Decorating Your New Home for Your Dog

Lively pets make your house a home. But lively pets often cause wear and tear on your furnishings. But don't be discouraged. Interior designers say that clean carpets and upholstery, intact draperies and electrical cords – even your most precious collectibles – can successfully co-exist with your dogs. Decorating with certain fabrics and materials, planning open and closed spaces, and thinking about how each room is used can make a major difference in the way you and your dog relate to each other. Here is a quick guide to help you accommodate style and budget in a dog-friendly habitat.

"I can do without another leather sofa, since my puppy bit apart the first one," said Dave, a New York television reporter, whose dog viewed his couch as a big chew toy. "My wife and I, and all our visitors, put up with drinking out of plastic glasses for five years while our kids were toddlers – and we survived. So the sofa went, and the dog stayed."

Dave has the right attitude for a dog owner. Home should be a haven for all family members, and your dogs are no exception. But their idea of "home" is different from yours. Ancient animal instincts rule their feelings of comfort and security. Once you accept that, you can arrive at choices that work for everyone.

You can make your house a friendlier place if you observe a few basic rules though. For example, spayed and neutered dogs are calmer. Groomed dogs shed less. Clipped claws scratch less. Certain foods are more digestible and produce less waste. Dogs that are played with and exercised regularly are less likely to dig, chew and trash things when you're not home.

Through Your Dog's Eyes

Before you start to redecorate, try imagining your home as your dog sees it. Is there a place where exciting scents accumulate? Are there quiet places? Areas of activity? Areas where you can look outside?

Think about how your dog reacts to specific objects. Does your puppy invariably knock over a floor lamp? Replace it with one that has a heavy base. Does your chubby dog get stuck under a low-lying end table? Find one that stands taller. Does your beloved animal shed all over a light-colored sofa? Think about using a washable slipcover.

Also, consider the way your dog reacts to events in the home. For example, your dog sees your home as his territory and assumes the role of protector. Perhaps you have returned to find your blinds destroyed because he spent his day "protecting" his home from the work crew building a new porch on the house next door. On the other hand, he may choose to sleep – and shed – on your favorite recliner or pillow simply because it smells like you. While you can train your dog to respect certain objects or areas, you can't predict everything about an animal's preferences, and you'll have to plan accordingly.

Floor Coverings

In general, floor and furniture fabrics in very light or dark colors show pet hair and accidents. A textured, stain-resistant material with a design hides a multitude of sins.

Nylon pile carpets are easier to spot clean, according to Carla Kunkel, an interior designer for the Ethan Allan store in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Berber wools and Orientals show a circle once the stain is cleaned. Sisal rugs are worst, and once there's a spot, it's impossible to clean.

Beautiful polished hardwood floors are best for a household with dogs. But they must be treated with polyurethane to resist stains. If the floor is not well-sealed, humidity can release an old pet stain into the air long after the accident has been picked up.

Similarly, tiled floors are easily cleaned. They, too, must be professionally sealed, so that organic smells can't seep into the grouting. Wood or tile flooring makes flea control easier, too. But tiled floors may be too slippery for an older, arthritic animal. In that case, says Jacque Schultz, director of special projects for the Animal Sciences Division of the American Society for the Prevention of Animals (ASPCA), sheet linoleum is best.

Upholstery Fabrics

"Dogs shed. While frequent grooming will help control excess hair, florals, prints and tweeds camouflage wayward wisps," advises a commonsense Bloomingdale's flyer.

But the nub of the material matters, too. Schultz, a multiple pet owner, says: "Raw silks and tweedy fibers can catch on claws. Flat tapestry is very forgiving. Chintz hides accidents and isn't nubby, but it can be easily shred through, as I learned myself when I brought home a brightly-covered, irresistible antique fainting couch."

Slipcovers, she says, are not only trendy and fashionable, but also a blessing for pet lovers. Get at least one set that is washable.

Dogs can make a project of chewing through wicker, rattan and sisal furnishings. "I learned another lesson when I brought home French country chairs with woven rope seats," Schultz explained.

Once the decorating is done and the pet settles in, Kunkel says there's lots of room for creativity. "If your dog likes to sleep on the bed, I design a washable, extra-soft quilt or throw in the same pattern as the bedspread that the dog will prefer because it's softer. I've also ordered extra pillows that match the sofa and chairs of any room and can be kept on the floor for the pet. One client had two cats that liked to sit up high, so we included shelves in several rooms that were covered with soft material like the chairs."

Window Treatments

Homes with dogs – especially houses with several stories and high-rise apartment buildings – require screens on all open windows. Dogs fall from windows, balconies and fire escapes.

Many a mini-blind has been bent into retirement by large dogs that like to look out the window. Leave your dog in a room that doesn't face a busy yard or walkway while you're away, and, instead of using blinds, cover windows with a heavier drape framing light sheers, Schultz advises, so that your dog can see out.

Worth His Weight in Sunbeams

Be thoughtful about the touches that make a house a home. For example, if you have plants, make sure you know the effects they have on animals. Some can irritate your pet's tongue and throat. Others cause intestinal upset or diarrhea. Azalea, oleander, castor bean, sago palm and yew plant can even be fatal, affecting heart rhythm or mental function. If your pet likes to dig up houseplants, cover the dirt with chicken wire.

Keep your dog's food and water dishes in a non-trafficked place, away from the smells of the garbage pail. If he loves to lie in sunbeams, open a curtain in a sunny room. Keep your play-exercise area uncluttered, so your pet can concentrate on your interactions.

And if you ever become discouraged by a little animal damage now and then, consider what Mark Twain said: "A home without a dog, and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered dog, may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove its title?"