug fit, most dogs find they can push them over, too!

The least expensive kind of pressure-mounted gate is easily available in big-box stores like Walmart, and they’re typically marketed for use with babies and pets. These don’t have a swinging door to allow you to go through; instead, they have some sort of bar that lifts to cause the gate to contract in width and is lowered to expand and lock the gate at the desired width. These can work well, but they take longer than most gates to open and close the again; most people with these gates end up stepping over them, in order to avoid having to adjust their width each time. Or, they stop adjusting the width but just force them in and out of position as needed (the trouble is, if they can be pushed out of place that easily, your dog may quickly learn to do that, too. We don’t recommend them! (See “Gates We Do Not Recommend,” below.)

Folks with open-plan homes may have a hard time finding a good spot for a pressure-mounted gate, but don’t forget that a stairway, bathroom, or bedroom can work.

Hardware-Mounted Dog Gates: Best for Stairs

These are the sturdiest option, because they are secured tightly to the door frame. These are often the best choice for permanent (or at least, years-long) installations – as opposed to something you will use just for visiting dogs or for the time that it takes to house-train your new puppy. Many of them are made by the same companies that make pressure-mounted gates and they may closely resemble those products, but fasten to the door frame with wood screws. An advantage that may feel very significant for some is that they lack the floor-level bar that maintains the integrity of the pressure-mounted gates; when you open the gate, there is nothing to step (or trip) over.

For safety at the top of stairs, nothing can beat a well-installed, hardware-mounted gate. Period.

The long-time favorite hardware-mounted gate of WDJ editor Nancy Kerns is the KidCo Wall-Mounted Pet Gate. She bought one for a WDJ review of gates in the late 1990s that is still being used in an outdoor application (blocking a side entrance to a deck) at her sister’s house!

Stand-Alone Dog Gates, Gates for Extra-Wide Spaces

This type of stand-alone gate is attractive and versatile (and don’t forget that gates that separate dogs from guests during the holidays will prevent bites from stressed dogs!). Con: Lacking wide braces for the “feet,” this sort of gate needs to be angled in a zig-zag to stand alone, and you will likely have to use other pieces of furniture, as seen here, to secure the ends from being easily pushed aside. Photo by Kathy Callahan.

One of my very favorite dog-management tools is the freestanding, unmounted gate. There are two kinds: one has footings that allow it to stand alone; the other has a few sections connected by hinges, which allow it to stand alone when it’s in a V or W shape.

The first type, with footings, tends to be a little heavier (so they aren’t easily pushed out of the way by your dog) and bulkier to store, but if you have an open-plan design with few doorways, this can be your answer. They’re available in everything from a bargain utilitarian white metal to very high-end wood and wrought iron pieces designed to make you not mind having them in place.

To pass through the ones meant for smaller openings, you generally would just drag or slide one end to the side and replace it behind you. The longer ones that span wider openings usually have a hinged gate built into one panel, such as the Kinpaw Freestanding Foldable Pet Gate. Some, like that gate, are made with hinges connecting each section, so they can be folded for storage, or to fit variously shaped openings (great for the foot of stairways that are wide or irregularly shaped). Others are built straight, like Carlson’s Extra-Tall Adjustable Freestanding Pet Gate or Richell Wood Freestanding Pet Gate (note that this one is very low, only 20 inches high).

This straight, free-standing gate is easy to adjust in width. Con: The position of the feet might make it difficult to put in the right spot to block certain doorways.

I have some of those gates with footings in my house, and they’re perfect for some scenarios every now and then. You know what I use over and over? The easy and attractive hinged gates I find at Home Goods! They’re light enough to pop in and out of play, and they’re pretty enough that I don’t mind seeing them up. This kind of gate can turn that space between the back of your couch and the wall into a perfect little dog confinement area! String two of them together and you’ve separated the dining table from the family room so you can host that dinner party without totally excluding the dog.

Kinpaw extra wide dog gatefreestanding
The “gate within a gate” feature makes it easy to pass through, and the hinges between panels allows for some zig-zagging to customize its fit in your home. Con: Actually, no cons here. The potential disadvantage of the wide feet in the Carlson Free-Standing Gate is eliminated with this design. The ends can still go right up against a door frame, completely blocking any gap at the side of the gate.

People dismiss these because they think, “Oh, that would never hold Rufus.” And yes, that gate might not work during a long boring day when Rufus is alone. But that stand-up gate is your friend for the quick pizza delivery, or neighbor drop-in, or the not-yet-potty-trained puppy visiting for an hour who you’d like to confine to the kitchen. Keep it stashed behind the couch, and pop it up when you know somebody’s due in a few minutes.

The Multi-Purpose Ex-Pen

Few things in dog life are as reliable, flexible, and life-saving as the common wire exercise pen, a.k.a. the ex-pen! These are typically made with eight panels that are joined with little metal sleeves that allow them to flex in any direction. Attach the first panel to the last panel with a couple of metal snaps or carabiners to make a round, square, or rectangular pen, or stretch the panels out to create a door blocker or a room separator. These pens are relatively light and easy to move, which means you have to use some creativity to prevent them from being pushed around by a dog who is determined to move them. But if we’re talking about a quick 30 seconds while you answer the door, the ex-pen standing up in a V or W shape can block a key doorway. Exercise pens are easy to buy in various heights and weights (heavier gauge wire is sturdier and makes the pen harder to knock over) from pet supply stores and online, such as the MidWest Wire Dog Exercise Pen from Chewy.com.

Final Selection Considerations

If you go shopping for dog gates online, you will see that there are gates of every color, material, height, width between bars, etc. Note that very small dogs might be able to walk right between the bars of gates meant for big dogs – but unless your dog has separation anxiety or lacks any self-control whatsoever, you probably won’t need the biggest, tallest gates on the market. If your dog is getting solid exercise and enrichment, he won’t be wildly bounding around needing to vault over things. My 100-lb Great Pyrenees-mix and 75-lb German Shepherd could easily pop over my shorter gates, but they don’t. With regular practice and reinforcement for respecting these barriers, they readily accept the short-term containment. “Oh, it’s gate time. OK.”

Gates We Do Not Recommend

The one type of gate to avoid is the old-fashioned accordion-style “retractable” gate (here is an example). These are generally fastened to one side of a doorway with hardware, and then clipped onto the other doorway with a simple “hook and eye” latch. Anyone who has ever operated one of these can probably remember the pain they felt from getting a finger pinched as they carelessly folded it closed – or has a story to tell about the dog or cat who freaked out when they got their head stuck from trying to walk through one of the openings and had it tighten around their neck as they panicked. Don’t buy these!

These gates are attractive and retract nicely when not in use. Con: Not all dogs will respect a flexible barrier, and they take a lot of practice to open and close. Photo by CC Holland.

Another type of barrier that we don’t recommend is the retractable mesh gate. These are typically mounted with hardware on both sides of a doorway, but can be unclipped from one side to retract into a neat and unobtrusive roll on one side of the doorway when not in use. That’s cool!

What’s not so cool: They take either two hands or a ton of one-handed practice to close or open. Also, because they are not rigid, if a dog puts his paws on the top edge, it will bow or stretch the material, making the barrier less effective and less attractive over time.

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Kathy Callahan’s new book, Welcoming Your Puppy from Planet Dog, is now available wherever you buy your books. Certified as a dog trainer (CPDT-KA) and licensed as a family dog mediator (LFDM-T), Callahan specializes in puppies. She and her family have fostered 225 of them in the past decade, and her business, PupStart, is focused on puppyhood coaching. The podcast Pick of the Litter is Kathy’s newest effort to help people and their dogs live more happily together. Kathy lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband Tom. They’re technically empty-nesters now since their grown daughters have moved on, but the house is still very active thanks to the four family members who were foster-fails: Mojo the German Shepherd/Akita, George the Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd, Kreacher the Chow/Beagle, and Mr. Bojangles, the best cat in the world.