Designing your home for your dog and your dog’s home for you
By Jon Bastian
When we think of architecture and home design, we generally think in human terms. Is the home or apartment big enough for the family? Is it in a style that the residents can live with? When it comes to the interior, is the furniture arranged to provide plenty of room to move around, but also make the TV easy to see from various angles and the dining table easy to sit at with no one shoved up against a wall? All of these elements are important from a human point of view, but it is too easy to forget that the design and décor of a home also have an effect on its canine residents. Not only do dogs see the home from a much different, lower perspective, but they perceive it in an entirely different way. They won’t care whether the furniture, paint and drapes are perfectly color-coordinated — but if the fabric on the sofa gives off a bad (to them) smell, or there aren’t any safe places to make a den, then your dog won’t feel at home at all.
When decorating your home, it is also very important to consider what materials you use. Flooring, fabric, and paint can cause unexpected problems if you do not choose carefully. For example, while Berber rugs may look nice, they have large-loop material that can easily snag on your dog’s claws which can unravel the rug and injure your dog. If possible, hard floors are preferable to carpet — they are easier to clean, and can provide a cool spot for your dog to lie on on hot days. If you must have carpet, select a low pile in a stain-resistant synthetic fiber or wool.
For furniture, consider tightly-woven fabrics that can resist rips and tears. Leather, ultra suede, and microfiber material are all ideal choices for dog lovers. They also make it easier to clean up pet fur. If your existing furniture is not the ideal material, then use washable slipcovers to protect the fabric and facilitate clean-up. For windows, avoid vertical mini-blinds, which can be quickly damaged as curious dogs push through them to see what’s outside. Also take precautions to tie up drapery pulls and cords so they will not be a strangulation hazard or temptation for chewing.
Two hidden dangers for dogs are paint and plants. When repainting your home, look for brands that are advertised as having no or low VOC (volatile organic compounds) levels. These are chemicals used to quicken drying and enhance mold resistance, but they can out-gas for up to a year and a half and could cause respiratory issues for your dog. When it comes to live plants, avoid ivies, philodendrons and dieffenbachia, which all can be harmful if ingested.
The above is good advice if you’re redecorating or moving, but if you don’t have either of those luxuries, then you can always provide your dog with his or her own den or doghouse, which can be as simple as Snoopy’s famous A-frame box or as elaborate as a mini-McMansion. One company, Le Petite Maison of South Carolina, creates dog houses that come standard with recessed lighting and, typically, a heating and cooling system for the dog’s comfort. While there are no enforced building codes for dog houses in the United States, some international regulations insist upon heavy climate protection. One Le Petite Maison project in Asia even had to be typhoon proof.
Large and elaborate is not always better, especially because of the recent tendency for people to have fewer children and adopt more dogs, often seeing their pets as “practice family.” People are also shifting to leaner lifestyles with less of an impact on the environment. With this in mind, as well as with an eye to what a dog needs, architect and designer Erick Millan devised the Doghouse Cube as a simple, practical alternative, winning Best in Show at last year’s Barkitecture Austin, one of a series of annual dog house competitions and fundraisers.
“Dogs relate to space differently than we do,” Erick explained. “They approach with their sense of smell.” Following their instincts as den animals, they seek out more intimate spaces. Unlike the traditional doghouse design with a big, obvious opening in front, the Doghouse Cube’s entrance is narrow and almost hidden, with the opening to the private space inside smaller than the space itself. The former provides a challenge to the dog and an opportunity to explore, while the latter accommodates a dog’s tendency to sleep in a curled-up, fetal position. The exterior cube provides an area for the dog to lie in the sun, while its open gridwork creates complex shadow play.
A key word when planning your space for your dog is “multi-function,” and the Doghouse Cube is also designed to accommodate human needs, with room for extra storage or green space on top. When the two parts of the cube are closed together, it can function as an accent piece or even spare seating, which is ideal for making the most of limited room.
Although dogs have been domesticated for a long time, human living spaces are quite different from the natural world they would prefer. Fortunately, with a little clever adaptation by people, you can make your home feel natural for your dog, whether you live in a cabin in the woods or a high rise in the city.
Do you have a special set up in your home to accommodate your dogs? Tell us all about it in the comments.