Bringing a furry family member into your home is a time of delight and joy, but also of worry. Things you previously took for granted – a houseplant here, a bag of raisins there – suddenly become cause for concern.
If you didn’t realize you’d need to dog proof a house before bringing Rover home, that’s okay. If you’re planning ahead before purchasing a new puppy or adopting a golden oldie, you’ll want to make sure your bases are covered. Take a few minutes to learn how to dog proof your home is well worth it, both for the sake of the animal and the sake of your living space.
Here are some of our favorite tips to help you keep your new fur baby … and your home … safe.
Understanding Your Dog’s Perspective
Many humans fail to account for the fact that dogs are, well, different from us. They have different goals (sniff everything) and points of view (navel height or lower). They explore with their noses and mouths, have little regard for personal space, and without supervision can easily get into trouble.
First-time pet owners sometimes fail to realize that “dogness” is a learned quality, not an innate one. Dogs can follow a finger when you point, which wolves cannot do (though they can follow a human gaze, turns out). They also learn such things as:
- Which furniture they’re allowed on
- Rooms to avoid
- Objects they’ll get in trouble for touching
- Behaviors that will lead to consequences
If you take the time to safeguard your home and teach your animal what’s yours and what’s theirs, though, you can avoid punishment and focus on a loving relationship with your dog from Day One. Here’s how to do it.
The Room-by-Room Guide to Dog-Proofing
So, you’re wondering exactly how to dog proof your home, and we don’t blame you. A lot of pet safety is nonintuitive, and it is different from cats, other pets, and children. However, there is quite a lot of overlap.
Research has found that most dogs have an intelligence level equal to that of the average 2- or 2.5-year-old. Therefore, you can think of them as permanent toddlers. They are smart, eager, and capable of learning, but not capable of protecting themselves from complex ideas (e.g. the danger of chemicals or certain foods).
That’s where dog proofing comes in.
Indoor areas are typically safe for pets once dog-proofed, but you need to do a thorough room-by-room audit.
Most people know that chocolate is dangerous to dogs. It’s essentially hyper-intense caffeine to them, and in great enough amounts can cause heart failure. What many owners don’t know is that ordinary foods such as raisins, onions, and artificial sweeteners like xylitol – along with a number of others. Cooked bones are especially dangerous, as they can splinter and perforate the dog’s stomach or intestines.
Therefore, it’s important that you secure all trash cans. You can either use a can with a step lever that opens the lid for you, or place it behind a cupboard with a child lock. Many dogs are smart and persistent enough to open cupboards and get up on counters, so don’t assume that anything at dog level is secure.
The same goes for cleaning products and appliances. Keep them out of reach to avoid toxic ingestion or chewed cords and possible electrocution.
Dog proofing the living room is more about safeguarding your possessions than it is about keeping your pet safe. You can start by choosing pet-friendly furniture that you can wash easily. Even if you don’t allow your dog on the couch, they will inevitably rub up against and smear gunk on upholstery. Both leather and microfiber are good choices.
You should also take care to safeguard precious items, such as delicate vases or figurines. Put these up on shelves or mantles where the dog cannot reach. Also keep toxic plants out of reach, as dogs don’t distinguish between those that are safe and those that could kill them.
Remember to block off lofts – many dogs can climb ladders but can’t get back down – and keep electrical cords behind furniture where it’s hard to access.
Next to the garage, the bathroom is potentially the most dangerous place for your pet. The cleaning products, medicine, and personal care products in there can all be hazardous. Make sure to put all of them in cupboards or on high shelves. Again, secure any cabinets that are at dog level.
Explain to all children and, if necessary, your partner, that everyone needs to keep the toilet seat down, close cupboards, and place shower items – soap, razors – above dog level.
It can be helpful to create a cleaning caddy so that you can pull out all the products you need to, say, clean the bathroom at one time. Take a plastic tote or bucket and load it with sponges, rags, rubber gloves, an old toothbrush, and cleaning solutions. Then put it on a high shelf.
Some people choose to do the same thing with a puppy accident kit: paper towels, carpet cleaner, and disinfectant.
The bedroom is another place where you’ll want to take just as much care with your possessions as with the animal’s safety. Do turn your attention first to potentially dangerous items: usually toxic plants or small objects that could lodge in their digestive system (such as jewelry).
Next, choose appropriate fabrics. Cotton and linen are easier to clean than, for instance, silk or satin. At least while your dog is new, these are a better bet for bedding and slipcovers. Make sure all rugs are either highly washable if they’re on the ground – Persian or wool rugs, say – or can be thrown in the wash.
Keep your shoes somewhere out of the way, such as behind a closet door or in a shoe hanger. Sure, shoes don’t seem that tasty to you, but to a little puppy, they’re absolute heaven. Unfortunately, that’s bad for your bank account and potentially dangerous to your dog, as intestinal blockages can be very serious.
Garage and Laundry Room
The garage is another place with lots of potentially hazardous items. Keep sharp tools hung on walls or in a trash can where dogs cannot accidentally run past them. Yard materials such as chicken wire or chain link should be secured and out of the way.
Keep all toxic substances behind locked doors. These are particularly numerous in garages and include:
- Car products: antifreeze, deicer, or wax
- Garden inputs: fertilizer, slug bait, or pesticides (even ones billed as natural!)
- Cleaning products: household items, car cleaners, or external home products
- Painting supplies: paint, paint thinner, turpentine, or varnish
- Laundry items: detergent, fabric softener, or dryer sheets
Beware that excitable dogs, while they likely can’t hurt themselves on your car, may scratch the paint if they jump up a lot. The only exception is if your car is discharging some kind of liquid, so always keep your vehicle in good repair if you have pets.
The second stage to dog proof a house is checking your outdoor areas. It’s always nice to be able to leave your pet outside, and after you follow the advice below, you can do so with perfect confidence.
The backyard shares several requirements with the indoors, namely the management of toxic plants and chemicals. Refer to the above advice and links for more information on both.
Next up, make sure your fencing and gates are completely secure. Dogs can wriggle through surprisingly small gaps, so do a thorough check before leaving a dog outside alone. If you have children, make sure they understand the gate requirements of coming and going.
Note that wooden furniture can also pose a hazard to animals that like to chew. It can splinter and, like bones, lodge in their stomach or guts. Perforation of the stomach or intestinal lining is very serious and sometimes hard to detect, so keep an eye on chewers.
The front yard requires the same steps as the back: removal of toxic plants, gate, and fence security, and restriction of potentially hazardous substances such as fertilizer, insecticide, or slug bait.
If you allow your dog in the front yard on a lead without a fence, make sure you live in a safe neighborhood where off-leash dogs can’t attack. Also, check if you live in a coyote area. If so, do not put your dog outside in an unfenced location after sundown.
The final step in dog proofing is to make sure your home is safe for your particular pet and home. Let’s turn our attention to puppies and senior dogs, which are the most likely to fall prey to a dangerous situation.
The high energy and curiosity of puppies require extra vigilance, even after you dog proof a house. Create a safe space for them, like a pen, where they can’t get into trouble. You might also consider crate training, which gives them a cozy “home” even if you travel somewhere with them or have to leave them behind alone.
Give puppies plenty to do. Rubber chew toys, especially ones in which you can hide treats or peanut butter, keep them especially busy. Remember to exercise regularly, which wears them out and ensures better behavior.
Like people, dogs lose mobility and senses as they age. If your dog isn’t what they once were, make sure to accommodate it. Block off stairs if they cannot negotiate them, create ramps up to your bed, and give them softer food to prevent choking or pain.
Parasite Management for All Ages
Make sure to treat dogs for intestinal parasites when you first get them. All dogs from shelters or breeders should get an immediate de-wormer unless the seller can show you records that say they’ve just gotten them. You should also flea treat them regularly and give them heartworm meds, which can prevent the development of parasites.
After that, and especially if your dog has access to outside areas that may contain dead animal matter (so, any yard), be vigilant for signs of worms or other intestinal parasites. These include:
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Weight loss or lack of weight gain
- Failure to thrive in growing dogs
- Constant hunger
- Blood in stool
If you see any of these, take your dog to the vet right away.
Training as Part of Dog-Proofing
Lastly, training your dog can complement physical dog-proofing measures. Taking the time to teach them commands – especially sit, down, wait, stay, off, and settle – can make a huge difference to their behavior and your ability to communicate.
It really isn’t ever too late to teach an old dog new tricks. If you bring home a second dog, feel free to train up your first one at the same time!
Dog-Proofing: The Takeaways
Although taking the time to dog proof a house might require a lot of effort upfront, it can save you major heartache in the long run. Not only will you avoid the expense of replacing shoes, plants, and other items, you can avoid spendy vet bills to deal with accidental ingestion – not to mention the sorrow of losing an animal.
That said, you should regularly reassess your home. Dogs mature just like people, and over time, your dog will learn what is and isn’t okay. Chances are you can eventually remove those cabinet locks, trust dogs with plants, and be less vigilant about food.
On a final note, don’t stress! Whether you’re learning how to dog proof your home with an already existing pet or fretting about having done it correctly when you bring them home, trust yourself and stay calm. This is better for you and better for dogs, which are sensitive to human emotion.
Don’t forget: the point of a dog is to provide you with love, comfort, and joy. Dog proofing is only the first step in a long and wonderful journey.