For some dogs and some situations, crates are perfect, but they aren’t appropriate for everyone or every dog. There are many options that work just as well, or better, depending on what you and your dog need.
When properly used, crates provide dogs with a safe space that belongs to them, keep them out of trouble, help them learn to relax in a predictable way and facilitate house training. All of those things can be accomplished in other ways while allowing dogs who need it more freedom to exercise and move during the day.
There are many reasons you might not want to crate your dog. Some anxious dogs like to pace and may injure themselves trying to get out of a crate during thunderstorms or other scary events. Some people have schedules that would require their dogs to spend way too long in a crate. Some dogs naturally don’t like to be closely confined. Very large dogs can be impractical to crate because a giant box they can easily sit, stand, and turn around in is practically a small room anyway.
X-pens are the most crate-like crating alternative. They’re basically the doggy equivalent of playpens and many products advertise that they’re for kid or pet use. Some models allow you to expand them to a larger size with more panels so even larger breed dogs can have some extra room to move around. They often come with optional tops in case your dog is a jumper.
Crates are often advertised as being good for housetraining but I know many people who try to use them and regularly come home to a mess. They may not even be leaving their dog for longer than they can reasonably expect between bathroom breaks. Puppies, adolescent dogs, and new rescues are prone to diarrhea and vomiting, so a dog with a sensitive or upset stomach may not be able to wait. If your dog isn’t able to wait long enough to relieve himself you’re much better off covering your floor and providing an emergency potty area in an X-pen than forcing him to spend the day covered in the mess. The whole point of using a crate to house train a dog is that they don’t like to sleep in their bathroom but that can be unlearned if they have to do it often enough.
X-pens allow your dog extra room for slightly more active play and a larger variety of toys than a crate but they still keep them away from walls, furniture, cords, or anything else that’s a potential problem in your house. It’s an excellent set-up for younger dogs who may become pent-up in a crate but still aren’t trustworthy with anything they’re not allowed to chew, like your walls or cabinets.
Most adult dogs and less chewy puppies are also perfectly fine in a bathroom or kitchen as long as it’s been puppy-proofed. Shy dogs may prefer a quiet room you don’t often use but most dogs like to be near their people in their safe space so the kitchen might be ideal. You may have more success teaching them to relax in their room alone if you use a baby gate instead of a closed door because they can see you and you can treat good behavior without opening the door. The benefit of using a room is that you can sometimes spend time in the room with them and reward your dog for calmly hanging out with you. Your dog may really need a safe place away from people, but if your dog is social and your house is adult-only they may not need more than a bed you don’t generally bother them on and which they are rewarded for hanging out on. Part of the reason dogs should feel safe and relaxed in their crates is because they’ve been specifically trained to feel that way. Dogs that live with children should always have an escape option where the kids can’t follow them, but otherwise there isn’t a requirement that there be a specific barrier for your dog to relax in a special spot. You can even use a mat to train relaxation on and take it with you if needed.
If you’re usually home, tethering can be a good option. It’s not safe to leave a dog unsupervised and tied up, but if you just need to keep them from peeing behind the furniture or counter surfing behind your back, keeping them leashed to you or near you can let your dog learn the rules of the house without making mistakes.
Many people will use the possibility of surgery as a reason all dogs must be crate trained, but you can restrict a dog’s activity enough for all but the most serious surgeries or injuries in a room or part of a room. If you’ve got a breed prone to serious spinal or joint injuries, it makes sense to try to make sure they are comfortable with extremely restricted movement in a crate before it’s necessary, but those risks can be assessed with your vet individually. Most dogs make it without more than a few stitches and being allowed a greater range of movement during their recovery isn’t an issue.