Portable Dog Crates are Invaluable Travelling Tools

Portable crates are expensive, but oh so useful.


The crate has long been proven to be an invaluable in-home dog behavior management tool. It is also extremely useful on the road. For a long time, the only downside of crates has been that they are big, heavy, and awkward to lug around. A crate big enough for a Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler or (imagine) Great Dane won’t even fit in most cars – which is one reason why a lot of big-dog owners drive vans and SUVs!

Take heart, compact car owners, and any of the rest of you who are tired of struggling with unwieldy plastic crates: the era of portable crates has arrived! There now are a number of brands of lightweight cloth-and-mesh crates to select from — crates that fold up into tidy packages that you can carry with your little finger and stash in your trunk or behind a seat. WDJ reviewed portable crates a couple of years ago, but there are some newcomers on the market and some innovations to the old-timers, so we thought we’d check them out again.

As much as we love portable crates, we need to start with this caveat: Portable crates are not for any dog who is unaccustomed to being crated. Of necessity, the materials that portable crates are constructed from are less sturdy than those of regular crates – which is why they are light and collapsible. They simply won’t withstand the teeth and claws of a dog determined to escape his crate. Use portable crates only with dogs who readily and comfortably accept crate confinement.

We evaluated three brands of portable crates using the following five criteria: Sturdiness, ease of setup, portability, cost, and aesthetics. Of course, we don’t expect them to be as sturdy as a standard crate, but they do need to stand up to the rigors of traveling. Ease of set-up is important, as we are often in a rush to get our act together when we arrive at a show grounds, or cranky and short-tempered after driving all day.

Of course, portable crates should be easy to move and carry, both assembled and collapsed. Cost is always a factor in our product review process, though we are always willing to pay a reasonable amount more for good quality, if necessary. Aesthetics are important for portable crates, especially since they are big, visible, and often end up sitting in the middle of our living space. If we have to look at it constantly, we’d like it to be attractive!

By the way, our test dogs did not discriminate – they voluntarily entered and slept in each of the three crates we tested with equal frequency.

WDJ’s Top Pick: Cabana Crate
Made by Doggone Good!, San Jose, CA; (800) 660-2665; www.doggonegood.com

The Cabana Crate was our top pick two years ago, and it’s our top pick again. This well-made rectangular crate has an attractive Cordura floor and trim, with nylon mesh sides. The Cordura is available in your choice of four vibrant colors and the mesh can be ordered in one of three colors. It is the fastest and easiest of the three crates to set up and take down, and has a nylon handle for easy carrying, or D-rings for an over-the-shoulder strap. (The D-rings also double as attachment points for clip-on accessories, mentioned below.)

The biggest design change since our previous review is the incorporation of spring-loaded brace poles, which make set-up a breeze. Simply unfold the two ends of the crate, and insert the two brace poles through the open crate door into the holes provided for that purpose. It takes less than a minute, with virtually no effort. A child or senior citizen could set this crate up with ease.

The Cabana frame is lightweight aluminum – sturdy and light; easy to carry either set up or collapsed. Although it is more expensive than our “Not Recommended” crate, it is comparable in price to its closest competitor, the Cool-Crate” that we have listed in the “WDJ Approves” category, and it is more attractive and far easier to set up.

The Cabana comes in five sizes, from Small (24x18x19, 5 pounds, $119) to Extra Large (42x30x33, 10 pounds, $199). Doggone Good also sells a wide variety of accessories, many of which are so clever and well-made that you may have a difficult time deciding which ones you can live without. These include a fleece crate mat with rubber backing ($9-23, depending on size), a carrying bag that can hold one or two crates ($45-58), a zippered mesh storage bag that clips onto the outside of the crate to hold treats, toys, or grooming supplies ($13.50), and clip-on vinyl food/water cups ($5).

In our book there is simply no contest – we pick the Cabana Crate every time.

WDJ Approves: Cool Crate
Made by Best In Show, Jupiter, FL; (800)DOG-EATS; www.bestinshowpowerfood.com

The Cool Crate has a number of excellent features that put it a close second to the Cabana. It is an aesthetically pleasing arched-shaped crate with very sturdy stainless steel wire supports. The arch-shaped ribs are sewn into the fabric; the straight ribs that stretch the crate lengthwise are inserted into slender pockets, kind of like tent poles.

The crate fabric is PVC coated polyester yarn, advertised as flame resistant and good for blocking UV rays of the sun. (Don’t take this to mean you should set your crate up in full sun – your dogs can easily still get too hot!) While the cloth shouldn’t be expected to hold up to the abuse of a dog who scratches or paws (this dog should be in a solid crate under supervision), we will note that this fabric is stronger and thicker than the mesh of the other two crates we tested.

Our only real complaint with the Cool Crate is that it is a serious challenge to assemble. The straight steel supports were unbelievably difficult to insert in the sleeves provided for that purpose the first few times, so much so that we kept thinking we were trying to put them into the wrong places. Although these tight little sleeves have stretched out a bit and are somewhat easier to deal with each use, this crate is still far more difficult to set up than the Cabana.

Other than that, the Cool Crate is solid, sturdy, attractive, easy to move either assembled or collapsed. The Cool Crate is available in a wider range of sizes than the Cabana – a total of 10 sizes, from Mini (20x16x16, 2 pounds, $90) to Super Giant (54x32x40; 11 pounds, $280). We do consider this crate to be a reasonable choice, especially if you have a dog who is too large for the largest-sized Cabana.

Not Recommended: Canine Collapsible Crates
Made by Timbercreek Acres, Cincinnati, OH; (513) 648-0055; www.timbercreekacres.com

This is one of those cases where we would willingly pay more for the better quality product. While this crate is by far the least expensive of the crates we tested, ranging in price from $50 for the Small (12x13x20, 2.5 pounds) to $135 for the Large (30x26x40, 8 pounds), in our opinion, it’s far flimsier than the other crates we tested.

The frame is made of several pieces of PVC pipe and various elbows, T’s and bars. It is by far the most complicated of the three crates to construct, and when completed, it is not terribly stable.

With only one top brace and movable elbows and T’s, we found it difficult to move when assembled – the brace slides and the elbows twist. The instructions suggest gluing the frame together, which then, of course, reduces its collapsibility. If you leave the top pole unglued, according to the instructions, the crate will still supposedly collapse, but not, it seems, to the degree the others do.

The mesh material (available in three colors) fits very loosely on the frame.

-By Pat Miller

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.