House Hunting With Dogs? How to Choose a Home That Will Make Your Dog's Tail Wag
By: Cindy Steyer, Owner
If you’re in the market for a house and either have dogs or plan to have dogs, it would be wise to consider their needs along with your own when house hunting. Whether you are a first-time home buyer or are a seasoned home buyer, there are specific aspects of a potential home to consider to assure the home is the right fit for your pups. These considerations will help to ensure a happy and satisfying experience in your new home for both you and your dogs for the foreseeable future.
Single Level or Multilevel Home
Do your dogs have health issues that make it difficult for them to navigate stairs? Do you have a dog breed that is prone to hip dysplasia such as German Shepherds or Golden Retrievers? Your dog may be fine today, but what about five years from now? If your dog sleeps in your bedroom, you may want to look for a home with the bedroom on the main level of your home or even look for a single level home.
We live in a single level home and one of our dogs has had hip dysplasia since he was a puppy. We never really thought about the effect steps would have on him (and us) until we spent a summer in Virginia in a two-level apartment. Every night, either my husband or I had to carry our 50-pound English Bulldog mix up a set of steep, slippery wooden stairs to the bedroom. Loki really didn’t mind at all – it was us that ended up paying the price. After three months of this, we knew that we would never own a house with stairs (unless it had a main level bedroom) as long as we had Loki.
Unless you are looking for a condo in the city that doesn’t have a backyard, you are going to want a backyard that is safe for your pup. You may think that you can just walk your dog every time he needs to go out, but when it is raining, snowing or 10 degrees outside, you’ll long for a secure backyard where you can let your dog roam safely without you needing to be at his side.
Now, just because you have a fenced yard doesn’t mean you don’t need to supervise your dog. Things happen – the gate could blow open, he could dig up a buried power line, a predator could get into the yard. I call southern Arizona where we live “Wild America” (anyone else remember that PBS show?) – we have coyotes, bobcats and large hawks – all of which will attack and try to kill a dog or cat if the opportunity presents itself and can easily jump or fly over any type of fencing.Just because a house doesn’t have a fenced backyard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. What matters is that the yard is suitable for fencing and that it is allowed in the neighborhood. You might ask for the seller to install a fence as part of the negotiations, or you could plan on installing one after you purchase the home. Any type of fence will do, as long as it is secure and too high for your dog to jump. Some dogs can’t jump a 4-foot fence, and some can easily get over a 6-foot fence – it just depends on your dog. I would recommend a fence that is a minimum of 5 feet high. When we bought our house, we replaced the old 5-foot chain link fencing with a 6-foot high block wall (a common type of wall in the desert – wood fences don’t last in the sun and heat) that encloses our entire 1-acre back yard.
We let our dogs out and either go outside with them or watch them through the windows. We have had a coyote at our gate while our bulldog mix was on the other side, and we have had a hawk try to attack our Boston Terrier. So, we always recommend that dogs be supervised while outside. Please, NEVER leave home and leave your dogs outside, no matter how secure you think your backyard is. In addition to predators, your dog could be stolen, let out accidentally by a neighbor or utility worker that needs to access your yard, or any number of other things could happen.
If you are considering a house with a pool, there are some things you should consider to ensure the safety of your dog. Can your dog swim? Will you teach him? What if he doesn’t learn? Pools pose a safety hazard to pets just like they do to children and the same precautions need to be made.
If you are looking for a house with a pool, the best option is to either choose a house that has a fence around the pool or to install a pool fence once you purchase the house. If that isn’t an option, you should try to teach your dog to swim and familiarize him with where the pool steps are so they can exit the pool if they fall in.
Keep in mind that some breeds are better than others at swimming, and some tend to sink like stones (English Bulldogs fall into this category). Our English Bulldog refuses to learn to swim – he gets terrified and panics in water deeper than him. We keep a close eye on him when he is near our pool because it doesn’t have a fence. Once we were at the pool and he fell in trying to get onto a submerged step – he froze and just started to sink. He didn’t even try to paddle. I grabbed him before he got more than a few inches underwater and pulled him right out, but it was a scary moment and now I always worry about him when he is near the pool. On the other hand, our Boston Terrier fell in once, and before we could run from the patio to the pool (20 feet away), his head popped up, he calmly swam to the steps, and climbed right out.
Every dog is different, but I would encourage you to do what you can to keep your dog safe if you purchase a home with a pool, whether it’s pool fencing, teaching your dog to swim, or (preferably) both.
If you live in an area where grass makes up 99% of yards, then you have nothing to worry about – grass is perfect for pups. However, if you live in a harsh climate where grass is very expensive to maintain (like the desert), backyard landscaping becomes more of an issue for the comfort of your dog. When we moved with our dogs from the east coast to Arizona, our older dog wouldn’t pee all day when we arrived because there was no grass – only gravel.
While it isn’t feasible for most to maintain a yard full of grass in the desert (or eco-friendly), a backyard in the desert can have a mix of textures to make your dog and your wallet happy. We have a just a small amount of grass where the dogs can go to the bathroom, lay in the sun (in a different area than they went to the bathroom of course) and play. There are also areas of gravel that they don’t enjoy walking on but that is easy to maintain, an area of sand where they love to play, and in the back part of the yard, areas of just dirt and the sparse wild grass that grows in Arizona. This is their exploration area because we have ground squirrels, rabbits and lots of birds in that area. We’re vigilant about removing any cactus that tries to grow, because inevitably the needles end up in our dogs’ paws.
In the desert, a backyard full of gravel is very common, especially with smaller backyards. This can be very hard on dogs’ paws, so try to find a house with at least some areas that are easier to walk on. Your dogs will thank you.
With these aspects in mind, you’ll be able to find a house that is perfect for both you and your dogs. Happy house hunting!
Have more ideas of what should be considered by dog owners when house hunting? Leave me a comment below!
- Cynthia Steyer