Indoor Dog Gates: Creating Dog Safe Zones

If you live with a dog or dogs, you probably already know a dog gate is a useful piece of equipment; throw a toddler into the mix, or a senior dog or puppy, or a pair of contrary canines, and the dog gate emerges as nothing less than an essential tool for crowd control. An indoor dog gate is a simple way to keep the canine peace, and it’s indispensable for limiting dog detritus to one area of your home.

When To Use A Dog Gate

Resist the temptation to leave your dog unsupervised on the other side of the gate—there can still be trouble in spite of your efforts to sufficiently dog-proof an area inside your home. Separation with a dog gate should be less about isolation than it is about boundaries that ensure health and safety. But even if your dog typically has the run of the house, there are always occasions that call for confinement. Here are some common scenarios where a dog gate is helpful:

  • You have visitors who may not appreciate or enjoy an intimate inspection by the dog; alternately, your anxious dog needs a place to retreat peacefully when interlopers are invading his space.
  • You’re expecting workmen who don’t need the dog’s help.
  • You need to separate multiple animals in the same household who don’t always see eye to eye, or separate an energetic dog from a toddler or young child, or keep the dog out of the cat litter box.
  • Your trustworthy adult dog needs more wiggle room than his crate allows when you will be gone all day: the gated kitchen or mudroom are excellent alternatives.
  • You need to house train your new puppy, to say nothing of protecting him from the perils of his own curiosity.
  • Your blind, injured, or senior dog needs to be kept away from the stairs or other household hazards.
  • You wish to maintain a healthy air flow and an even temperature throughout the house in lieu of closing doors and thus closing off rooms.
  • You’d like your dog to stay on one level of your home.
  • You want to contain the dirt and muck your pal tracked in from the great outdoors until you have a chance to give him the bath he so desperately needs.

Each of these is a worthy cause in its own right, but many dog owners can tic off more than one item on the list. Dog gates vary widely in cost, size, and construction; the next order of business is deciding which gate or gates will best serve your needs.

So Many Dog Gates: How To Choose The Best One

Broadly, dog gates come in three materials: wood, metal, or plastic (or a combination of plastic and mesh). Some gates require permanent installation with tools and hardware, others are pressure-mounted, and still others are freestanding. Permanent dog gates are excellent if you’re a homeowner (or your landlord does not object) and your dog has well-established boundaries and known habits. Pressure-mounted or freestanding dog gates are a good choice for renters, and can be used right out of the box, a nice perk for the tool-challenged among us. Many freestanding gates in particular (the wood folding gate is one example) are adaptable to a non-standard door opening, and they are portable to boot.

How sturdy is it? That’s the single most important question to ask when you’re shopping for a dog gate. As you might expect, the more you’re willing to spend, the better the gate’s overall appearance, quality, and performance. Choose the gate that best suits your own scenario, keeping in mind the following:

  • The size of your dog: choose a gate sufficiently tall so she can’t scale it or jump it. If you have a puppy, choose based on her anticipated size as an adult dog; buy an extra-tall, extra sturdy gate for a large breed.
  • Your dog’s chewing habits: if you know she will try to gnaw her way to freedom, avoid wood, plastic, or plastic-and-mesh gates altogether. The habitual chewer needs a metal gate.
  • Your doggie escape artist: if she routinely attempts to climb, avoid a plastic or plastic-and-mesh gate. Go for the most “vertical” design you can find. Avoid freestanding gates and look for something you can install permanently.
  • Ease of operation: you have a baby on one hip, or coffee in one hand; make sure the gate is easy to unlatch and open with the other hand. If you have kids or grandkids, choose a gate they can operate easily, too. Avoid gates you have to step over to get from room to room: they’re inconvenient, to say nothing of dangerous.
  • Portability: can you take it with you as you move around the house or when you travel? If you need this kind of flexibility in a dog gate, make it a priority when you buy; a freestanding gate will probably best serve your needs.
  • Door dimensions: measure carefully before you choose. If you are gating an extra-wide opening, look for a multi-panel freestanding gate, or a gate with extension panels.
  • Apartment dwellers: look for a gate that installs easily, or does not require permanent installation. A freestanding or pressure-mounted gate is ideal, bearing in mind the pressure-mounted gate may leave marks on the door frame. Consult your landlord about the rules.
  • Gates for stairs: measure carefully and choose a gate that can be installed permanently. (NOTE: never place a gate with a bottom cross bar at the top of your steps.)
  • Multiple pets: if the family cat has the freedom to come and go at will, consider a gate with a small, hinged cat door near the bottom. But be advised a small or toy dog breed can likely get through the door. If this is an issue, choose a dog gate without a cat door; cats can usually jump over obstacles pretty effortlessly.
  • Outdoors: they’re not just for indoors—a dog gate can make a raised deck safer for everybody. Look for a sturdy metal gate that latches securely and resists rusting.
  • Appearance: it may not top your wish list, but if you must look at it every day it might as well be pretty. Many dog gates are designed to be both functional and beautiful.

How To Use A Dog Gate

Introducing him to confinement: Effective training must be part of any change in your dog’s routine, and he may not embrace the idea of separation from his “pack” at first. As with any undesirable dog behavior, how you react will influence the outcome. If he has his paws on the gate when you approach it, resist talking to him or petting him, even if he attempts to melt your heart with beseeching eyes and an endearing tail wag. Giving in to his plea for attention rewards him for bad behavior, and can encourage this seemingly benign habit to deteriorate into scrambling against the gate, jumping, or climbing.

And what of the habitual climber? If it’s possible, opt for a permanently installed gate. Try placing the hardware on an angle so that it leans in ever so slightly towards your dog. It does not have to be a dramatic gradient—even a small one will make climbing very difficult for most dogs. Resolving problems is never easy with complicated dogs: the gate is but one part of the separation solution, and the all-important behavior modification is the other.

Teaching the new puppy where to piddle: The dog gate can be an excellent house training tool for a new puppy, but only when you closely supervise her. If you use the gate to confine her in an area where she is free to do her business at will, you’re not really doing anything to train her not to go inside the house. With proper house training she will learn to view the outdoors as a separate, sanctioned area to eliminate, and the indoors (her confined space) as her den. Before you put her behind the dog gate, take her outside to do her doings. Then closely supervise her when you come back inside. Keep her confined area small, and place her food, water, and bedding in it—her instincts will tell her not to soil that area. And consider using a dog crate in tandem with the dog gate to effectively house train your new puppy.

Open And Shut: Parting Thoughts About Dog Gates

Your dog is smart: keep the gate locked. It may seem obvious, but keep your dog gate latched and locked. Dogs are wily: there are many reports (and even videos gone viral) of dogs who demonstrate mastery of unlatching and opening a gate with minimal effort. If your dog is one of them, choose a locking gate he can’t hope to operate without opposable thumbs.

The Problem with Baby Gates: You may be tempted to use a child or toddler gate in lieu of a dog gate to separate a dog from a small child. A toddler gate will most likely meet child-safety standards, an admirable feature. But a toddler gate can be flimsy as compared with a dog gate. Use due diligence: carefully inspect the quality of the gate before you buy.

Your dog may not love the idea of confinement, but there are so many times you’re likely to need to separate him from the rest of the house, even if only for a while. Weighing your own doggish circumstances against the kinds of gates available will make choosing an indoor dog gate or gates an open and shut case.

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