My husband Brad and I like to think we keep a pretty clean house, but sometimes we’re amazed at how much hair and dirt surround us. We’re not fastidious about housecleaning, but we do try to keep things relatively hair- and dirt-free and neat – “try” being the operative word. As we’re making the bed, sweeping the kitchen floor, or vacuuming the carpet, there’s proof positive of the fact that we live with two Australian Shepherds and two furry felines.
All that hair and dirt around our small country home serve to remind us that 1) we adore our dogs and cats and wouldn’t want to live without them; and 2) we’re happy that we decided to make life easier by choosing fabrics, flooring, and furniture that works well with our pets. Not having to worry about our dogs or cats “ruining” something in our home provides great peace of mind!
Here’s a glimpse into how and why we’ve made decorating decisions that work well for us and our animals.
I can’t remember exactly when Brad and I first began talking about “decorating around our animals” – it was probably about 14 or 15 years ago. I believe it started when we were attempting to find a solution to keep our cats from using the front of the upholstered sofa’s arms as a scratching post. We had numerous cat scratching posts and other items we defined as “legal scratching items,” but the arms of the sofa were much preferred by our furry felines. Our solution was to buy a Mission-style futon with a wooden frame so that the arms wouldn’t be optimum scratching areas.
It worked beautifully. The cats moved to using items around our home that we considered “legal.” Lest they consider the futon cover as an alternative scratching surface, we chose a faux-leather cover that wouldn’t show damage even if scratched, and it certainly wouldn’t pull or run as many materials will do. Happy humans, happy cats.
Fast forward to today, and I’d say our house looks comfortably lived in, and the hair from natural shedding and the dirt that inevitably follows the dogs and cats inside is easily washed off or vacuumed up in no time. We’ve selected only flooring, fabrics, and furniture that are comfortable for us and our animals, resistant to scratches, easy to clean, and that don’t show the inevitable pet hair.
Remember that no matter your chosen style of décor, if you’re striving for “fuss-free” decorating, no matter the item (flooring, furniture, fabrics, etc.), it’s nice to keep the following in mind: scratch resistance, damage resistance, comfort for your pet, and comfort for you. Here’s what we’ve found works well for us, and some ideas for what might work for you in your home.
Best Flooring for Dogs
We’re unfortunately limited with flooring choices and have carpet in all rooms of our house, except for the kitchen, which has wood flooring. The carpet is necessary because our home is so old that when it was remodeled, insulating the floors was an afterthought, and there is no crawl space under our house to remedy that. Carpet makes it much more comfortable during the winter.
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We’ve chosen a very tight-weave, Berber-style carpet that’s a beige color with darker flecks in it. The tight weave keeps it from pulling due to the normal wear and tear of dog toenails and cat claws, and the multiple flecks in the carpet disguise any dirt before it’s time for cleaning. It’s also very easy to spot-clean when it comes to any potty accidents or the occasional vomit that’s inevitable when one lives with animals.
The kitchen has 100-year-old, reclaimed, heart-pine flooring, which is easy to clean – sweep and mop, that’s all. However, pine is a soft wood, which means it dents and scratches easily. To me, though, the dents and scratches add character to the floors, and because they contain so many imperfections, I don’t fret about any inevitable new ones.
Flooring is the most heavily used surface in our homes, particularly when we have dogs. Popular considerations for flooring in your pet-friendly home are usually wood, bamboo, carpeting, tile, vinyl, or linoleum. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and what works for me may not work for you.
It’s not uncommon for a dog to have an aversion to a specific type of surface (our own dog Cody doesn’t do well on tile), so if you know your dog won’t be comfortable on a certain surface, consider another option. For example, if your dog or cat is prone to allergies to dust or pollen, you might want to avoid carpet. And if he’s habitually anxious on slick floors, hardwood might not be the way to go. You want to keep your pet’s comfort and health in mind just as much as you do your own comfort.
If you opt for wood, solid hardwood floors have an advantage over softer woods, such as the pine we have in our own home. Choices include solid wood, hardwood veneer, and laminate flooring. Solid wood is just that; each exposed part of the flooring is made of genuine hardwood and nothing else. Hardwood veneer is a type of construction that’s made up of slides of hardwood bonded to composite board or plywood (sometimes called “all wood”). Laminate refers to a surface of plastic, foil, or paper, often printed with photographs of wood-grain patterns bonded to something like particleboard or fiberboard.
Bamboo flooring seems to have exploded in popularity. Technically it’s a grass, but I’ve learned that bamboo is as tough as most hardwood when dried. It comes in a variety of plank styles and colors, too.
Tile is also a popular choice. It’s easy to clean because dirt, stains, and liquids all rest on the surface. However, it’s a hard product that can be cold in the winter and not comfortable for a dog to lie on.
Almost every brand-name carpet manufacturer has a stain-free and pet-friendly version. Stainmaster® is probably the most widely known brand. However, when I talked with the carpet expert in our local big-box-remodeling store, she told me that many carpets today have the same qualities as the ones that are advertised as pet-friendly, only at a lesser price. There are health and environmental effects to be considered with carpeting, though it seems easier to today to find better choices than ever before. Four-legged traffic takes a toll on carpet (we can attest to that), so do your research to determine what works best in your own home: stain-resistant, wear-resistant, or stain- and wear-resistant carpet.
Vinyl flooring is one of the least expensive options available, but pet owners should be aware that it also has the most potentially for contributing to poor indoor air quality in your home. The word “vinyl”is short for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Vinyl itself is a relatively stable product, but most vinyl flooring also is permeated with phthalates, the common name for phthalate esters, which make vinyl soft and cooperative. They do this very well in part because their molecules do not bond to PVC, but rather move freely through it and into the surrounding environment.
The phthalates used to plasticize PVC are what give it that familiar “vinyl” smell. If you can smell vinyl, then you and your pets are inhaling phthalates that are out-gassing. The stronger a vinyl product smells, the greater the amount of phthalates it contains. If you or your pets are particularly sensitive to chemicals, or live in an apartment with limited access to fresh air from the outdoors (as in many high-rise buildings), vinyl flooring is a risky choice.
In contrast, old-fashioned linoleum, made with natural, renewable materials such as linseed oil, tree resins, recycled wood flour, cork dust, and mineral pigments, and mounted on jute or canvas backing, is considered a “green” product. Who knew? Not me. Linoleum has been around since the mid-1800s and is naturally anti-bacterial, biodegradable, and can last up to 40 years with proper care and maintenance. Because the color in linoleum runs all the way through the material (unlike vinyl flooring), if it gets stained or scratched, you can buff out any damage and refinish the floor.
In our home, the fabric on our sofa is faux leather and our soft chair is real leather. The colors are dark brown and deep red; we chose them because they don’t show much dirt. Though not totally scratch-resistant, if either is scratched inadvertently, it only adds to the distressed-leather look. Oh, how I adore white upholstery or white leather. But it just doesn’t work in a home where our animals are invited up on sofas and chairs. We keep the white on the walls and the colors on the furniture. Because our dogs and cats sleep on the bed with us, we like choosing bedspreads and quilts that are patterned and in colors that blend with the colors of our dogs’ hair. The more heavily patterned the fabric, the less I’ll see the inevitable paw prints and pet hair until it’s time to be washed.
There’s so much to consider with the wide variety of fabrics available today. No matter what you choose, take into consideration that even if your pets don’t join you on the bed, chair, or sofa (though I sure hope they do!), their hair seems to just pop right off them and head straight for upholstered furniture.
Keep the unique characteristics of your pet’s hair in mind, too. Certain types of stiff dog hair poke into certain types of fabrics, almost instantaneously becoming part of the weave, and are extremely difficult to vacuum our pull out with a tape roller. Soft, downy hair from other breeds (and cats) sticks like lint to other fabrics. Pay attention to what fabrics you have in your home, wardrobe, and even car that your pets’ hair doesn’t stick to, and look for more of the same.
In our experience, real leather, in a pre-distressed finish, is the most durable fabric for couches and chairs, and it’s easy to brush or vacuum hair away, and wet-wipe off any liquid that a pet might dribble or spill (I don’t want to get more specific than that; we’re all pet owners here, right?).
Consider outdoor fabrics for indoor applications, too! They may not be as soft as your average sofa covering, but they will hold up better over time.
And speaking of covering the sofa, keep in mind that washable and replaceable slipcovers for upholstered furniture, though costly, are less expensive than buying new furniture. It might not be worth the investment if you have one small dog and live in a condo. But if your home has a dog door and your backyard has a pond or vegetable garden and you live with a swim-happy Labrador or mud-loving Australian Shepherd, it might be worth your while.
Antiques and flea market finds happen to be our chosen style. No, most antiques aren’t scratch resistant, but when you buy a piece of furniture from an antique store or flea market, there’s no need to worry about the first scratch because every item comes with scratches or some other marks from its previous life. I really like that! Any new scratches just add to the story of our life with our animals. If you prefer new furniture, you could opt for the distressed look (think shabby chic) or choose furniture made from metal or a hardwood, such as oak.
I don’t quite understand it myself, but I’m aware that many people seem to try to hide the fact that a dog lives in their home, worried that the presence of gates or crates or a big dog bed might detract from tasteful decorating. The good news is that today, there are an endless number of very attractive dog-management products on the market, and product lines that are available in a wide variety of finishes in order to blend with any home’s décor.
For our part, Brad and I put more effort into finding products that offer better-than-average stability, durability, and ease of opening and closing. When shopping for these products, it’s worth it to look farther afield than just your local pet supply store or big-box chain store. They may carry just one brand or type of each sort of product. As just one example, Carlson Pet Products has a stunningly wide range of high-quality, functional gates, crates, and exercise pens that can be ordered from various retailers.
For crates, gates, and beds that wouldn’t look out of place in a palace, check out Frontgate’s pet products. I wouldn’t be surprised if Queen Elizabeth shopped for Corgi-management products here; they’re a little pricey. But, no worries, you can DIY it!
One of my favorite DIY crates is a “crate end table” that can be built with the plans at Ana-White.com. I particularly like crates that are designed to fit nicely and look good in your living room or bedroom, as your dog should live with you and not be banished to a secluded area of your home.
Have you ever thought about a do-it-yourself pet gate? I’ve discovered so many interesting pet gates that truly do seem easy to make yourself. I’m fascinated by several styles that can be made from pallets and look lovely when stained or painted. (See this DIY page.) The Sparta Dog Blog also has a variety of ideas that might strike your fancy and work well for you and your pets.
While our dogs sleep on our bed with us at night, we nevertheless have dog beds that are specifically for them, and periodically, they’ll actually choose to use them! The most important thing to keep in mind is the comfort of the bed for your dog. Does your dog get hot or cold easily? Does she prefer smooth fabric or fleece? There are orthopedic beds, allergy-free beds, environmentally friendly beds, cooling beds, warming beds, and even cave-like beds for dogs who like to burrow. Like us, each dog has his or her own preference, so do give some thought to the type of bed your dog may like before you choose.
My personal favorite happens to be the Bumper Bed from West Paw Design. It comes in a variety of patterns and colors, so it’s easy to find something that complements the colors in your home. The beds are filled with a thick denier 100 percent recycled IntelliLoft® polyfill, and the cover options include those made with regular cotton, eco-friendly organic cotton, or organic hemp. The covers are all removable and machine-washable, too. I don’t know about your house, but that’s a must in ours. Our West Paw Design beds are six or seven years old now, and while they don’t look brand spanking new, they show no wear and tear at all. And most importantly, our dogs love them.
A Peaceful Home
While it’s true that our pets don’t care about how we decorate and how our house looks, they certainly do notice when something is comfortable or uncomfortable. Let’s make things comfortable!
Our dogs also notice if we display anger when they happen to make a mess on an important piece of furniture. If you tend to get frustrated frequently because something in your home gets scratched, marred, or dirtied by your dog, perhaps it’s time to rethink your decorating choices and move to fuss-free decorating. Your dog will thank you for it.
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a faculty member of the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training, and Behavior and Co-Instructor for the Separation Anxiety Certification Program. She is the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina, with an additional location in the Space Coast of Florida.