Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky Homestead | April 7, 2013

A House Crafted for the Love of a Dog


Spirit, the wonder dog and I had a mind meld relationship. We knew what each other was thinking.

We moved to the country so we could have a dog. Not just any dog, but a very special, super-smart chocolate Labrador retriever, I named Spirit. And after she came to us, we found ourselves eagerly crafting a home-made with dogs in mind. I found that having these two dogs turned our house into a home. You may want to grab your handkerchief….This is a true story.

We lived for 24 years in a cute 75-year-old Cape Cod home on a postage stamp size lot in an older neighborhood with sidewalks, curbs and gutters in the city of Kalamazoo, MI. This two-story, older home with two sets of stairs was in a great middle-class neighborhood and a wonderful place to raise children. But there was not enough space for large dog. So in 2000 we moved to a 5-acre parcel of land with an older Ranch home in a nearby county nestled up to the Oak Savanna Forest.

We now had plenty of land to welcome dog into our hearts and best of all we were now just 10 minutes from the Allegan Forest with its many trails and ponds to run, swim, exercise and train a large retrieving breed. This decision was all centered on the land and having the dog of our dreams.


Gene and his Lab Sassy resting after a hike at Ely Lake, Allegan County, MI.

My husband is an upland bird hunter who loves to train dogs for bird hunting and hunt with them. He has raised several memorable Labs previously, but as a partner in mid-life second marriage large dogs were new to me. I was working from home as a papermaking artist and running an art gallery located on our property. We now had the land, I had the time, I was game and I was ready.

We adopted our 60 lb. chocolate Labrador, Spirit in 2002 and Sassy, the 55 lb. black lab, was selected 4 ½ years later. Spirit was a traditional square head Lab with golden eyes and lanky body. Spirit was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia and arthritis at age 9 months and we retired her from hunting and she became my beloved companion rarely far from my side. Spirit also became the official greeter at The White Oak Studio & Gallery for the eight years it was open and everyone who met her loved her gentle and warm personality. Sassy with her black eyes is field trial bred Lab so is smaller and more petite but a powerhouse of muscles and energy. She can hunt and retrieve ducks, geese and woodcock with the best of them.


Gene with Sassy (left) and Spirit (right) in the lupine meadow in the Allegan Forest.

To ready our 2,000 sq. ft. mid-century home we tore out the old rugs and pad and put down a “green” linoleum flooring product by Amtigo that is a dead-ringer for wood. Everyone who comes here looks and just assumes we have a wood floor, it is that close to the look of wood.

All of our gardening efforts here are organic and I was becoming more environmentally conscious with every passing year and I was determined that we not use a product that off-gasses. I had had an issue one other time where new carpet and pad had caused a serious allergic reaction and my esophagus closed down. I also didn’t want toxic glues fumes around our dogs. I made the installers jump through hoops and did a lot of research before I allowed them to use the glue they proposed.

I had initially considered a floating wood floor, but we needed a more durable flooring type that could hold up to the toe nails of one and possibly two large dogs as well as the dirt and sand of an outdoor, county lifestyle. The flooring material I ultimately choose is linoleum manufactured in board-like strips of three varying widths each glued down individually. This has the look of natural wood and if there is a serious accident in a given area and a strip or two is ruined, they can be heated, peeled up and a fresh strip or two re-glued down. No expensive redoing of the entire area or room.

The linoleum has a 35 year wear warranty and is constructed in three layers. After 10 years of heavy use by humans and dogs, there are subtle changes in the top lawyer of the floor especially main kitchen walk through it is visible mainly to my eyes when I look specifically for it. No one else would even notice. The wear has been everything the installer said it would be.

This linoleum runs seamlessly throughout our home including through the family room, east bathroom, kitchen, living and dining space and our second bathroom. I placed area rugs and runners throughout in a dog-friendly “oriental” pattern and colors, of forest green, brown, rust and gold, under our dining table and under our couch to create a warm and cozy living room area. As our older Labrador, Spirit, began to age and fear slippery floors, I added a long runner in the kitchen and hallway area to give her a non-slipping walking path to feel safe.

A second flooring type of poured river rock pebbles runs in our long entrance hallway between the two sides of the house at the front and back entrance doors and down into our three-season porch, our main entrance point to our home. This too is dog friendly and super durable. It requires only frequent vacuuming and every decade or so, a service call to wash and re-seal with polyurethane.

When we first began to talk about having dogs my husband let me know in no uncertain terms that he “sleeps with dogs.” So a compromise was had, the dog would sleep with us in our king size water bed but would have weekly showers to keep the dog smell at a minimum.


We even chose our camping vacations are locations that accept dogs.


Spirit rests in front of a fire in the log cabin after a long walk.

When it came time to re-tile and redo our main shower the needs of humans and dogs both became a part of our “want” list.  A non-slip tile was chosen and the shower was left large enough to accommodate a 6 ft. tall man and a 60 lb. dog. We choose a pull down shower head for easy rinsing and built-in shelves to hold various flea shampoos for the dogs and shampoo and conditioner for the humans.

Dogs require a lot of gear; leads, training dummies, towels for wiping feet, large chewable toys, brushes, water bowls etc. To corral all these items we use two large crocks in the three-season porch that can easily be vacuumed out or washed down.

At first when the dogs were puppies and in a metal crate for early training, we configured our laundry/mechanical room to hold the crate and added a baby gate at the door. We bought a linoleum remnant for just $35.00 for the floor of that room just assuming that it would be replaced in the near future but it is going on twelve years, and while not perfect looking is still going strong.

Two large dogs require lots of in-the-house storage too for large 5-gallon buckets of dry dog food, vitamins and flea and tick medicine storage. So when we eventually added built in-cupboard storage in our laundry room we configured it to hold the bulky dog food bins. We also moved from feeding the dogs in the kitchen to making a feeding station in the laundry room where their food was stored. This keeps the mess of dog food crumbs and water splashes in one area that gets vacuumed daily and washed once a week.

Speaking of vacuuming…the Amtigo floor cleans up like a dream. With two dogs, I vacuumed the floor daily (I like a clean house!) and we washed the floor with warm water once a week. That’s it.


A view of our flooring in kitchen and dining room.

Now that we just have one dog, Sassy (we lost my beloved eleven-year-old dog Spirit to cancer last February) the dog hair on the floor has been diminished greatly and a couple of vacuums per week is all it needs.

If you are not a dog person, our efforts to make a dog-friendly home may seem excessive to you. But if you are a dog lover and keeper you understand. For us, sharing life with a loving companion is more important than all the new furniture or accessories one could want. Our dogs are real members of our family and we want them to be as comfortable, happy and as safe as we are. They bring unconditional love into our homes, they guard and take care of us for the ten to fourteen years we have them and creating a dog friendly home is the least we can do to say “thank you” in return.

Small House /Big Sky Donna



  1. I have to smile at this post as it is so typical of “dog” people. My daughter recently bought her first home, and her no.1 priority was that it have a large window facing the street so her dog could lie on the back on the sofa and watch for people, other dogs, squirrels, whatever. Boyne

  2. “Guilty” as charged! We are SO dog people! My kids always make fun of us because we raised out dogs better than some humans do children. Can’t help it!!

    PS I already like your daughter…my kind of people!

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