Pet-Proofing Your Home: Beyond Bitter Spray and Baby Gates

A guide on how to dog proof your house.
By Kate VandenBerghe, June 2010, Updated July 2021
Dog-Proofing Your Home

Before adopting my first dog, I did what any soon-to-be dog parent would do, I pet-proofed my home. I was vigilant. Exposed electrical cords were tucked out of sight, my favorite white shag rug was Scotchgarded and put in a room where my dog would never go without supervision, and I bought a baby gate for confining him in the kitchen when I was out. I felt extremely satisfied with my preparation, and thought about what an excellent dog parent I would be. Perhaps it was hubris, but God or the universe or whoever decided that no matter how hard I tried to pet-proof my home, I would be given a dog that would constantly prove me wrong.

My first dog, Skipper, was a breeze to pet-proof for, although he did show me he could easily jump over the 3-foot baby gate. Then came Leo. Problems that had never seen imaginable suddenly needed to be addressed immediately, such as the fact that Leo can scale vertical chain-link fences like Spiderman. Or the reality that even though my fence goes several feet underground, Leo will dig like he’s Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption until he is free. Containing Leo has been like plugging a cartoon water leak: Once one rupture is stopped, another pops up out of nowhere, then another, and I’m left scrambling to fix them all at once.

Leo seemed to know no limits or bounds, until finally he went too far. One rainy afternoon, he tried to follow me outside and down the stairs leading to the garage. I closed the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and told him to stay. When I got into my car, Leo was in the backyard and I assumed he would use the dog door to go back into the house. Instead, he scaled the gate (with his aforementioned Spiderman abilities), slipped and fell down the flight of stairs. I returned home an hour later, entering through the front door and not immediately seeing Leo. It seemed strange. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, so I panicked and went to the backyard, imagining he had escaped. Then, I spotted him. Leo was at the bottom of the stairway to the garage, shivering. My heart broke. I felt that in spite of my efforts, I had failed. Though Leo wasn’t seriously injured, he sprained three ankles and scraped the front of his face. We were lucky, as his injuries could have been much worse. After taking him to the vet and confirming he would make a full recovery, Leo spent the next few days curled up in a ball on the couch, seeming to consider what he had done.

Though it’s been challenging to pet-proof my home, I think we’ve finally reached an understanding. For me, pet-proofing is not about creating impossible challenges for the dogs to defeat (because my dogs have proved time and again that nothing is impossible for them) and it’s not really about protecting my property (no matter how much I love that rug), but instead it’s about ensuring the protection of what is truly important—my dogs. And they seem to recognize I put in place to keep them safe and comfortable, even if one of them had to learn this the hard way.


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Here are a few things I’ve learned about dog-proofing my house.

Kitchen: Food is the biggie here. Keep food off the counters and cabinets closed to be sure that snooping pets don’t get tempted. Dogs have been known to eat all sorts of small, easily digestible items like twisty ties, bread clips, and even sponges. Beyond that, store knives and other sharp utensils away safely.

Bathrooms: Hazards abound in the bathroom. If you’ve got a mischievous pet, there is a lot to pet-proof here. Keep cleaning supplies, medication, vitamins secured away. Another common hazard in my household–hair ties—put loose hair ties up high and safely away from pets.

Laundry room: Keep washers and dryers closed. Unfortunately, these places are attractive napping places for pets.

Living room: It is a good idea to tuck wires and cords out of sight. Move children’s toys, small valuables, loose ends out of sight of pets. While open windows are an excellent way to let in the breeze, please don’t leave them open while you’re away. Dogs can (and will!) jump through screens if something is tempting on the other side.

Bedrooms: Bedrooms are generally safe, but loose socks can be a real hazard if you have a dog who eats everything.

All the rest: Unfortunately, pets can get into all sorts of things, from rubber bands to plastic bags. While these dangers might not be an issue for all animals, it just takes a moment of curiosity for them to cause an emergency for your pet. Get down and look at the world from your pet’s point of view to see what could be an issue in your home.

Photo: iStock

Kate VandenBerghe is a recent graduate of the California College of Arts MFA program in San Francisco. She runs Paper Animal Design, her own freelance design company, and lives in Oakland with her two rescue pups, Skipper and Leo.

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