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I used both playpen and crate. I did most of the house-training in the crate- it was a small enough den-like space that she didn't want to go to the bathroom in there. Each time she was let out of the crate, she was taken straight outside (carried at first) to potty and praised heavily.

I didn't use puppy pads, so I'm not sure on the benefits with crate + pen. I feel like a crate in an ex-pen/play pen would be counter intuitive, but I don't know much about potty training with pee pads. My puppy didn't translate so well between crate=den to playpen=den. We had many pee accidents in the x-pen (probably because we put a mat in there).

However, I highly recommend both crate and expen for training. We used the ex-pen for time outs when puppy was too bitey because we didn't want the crate to be a place of punishment. The ex-pen was used for time outs and for fun, so puppy never saw it just as punishment. We spent lots of time conditioning both spaces to be happy spaces. Now, we alternate between leaving her in the crate and the x-pen at 6 months old because she still doesn't love going in the crate each time we leave.
 
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