Sisyphean Housecleaning With Dogs


My stepdaughter and her son are coming to town for a visit. Hurray for vaccinations! They live in New Jersey, and haven’t been to this coast since her son was a newborn, five years ago. We moved into a “new” house three years ago, and they haven’t seen it yet! So my husband and I have been doing an extra-good job of mowing and our usual spring yard work outside and a deep clean inside – to try to restore a little of that new-house luster. (It was built in the 1950s, but even so, it’s the newest house we’ve ever lived in, and it had been professionally cleaned and painted before we moved in.)

Here’s the thing: In Northern California springtime, the grass grows a few inches a week. We’ve been mowing and weed-whipping and weed-pulling. The mornings are dewy. Add those things together and throw in a dog, and you have grass clippings and muddy feet getting tracked into the house all day. So you think, ok, the floors are the LAST thing we’ll clean.

I’m accustomed to a few red-dirt paw marks on the outside doors, down low. But when foster dog Kiki learned to open this door by jumping up and pawing the handle, the red stains got a lot higher on the door. 

I noticed that the doors are still muddy outside from where my little foster dog (still happily ensconced in her new home, hurray!) was in the habit of pawing at them to get let inside. Or let herself inside, once she discovered that the kitchen door has one of those handles that you just have to paw at to open. I wiped all the doors down, noticing with some dismay that our local red dirt has stained the white paint – but the wiping took the mud down a notch, anyway! That is, until Otto got scared by the backfire of a neighbor’s lawn mower and frantically pawed at the same door to get let into the house. No problem – wiping it down again!

In the living room, where the dogs spend most of their time when they are in the house, there is another problem of order. The room needs a really good vacuuming, aaaallll the way into the corners and under the couches, and the book shelves really need to be dusted, too. You should vacuum before you dust – because vacuuming tends to make more dust – but the last thing that needs to be done is vacuuming again, because it’s spring and the hair coming off the dogs is just relentless! The couches, especially, need this. If someone could please invent a self-vacuuming couch, I’ll put in an order now. 

This has been going on for days now! I wiped all the windowsills –and turned around to see water drops all over the kitchen windowsill; Woody is in the habit of drinking and then meditatively gazing out the window as the last of the water dribbles from his lips. Washed the floor mats inside the doors – and found a big grassy vomit all over the one inside the kitchen door (the dogs have been eating the spring grass like they were grazing cattle). Back into the wash it has to go. I swear, the dogs have never been so dirty!

Woody has a habit of carrying his last mouthful of water away from the bowl and letting it leak out of his mouth (all over the floor and windowsill) as he gazes out the kitchen window.

Cleaning my car took more time than anything in the house. Usually, I’m the only one driving it; my husband prefers our pickup, even just for errands. And I drive my dogs to our favorite walking spots, at least several times a week – and when I have adolescent foster dogs, daily! So I do tend to let the dog hair and dirt build up in the car; it’s too hard to keep it even kind of clean. After I pulled out all the sheets and blankets that usually cover the seats, it still took me about four hours with a Shop-Vac and towels and hair-rollers to get the car about 90% dog-hair free. And I will NOT allow the dogs back inside the car until our guests leave. We’re doing home-based recreation and exercise for the duration, because that was just way too much work.

Of course, the truth is, I don’t usually notice every single bit of dirt and grass and hair shed by my dogs – and especially after a year of virtually no visitors, I haven’t worried about it too much. Don’t get me wrong, our home is usually quite neat and fairly clean, but there is nothing like having a non-dog-owning guest, especially a non-frequent visitor, for giving you the incentive to do a nice deep clean. I just wish I could put the dogs in little hermetically sealed space suits until the guests arrive.


  1. We have 4 dogs, 1 GSD, 1 Husky mix, 1 Hound, 1 medium mix breed and 2 Cats. All shedders, I could vacuum three times a day and still have a ton of hair. Being dog people we just don’t let the hair, mud etc bother us, our house is neat and tidy but will never be hair free no matter how often we clean.

  2. We live on a fenced in acre with one American bulldog mix and one Maine Coon cat. Both animals shed— but the hair isn’t the biggest mess maker. It’s the dirty paws. I have a paw mat at the top of the deck and then one at the door but they still manage to bring in so much dirt and wet grass on their paws that I finally invested in washable throw rugs for inside. I don’t like them but they are functional. But the dirty paws are never ending. My husband teases me I have job security cleaning up after these two.

  3. I have 5 dogs and 2 cats. I just purchased my 5th Dyson vacuum cleaner. I realized a long time ago that I could either live in a super clean house or learn to accept what comes with all the critters. The love, company, and joy that they provide is well worth the mud, drool, fur and accidents that come with aging animals. One only need say goodbye to a beloved pet to understand how much you can miss one of those muddy paw prints or tufts of hair. They’re worth the annoyances! And I’ll never have a clean house!

  4. I’m sorry, too. Losing our dogs has been very hard. I’ll take the mess any day.
    I so relate to this post. It’s true, I can live with quite a bit until an infrequent someone else is coming over, and I start seeing the house through different eyes. We bought the cheapest robot vac on the market and it was one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. We left it to Goodwill when we moved and were ready to invest in a better one, it having proved its worth. I don’t want this house to descend to the depths of the last one. Although it also was kept picked up and reasonably clean, there was too much that would require a week of solid cleaning. Fortunately, my husband and grandson are on board with toweling off paws and wet fur before they come into the house. Helps a lot.

  5. I wish I only had water drops on the window seal! Our wild child drinks and it goes to the right of her mouth, on her right foot, and over a foot away from the bowl! Then we have one wet paw print going across the kitchen and dining room. I invested in an iRobot S9 that vacuums 6 days a week and a Braava Jet M6 mopper that runs 3 days a week. Our floors look so much better without all the loose dog hair on them. The mop robot leaves wheel tracks, but the floor is pretty clean and sure beat us not mopping the floor all the time.

    Deke’s Mom, I know how you feel. It’s been almost a year, and I still reach over to put my hand on my black Lab only to find a blank spot on the bed.

  6. We are in Oregon, with woods behind. Gave up on carpets years ago and installed Core etc. Nothing messes up this stuff. Not the sand, the forest debris, water, dog…whatever. Looks good and cleans up in a heartbeat. No refinishing every 5 years. Added some Orvis dog mats at the doors. They get bad and need more than a quick vacuum and I take them out and hose them off. I love real wood, but with all these dogs and this environment, wouldn’t trade these floors for anything else.

  7. Two Christmases ago, Santa brought me a Roomba. My husband was positive our little “MO” (named for the cleaner robot in WALL-E) might survive a couple months and then die an ignominious death from dog hair. We normally use MO on our first floor, which is all laminate or vinyl flooring. Our resident Wet Noses are 2 very busy Australian Shepherds who seem to shed undercoat in perpetuity. Before MO, we would see a daily rolling parade of hair balls, assembled and then herded about by the living room ceiling fan. To our wonder and happiness, MO is still on daily duty and our floors have never been better! As long as I empty the dirt holder, bang the filter to knock the clinging dust free of the air filter (or honestly take the dirt holder to the garage and blast it with the grooming dryer), clear the hair from the front wheel axel and the two different rotating brushes, after every session, we’ve really had no problems at all! MO occasionally whacks into the water bowl in the kitchen which might slosh out a bit of water, and make the chamber around the brushes sticky for more hair. Both dogs were initially baffled by MO, but have learned where they can go to sleep through a cleaning session (elevated dog bed? snooze in their crates? camp out on fireplace pillow and watch?). Loki even figured out how to turn MO on with either his nose, or with a front paw, and then sort of play “tag” on rainy, boring days. In all honesty, we find it hard to imagine NOT having our Roomba on duty, making a huge difference in both dog hair removal, dirt, dust, crumbs that escaped canine notice, and so forth. And no, I don’t work for the company! Just know my dog’s undercoats are thick, soft, profuse, and between 1.5 -6” long, and during the spring and fall “coat blowing” periods, they lose enough hair to make a Pomeranian-sized clump apiece, EVERY DAY!

  8. Oh Nancy this made me laugh! You are gifted with words and humour. A self vaccuming couch sounds good even for my grandson. The hermetically sealed spacesuits-😂😂. Dogs do shed a lot this time of year, I sometimes wonder where it is all coming from and why aren’t they bald. Lol. My granddog Joy whose mother was a chocolate lab and father was a border collie sheds enough for two dogs. There are tumbleweeds in spring. She only visits though so it’s not a constant thing. Have a great visit with your family!

  9. I truly believe my dogs and fosters are allergic to the smell of cleaning products. Especially laundry detergent. Can go for weeks without anyone having upset tummy, the day I put out fresh blankets and beds at least 2 will throw up on them. Usually the bigger beds that need to go to the laundry mat.

    And it’s not an allergy, I’ve tried several brands over the years.

    But I would trade those 4-footers in for anything.

    • Kirstin, so interesting because two of my previous dogs each would throw up on the bed pretty regularly after the bedding was laundered. I always use Downy but finally switched to unscented and haven’t had that issue anymore.