Adapting Your Home for Dogs

You could rip out all the carpet, bubble-wrap the furniture and install an industrial-level air ventilation system in your home to accommodate your new dog. Sure, this extreme level of home preparation will get the job done, but obviously it’s an unrealistic plan.

Getting a new pet creates dozens of adorable moments, and it’s an exciting time for both pet and owner as bonds develop through play time, treats, discipline and just sharing the same space.

But it can also be a housekeeping headache that is stressful for the owner, who is trying to maintain a lovely home, and the pet, who comes wired with some rather unpredictable canine instinct and behaviors.

Prepping Your Home for a New Dog

So you’re thinking about getting a dog — a friend, a companion and, perhaps, a nice addition to your home security.

Always go with your heart — the dog you love, the dog that needs you or whatever you feel is right. But if you’re open to breeds, consider one that doesn’t excessively shed to reduce some of the routine chores that dogs create.

Many terrier breeds, schnauzers and poodles don’t shed. Meanwhile, labradors, akitas, collies and pugs are all great breeds — but you’ll likely be stashing adhesive rollers in your home and car to get their hair off your clothing and furniture.

Likewise, larger dogs tend to be harder on rugs, floors and furniture by virtue of their size alone.

Whatever dog you choose, properly preparing your home will help your new dog learn the lay of the land more quickly. Consider getting a dog bed that has sufficient padding for your type of dog — larger dogs require more padding to reduce callused elbows and stress on their joints and skin.

If possible, take any beds, blankets or toys that they had been using in their previous home along with you — even if you plan to replace them soon — so that your dog has a familiar item with their scent.

Find an area for that dog bed that is out of the way, but in a relatively high traffic area where you spend a lot of time. Dogs are domesticated and typically want to be close to their owners.

Now, consider your yard. Do you have fencing to keep the dog in? If not, consider it. Having a fenced yard will allow you to more easily let your dog in and out when you can’t go for a walk or monitor your pooch.

Finally, consider a safety inspection. Be sure pesticides and other chemicals are stowed away, put choking hazards and electric cords out of reach and look out for other things that you think could create problems, such as plants that could easily be knocked over by a wagging tail.

Be sure your dog has its vaccinations before you bring it home. In Austin, the pet doesn’t have to be registered, but Travis County residents can register their dogs for free and get microchips at Austin Animal Services weekdays between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Once you’ve identified a nearby veterinarian, a few places where your dog can chill out and you have a fence — or a plan on how to make sure your dog gets plenty of outdoor break — it’s time to introduce your new family member to your home.

“Start by allowing them to adjust to one room—their ‘home base’ —which should include their favorite toys, treats, water and food bowls, and litter box for cats,” says Dr. Katherine Miller, director of anti-cruelty behavior research for the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When they seem comfortable, gradually introduce them to other rooms in the house, while keeping some doors shut.”

Work on reinforcing boundaries where your pet is not welcomed. Some owners are happy to let their dogs have free reign — others teach their pets to stay out of the kitchen or off of beds and furniture. Whatever your style, consistency is key. Dogs thrive on routines, will do almost anything for rewards and learn from reinforcement.

Once you and your dog are settled, consider learning how to walk together. Austin requires all dogs to be on a leash, except when in a designated leash-free dog park. See a recent article on dog walking and neighborhood etiquette here.

It’s also helpful to start looking for neighborhood dog sitters, groomers and boarding facilities so that you have a plan figured out when you take your next out-of-town trip and have to leave your dog back home or in a kennel.

Remember, it is illegal to leave your dog chained in your yard unattended in Austin. (See the law here.)

Adapting for an Aging Dog

Many dog owners will be lucky enough to have their companion live a long, healthy life. But, in many cases, those final months or years can be difficult as your dog has more physical and mental deterioration.

Make things a little easier by minimizing the amount of stair climbing, jumping and temperature extremes your dog has to deal with.

Consider making or buying a ramp or easy steps for particularly difficult or steep stairways leading to the backyard — or wherever your pet comes and goes on a regular basis.

Often, senior dogs will have an occasional accident in the house — no matter how well potty-trained they may be. Those accidents often hint at other health problems, so consult with a veterinarian.

But, meanwhile, you can limit damage to carpets, floors and furniture by restricting your dog’s area while you’re away — perhaps blocking them off in a kitchen or bathroom as long as you believe your pet will be safe and comfortable.

Also, consider investing in a spot cleaning vacuum (an example). It’ll make cleaning up small areas easier — whether it’s your dog’s accident or a spilled glass of wine.

Even though the aging process can be frustrating and sad, do your best to stay upbeat with your dog to make sure you both are getting the most out of life.