Managing the multi-dog household, part 1: cleaning

So, way back in the day when we only had one dog, I blithely told Nate that I wanted a pack of dogs when we had a house and yard to contain them.  Nate asked what I meant by “a pack” and I said four sounded good to me.

Well, we’ve been living with a four-dog household for just over a year now, and it’s definitely not as easy as I thought it was going to be!  So, I have in mind a three-part blog series on managing a multi-dog household: cleaning, feeding, and inter-dog relationships.  Today, I want to talk about cleaning.

A large brown dog on a patterned rug

When we moved into our new house, we bought a new area rug, and a new vacuum cleaner (the old one died while we were cleaning out the old house).  I knew when we bought the rug that I wanted something short-pile because plush and shag carpets just can’t hold up to foot traffic over time, and it would hold less hair and dirt, and it let me use my hand-held vacuum cleaner to keep things clean until we bought a new upright.  But what I learned is that my innate lackadaisical housekeeping nature is very much at odds with the amount of cleaning required to live with multiple dogs.  I needed some coping strategies.

Enter: my housekeeping calendar.  There’s a certain purple-loving woman on the internet who is the queen of housekeeping for people who were not Born Organized, and while I find most of her “inspirational” materials to be hopelessly hokey, her methodology and routine-building strategies really do keep the house clean … when I’m consistently applying them.  If left to my own devices, however, I come home from work and laze about the house.  So, before the turn of the year, I spent some time setting up a housekeeping calendar and tweaking it to fit my schedule (rather than the “control journal” recommended by the queen of cleaning).  It starts when I get home in the afternoon, and I block off 15-minute intervals to do various vacuuming, dusting, mopping, and other chores.

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Thanks, calendar, for letting the world know I’m sitting at my computer writing a blog post rather than exercising.

What I have learned about managing the dirt and odor generated by three giant dogs (and one medium dog) in a cute-but-tiny 1950s Cape house can be broken down like this:

Choose your surfaces carefully.

Deep plush carpets feel great under your feet, but are disgusting and impossible to deep clean dirt traps.  Hard floors are a breeze to clean, but can be slippery for the dogs and cold in the winter.  My solution is hardwood floors and tile throughout the house, but with carefully selected area rugs in specific locations.  The rug we bought when we moved into the house was chosen because it was very low-pile and I thought it would hold up well to foot traffic.  Turns out it also held on to hair like it was a precious natural resource and even with shampooing and vacuuming never really really looked clean.  We’ve since replaced it with a natural fiber woven rug that I’m hoping will hold up better.

Four dogs carry in a lot of dirt and dander every day.  I’ve basically resigned myself to the fact that I need to vacuum every day.  And I need to wet-dust (with a damp rag) every week.  And the baseboards need to be done pretty often, or else they get a fine layer of brown on them.

Make your soft surfaces washable.

Dog odor comes from shed hair, dander, and skin oils.  (Oh, by the way, your body does all that too.  You’re as bad as they are.) Really plush orthopedic dog beds are super comfortable, but can’t fit in my washing machine, and I am not going to haul them to a laundromat on a regular basis.  Flat “crate mat” style beds can be layered for softness and take a trip through the washing machine once a week.  Sofas covered in slip covers (or blankets and throws) stay cleaner and can be laundered at home.

A dog sleeps in a large dog bed, on an arm chair, with blankets.
Jackson loves soft surfaces.

See that bed?  That’s exactly the kind of one that your dog loves, but your nose does not.  Also, I swear I don’t leave dog beds on the chairs; I had put it up there so I could vacuum, and Jackson decided to be a jackass.

Keep your dogs clean and well groomed.

When Tippy was still alive, he got bathed two or three times a year, because I thought he wasn’t dirty.  When we got Jackson and started showing, I learned just how wrong I was.  You don’t realize how grimy your dog’s coat gets until you start bathing him every weekend or every other weekend.  And trust me, when I meet your dogs out in public and reach out to pet them, I notice how long it’s been since they’ve had a bath.

In an ideal world, I would bathe the dogs twice a month.  When we are showing, they get bathed about that often.  When we are not showing, it’s easy to get lazy until I can’t stand feeling their grime when I pet them anymore.  Clean dogs not only feel clean, but they smell clean, and they aren’t wiping dog-odor on your soft surfaces every time they lay down.

On top of the daily cleaning, the cleaning lady I mentioned above recommends breaking your house into “zones” and tackling a different zone every week with a detailed cleaning list.   Starting with removing cobwebs from the ceiling and working your way down to cleaning baseboards and deep cleaning floors.  I’ve added washing high-traffic walls from waist down to my cleaning lists.  I never thought about the fact that dogs rubbing against walls would make them grimy until the lighting was just right in the hallway one afternoon and I could see how dirty the walls were.  That kicked off a half-hour flurry with a Magic Eraser on every surface I could reach.  You also come to find that every time a dog sneezes or shakes its head, tiny goobers end up all over the walls, leaving them spotted.  Who knew?!


And, finally, I’ve had to accept that my first choices in decor are not compatible with “hides dirt.”  The pretty cream-and-gray rug we bought for my office is now “gray-and-darker-gray” after two years of dogs.  The microfiber sofa and chairs in light olive shades — which, to their credit, are probably ten years old now — have permanently stained arms where the dogs like to rest their heads on the low armrests.  The seat cushions and backrests were protected by throw blankets, but the arms … not so much.  White slipcovers may seem counter-intuitive, but they can be stripped off the sofa, bleached if necessary, and then replaced — removing the dirt before it has a chance to become a stain.

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