The many ways homes can go to the dogs

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

benefits of owning a dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • Spending on food, supplies, veterinary care and other expenses for furry family members totaled $72.56 billion in 2018
  • More people are giving thought to how to make life easier, more comfortable and less stressful not just for themselves, but for their pets
  • While pet features in a dedicated space may not be standard — yet — some home designers are betting that considering the needs of households with dogs will become an expected norm
  • The wild dogs that predated domesticated dogs warmed up to humans in stages, and in the process of domestication, humans and dogs formed relationships for mutual benefit, and later, dogs began to take on more of a companionship role
  • When arranging your home, the living, breathing animals you spend much of your leisure time with are worth considering for your own peace of mind as well as theirs

For the 89.7 million dogs in U.S. households as of 2017, up from 60 million dogs in just eight years, statista.com1 reports, it’s clear a few things are changing, both for dogs and the people who love them.

One of the biggest changes in recent years is that doghouses seem to be in the doghouse. In other words, not a lot of dogs make use of them when they’re separate from the people living in the “big house.” Nowadays, most pet dogs have much better digs to lay their heads, generally in their own space just down the hall.

For one thing, having dogs under the same room allays anxiousness of family members who often refer to their pets as “fur babies” and themselves as “pet parents.” One reflection of this is that annual spending on food, supplies, veterinary care and other expenses for furry family members totaled $72.56 billion in 2018.2

Arranging for the comfort of canine companions in an increasing number of households is more than just a sweeping trend. According to Forbes, builders and manufacturers aren’t the only ones sitting up and taking notice.

At the 2019 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, for instance, one cabinet maker pulled out all the stops by highlighting a “modern” laundry room complete with such pet features as storage space for gear like leashes, treats and medicines, and a two-tiered platform for homeowners to comfortably bathe their pooches.

While such features aren’t yet the norm, some home designers are betting that considering the needs of dogs — and designing new homes accordingly — is more than just a fad. And it’s not just a design concept for posh domiciles built to impress, but for both mid-level and luxury consumers.

Home design with pets in mind

When arranging your home, the living, breathing animals you spend much of your leisure time with (and perhaps your nights, as well) are worth considering for your own peace of mind as well as theirs. Failing to do so will arguably make life harder for them; doing it only makes sense when you realize how practical it will be for you. Notably:

“The National Association of Realtors (NAR’s) 2018 profile of home buyers report shows that 15[%] of respondents chose their neighborhood specifically because of their pets, 33[%] wanted the area’s pet-friendly parks and recreation facilities, and [4%] said they were buying better homes for their pets!”3

Necessities and accessories can make life with Fido much more functional, and easier. When planning an area for your pet, one of the best things about transforming a space is that many of the items are available online. That way, area rugs, storage benches and handheld shower wands can match your existing décor.

Real estate agents and home builders are making sure the list of amenities they offer includes options that will help homeowners keep pets active and healthy. Sheila Bridges, a designer at the Kips Bay Decorators Show House in New York City, told Forbes:

“If you have enough space and are a dog owner, it makes sense to have a shower or wash area dedicated to them. Have you ever tried to wash a big dog that has been skunked in your own bathtub? It’s a nightmare.”4

Not surprisingly, one of the features popping up is a built-in doghouse in the main house, often next to a built-in feeding station. Additional ideas for such a project include:

  • A wet/dry vacuum to dispense with excess fur and other pet-related messes
  • Building a drain in the floor for easy clean-up after bathing your pup
  • Choosing a low-noise hair dryer to protect your dog’s sensitive ears
  • Placing the trash can inside a cabinet to discourage dogs from “dumpster diving”
  • A dog door leading to an outdoor play area for your pup, which allows him to get inside and outside safely
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Changing roles: From feral to friend to family

Not so long ago, people figured a barn would suffice to shelter dogs just as it would for horses, cows and chickens. Building a doghouse might have been considered a step up by many who saw having a dog as a necessity, apparently not realizing that weather conditions and other factors might make such an arrangement not just unsafe, but in some cases inhumane.

What changes had to take place in society for people to begin seeing dogs as more of a family member as opposed to a beast seemingly impervious to freezing cold and insufferably hot temperatures? It took time. The wild dogs that predated domesticated dogs warmed up to humans in stages and began being classified for the jobs they could do, as in “working” dogs known for their hunting, herding, sporting or retrieving skills. The Bark observes:

“Most agree that humans and dogs have existed together for at least 100,000 years, and a few researchers have suggested that, based on DNA evidence, the human-dog relationship could be much older.

We don’t know when the first doghouse was built, but it was certainly after we gave up our nomadic ways and settled into homes of our own — we would have wanted to protect the dogs that watched our sheep, guarded our homes or helped us hunt.”5

In the process of domestication, humans and dogs formed relationships for mutual benefit, and later, as human society morphed, dogs began to take on more of a companionship role. Popular Science notes, “Eventually, humans had enough resources and downtime to keep animals around for fun and for show, leading us to breed all sorts of strange looking critters.”6 Perhaps social media has speeded the process, but, as Bridges reflects, sheltering your dog in your home only makes sense:

“Most pet owners consider their pets as important members of their family. Animals enrich our lives in so many ways that it seems worth considering if you have the budget or space for it.”7

To crate or not to crate

There’s been conjecture regarding whether dog spaces in the house should include a crate, or if dog owners should crate their dogs at all. Some say it’s tantamount to putting them in prison, but a few considerations make crate training a wise proposition. It may come in handy if they have to be transported, such as an emergency requiring the entire family to go to a shelter. According to Forbes:

“Most shelters allow dogs to be placed in a separate area in the same shelter but they must be in a crate. Dogs are already freaked out being in a different area and would be in worse shock if they are placed in a crate they’ve never been in.”8

There are a number of scenarios that might require placing your dog in a crate, and one of them is for the safety of the animal. That’s why dogs in the wild have a natural instinct to create or find a den that “fits” them; close quarters denote safety so they can nap without worrying about predators. A crate, a soft rug or blanket will offer comparable warmth and comfort.

When training your dog to enter their crate, it should be a positive experience for them. However, if it’s avoidable, never force them to go in — or out. It offers them alone time without feeling anxious, which is beneficial for housetraining, not to mention overnight stays away from home. That said, Modern Dog magazine states:

“Dogs are social animals; they require interaction with other dogs or people. They also need exercise, mental stimulation, and appropriate ‘potty’ opportunities. So, while some time spent in a crate is usually a positive element of dog rearing, too much time spent in a crate can have disastrous consequences.”9

More people seem to be giving thought to how to make life easier, more comfortable and less stressful not just for themselves, but for their pets. Make their space a cozy place they can retreat to.

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