Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column "Conversations with Champions" for the BCSA magazine, "Borderlines."
Dog Play Pen Testing
Pet playpens are ideal for puppy potty training, introducing a new puppy to a resident cat or dog, and keeping your pet safe and secure while traveling. Whether you have a new puppy or are seeking a containment solution for an older animal with incontinence issues, you will want a durable pet playpen that will securely contain your animal.
We took a look at four of the top sellers, testing them for security, durability, and portability. We were surprised to find the number one seller was deserving of a big thumbs down on all three criteria.
1. Heavy Duty Dog Play Pen 40" 8 Panel Review
This heavy-duty playpen is appropriate for both indoor and outdoor use. It is marketed under several brand names, with the Best Pet brand being the most widely recognized. Each of the eight panels is 40" tall and 31.5 inches wide, creating just over a 21-square foot play area.
The individual panels are lightweight. However, the complete product box weighs 55 pounds. New owners taking delivery of the product may want to open the box outdoors and bring the individual panels indoors in pairs.
Panels are easily joined together by 40" long pins that slip through loops on the ends of the panels. These pins can be pressed into soft earth outdoors to add stability to the pen and sink into carpets without piercing the carpet backing.
However, they can cause damage to hardwood flooring. If you intend to use this pen indoors on hardwoods, then invest in felt adhesive pads for the pins. The panels themselves should not cause damage to hardwoods unless they are being violently shoved across the floor. Pet owners whose dogs become overly excited on their owner's return may have an issue with this.
Appropriate for puppies, rabbits, adult dogs, and ferrets. Not recommended for midsize and large breed dogs to stay in unattended. Will not contain healthy cats. Can be used indoors, in garages, and outdoors.
- Easy tool-free assembly.
- Easily moved.
- Can be set up in a variety of configurations.
- Additional pens can easily be added to create runs or a larger play area.
- Can be configured as a gate to wall off areas of the home.
- Sturdy and durable.
- Affordable, typically less than $125.00 with shipping.
- Wire mesh grate occasionally arrives with a wire or two not properly welded to the frame. (Ours did). Most buyers use super glue to remedy the situation.
- Gate is narrow for a well-rounded person.
- Individual add-on pieces are not available. You need a full second product to expand the first.
- Will rust where paint is cracked or chipped if used outdoors.
These pens come in two finishes, black and hammertone. The hammertone, also called silver and granite, has a heavier coating on it, and is more appropriate for outdoor use.
The heavy-duty pens come in 3 heights 24" 32" and 40" Prices between them typically vary by $10.00 per height increase, so the 40" height gives the best bang for the buck. The lowest rating this playpen received was three stars, outperforming all other playpens in customer satisfaction and easy of assembly. We give this pen a big thumbs up as the most versatile dog playpen.
2. Midwest Black E-Coat Series Exercise Pen
One of the all time best sellers, the Midwest Exercise pens are sturdy and well constructed. Relatively light weight, they are easy to move around and fold flat for easy storage, which makes this our number one pick for a secure travel playpen.
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This style exercise pen is used by professional handlers to allow them to easily configure turnout areas that can quickly be constructed and broken down when they are on the road.
Each pen has 8 panels that are 24" wide and vary in height from 24", 30", 36", 42", and 48", creating a 12-square foot play area. The 42 and 48 inch pens are relatively heavy for lifting and storing.
These pet pens gain added stability by joining them together in a line of rectangles or cubes. When in this configuration, they are usually held together with bolt snaps. The Midwest E-Coat series comes with four bolt snaps and grounds stakes for added stability outdoors for freestanding exercise pens. When used individually, the octagon configuration shown in the image is the most stable.
Appropriate for: puppies, adult dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and ferrets. Not recommended for containing healthy cats. Medium to large breed dogs should not be left unattended in the pens, as they can be overturned and collapsed.
- Quick tool-free setup.
- Easily relocated.
- Can be attached to the opening of a dog crate.
- Easily stored; folds flat to a 4" depth.
- Great for travel.
- Not as sturdy as the heavy-duty pen.
- Can be used indoors, but will move and reconfigure easily with pressure from a 25 lb and up dog.
- Hooking two pens together to create a single large pen creates an unstable enclosure.
- Hinges will rust with prolonged outdoor use.
- The snap hooks that come with the pen are low quality. You will want to replace them with heavy-duty brass or nickel-plated snap hooks from the hardware store.
Wire mesh exercise pens come in three colors: black, gold, and silver (silver available from other manufacturers). There are two types of exercise pens, those with and without doors. If you are dealing with multiple puppies, the door will come in handy.
Midwest makes a 4x4' top that can be added to the exercise pen when set up in a square pattern. This top adds stability and makes the enclosure safe for containing cats. This pen gets a thumbs up as our number two pick overall as the most secure playpen for travel and quick setup and stowaway at home.
3. Iris: The #1 Selling Pet Playpen on Amazon
Iris is far and away the best-selling dog playpen on Amazon with its two models holding the number one and number three spots in pet playpens. Positive reviews abound, but a quick look at the product and a review of the one-star ratings had us wondering how it maintains the sales and positive product reviews.
Neither playpen is tool-free. Both require the purchaser to assemble the latches and hinges on the pet gate. The latches are not very sturdy, and it seems that, with frequent use, the screws will strip out of the plastic molding. It also comes with rubber feet to be installed by the purchaser, apparently included to limit the pet's ability to move the pen.
The pen we looked at, the 4-door 24" high model, was very lightweight, just over 11 pounds. While the material appears well constructed, its light weight was a concern. Negative reviews were damning with tales of dogs moving the pens around the house, eight-week-old puppies lifting them up for escape, and puppies and teacups handily climbing out of the pens. In some instances, puppies broke legs on their descent. (Scroll down to see the escape video and how easily it is accomplished.)
Why do puppies and small dogs climb so easily out of this pen? The cross braces are made of 1/2 wide flat plastic rungs. Unlike the wire mesh cross braces, these are wide enough and comfortable enough to act as a ladder for the dogs. They easily ascend to the top railing. Once there, they drop over the edge to freedom.
Iris makes a mesh cover for their playpens that is also a big seller. Held on by Velcro straps and with no rigid structure, a determined puppy or dog will easily bypass it.
Appropriate for: Inert dogs, rabbits, and ferrets.
- Can be used indoors and outdoors.
- Looks good indoors and blends well with white kitchen interiors.
- Additional panels may be purchased in pairs.
- Too lightweight, can be lifted by puppies and easily moved around the house.
- Cross brace design acts as a ladder to assist escape, causing potential injury to small dogs and puppies.
- Pen bends easily with pressure from the dog, and it can be prone to collapse.
- Requires tools for assembly, occasionally hardware bags are incomplete or missing entirely.
The Iris plastic playpens come in white, pink and pale blue. Given its price point and ease of escape, we have to give this pen a thumbs down. For nearly the same price, you can purchase a heavy-duty playpen with no assembly required that will adequately contain your dog.
4. X-Large Pet Playpen
The Extra Large pet playpen includes two gates, allowing it to be a single large pen or to be broken down into two pens. This pen is similarly constructed to the heavy-duty pet playpen reviewed at the beginning of the article.
- Made from heavy-duty steel.
- Can be used as two pens, a small one indoor and a larger one outdoors.
- Tool-free setup.
- Sets up easily and easily reconfigured.
- Folds flat for storage at a 12" depth.
- Ships in two packages for easy handling.
- Can be used as a fence if placed in a zigzag pattern with connecting rods pressed into the soil.
- Narrow entrance gates.
- Watch for rust spots and hit them with Rustoleum hammered finish paint to prevent corrosion.
\If you are looking to create a large pen or fence off an area of your yard, the X-Large Pet Playpen is going to be your least expensive option. It also allows for easy reconfiguration. Note that it will not be stable over long distances if set up in a straight line. In the photo below, the gateway was inset to add stability.
Best Pet Portable Soft Playpen
A wide number of manufacturers produce soft-sided playpens. Given how impressed we were with the Best Pet Heavy Duty Crate, we decided to look at their version of the soft pet playpen. As with soft crates, this is not an item for a puppy or a known escape artist. The mesh and seams on any soft-sided crate or playpen will give way to repeated pawing.
On this Best Pet model, we noticed that the zipper was not as sturdy as we would have liked. Many consumers have experienced teeth falling out within the first week of purchase. Others have issues with the seams next to the zipper opening. Once the zipper goes on one of these playpens, the product is useless. The Precision Pet Models have a removable floor, which allowed easy escape by all sizes of dogs.
This style of playpen is best used with dogs who are already resigned to being enclosed. Interestingly, the soft pet playpen is very popular with cat owners.
Appropriate for: Dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets.
- No assembly required.
- Lightweight and portable.
- Folds away easily.
- Good for travel.
- Offers good ventilation.
- Zippers may fail within the first 2 weeks of purchase rendering the pen useless.
- Pets should not be left unattended outdoors.
- Not to be used with a novice to containment.
- Some purchasers complained that it was difficult to clean and became smelly.
- Relatively expensive considering the materials they are made from.
We advise holding on to the box after delivery. Test the zippers several times. If you feel it sticking, you're likely to have one that will lose teeth in the next two weeks. Return it before it breaks. We'll give a thumbs sideways for this product. It works well for well-behaved pets.
© 2013 Barbara Fitzgerald
moonlake from America on August 08, 2015:
I would love to have a playpen for my small dogs. They would like to stay outside longer than I want to stay out with them. My only problem is the pens don't have a top and I am worried about wild animals getting in with them and carrying them off, even eagles are a problem.
Voted up on your hub.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 23, 2013:
Hi Jamie: Yes, the Iris is actually the one in the video with the puppy escaping. Its cross braces are flat and act like a ladder to help the puppy climb and escape. Some break their legs on the descent.
Jamie on October 22, 2013:
Have you considered the IRIS Plastic Exercise/Containment Pet Pen for Dogs, 6 Panel. It looks pretty nice too, but the customer reviews are conflicted about having to put it together with screws while the description on the purchase site say "no tools required". Strange.
Adrienne Farricelli on September 02, 2013:
Actually dogs with separation anxiety are often my guests! We train them to get used to gradual departures and learn to enjoy the play pens without freaking out!
Firoz from India on June 18, 2013:
Useful Dog Pen Review. Voted up.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on June 16, 2013:
Great to hear! Sounds like you have good dogs with no separation anxiety.
Adrienne Farricelli on June 16, 2013:
Great review. Voted up. I have 4 soft-sided play pens ranging from extra large to small and so far are holding up the dogs who come to board and train with me. I am a cageless facility, no cages or crates, but dogs love to spend time in the play pens as they're always open and have fun rewards inside!