Smarter Choices for Your Dog and You

By Claudia Kawczynska, The Bark

Try this: Select a spot in your home and lie down on the floor. Is it the kitchen? Give the floor a little lick. Or the living room? Put your nose on the carpet and take a really deep breath. Then, wander into the bathroom and check out the porcelain “drinking fountain.” Okay, stop the experiment. You get the idea: this is your home from your dog’s point of view. You generally experience your surroundings from a five- or six-foot elevation, but your dog is much closer–and much more inclined to sample her surroundings.

While there isn’t one set definition for “green” or “eco” buildings, there are important general concepts to bear in mind: Energy efficiency, size (it matters), sustainability, use of recycled materials and low impact. Considering that the average US household is responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, energy efficiency tops the list–aim for good insulation throughout your home, well-sealed heating and cooling ducts, windows and doors weather-stripped, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. (More tips can be found at

If you are remodeling or redecorating, use resource-smart building materials, which are safer for you and your dog as well as for the environment. And, before you purchase flooring material, or even paint for your walls, give some thought to the environmental consequences of your choices. Even small changes can have a big impact. Consider using traditional materials–beeswax polish and vinegar and lemon juice for cleaning, for example–zero to low-VOC paint (latex), finishes and adhesives; and non-aerosol products.

Follow suggestions laid out by green-building expert Jennifer Roberts in her book, Good Green Homes. When you are selecting home furnishings or building materials, ask yourself (or the retailer or product manufacturer) the following questions:

* Is it safe and healthy to use in my home?

* Will it introduce irritants or off-gas potentially harmful chemicals?

* Will I need to use harsh chemicals to clean or maintain it?

* Is the harvesting or manufacturing process safe and healthy for workers?

* Is there a safe way to reuse, recycle or dispose of it when I’m done with it?
It is easy being green these days, and a little research will lead you to many good, environmentally sound alternatives. Your dog’s life, not to mention your own and your family’s, will be the better for it.

Next: Green Flooring Materials

Green Flooring Materials
Many kinds of flooring materials can be considered green, including:

There are basically two types of wood: softwoods, which come from rapidly growing trees like pine and fir, and hardwoods, such as oak, maple, teak, etc. Be sure all wood is FSC certified and does not come from old-growth trees. Even better, use reclaimed/recycled wood. Wood flooring is easy to clean with simple products like vinegar and water. Only use zero- to low-VOC and plant-based sealants.

There are more than a thousand different species of this fast-growing woody grass. It is stronger than most hardwoods, and, like wood, can be sanded and refinished multiple times. (Luckily, the type used for flooring is not the kind pandas feed on.) After harvesting, it quickly regenerates. TIP: Even if it comes factory-finished, experts recommend resealing it to protect it from doggy water-bowl spills.

Made from linseed oil, a byproduct of flax (Oleum Lini). It is antibacterial, making it ideal in kitchens and bathrooms. It is also antistatic, so it repels dust and dirt. It comes in a wide range of colors, and even though it does offgas due to the oxidation of lineolic acid, it is less harmful than vinyl, and is considered to be more environmentally friendly.

From the outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). The bark naturally sheds and regrows about once a decade, so harvesting does not harm the tree. Cork resists rot and mold and makes a great sound-absorber and insulator. It also adds an extra cushioning and “bounce” to the step, great for the long-standing cook and indoor ball-tossing!

Other good flooring materials to consider are concrete, brick, tile (ceramic, porcelain and glass), terrazzo and stone.

Avoid Vinyl!
Even though its low cost and wide variety of colors and patterns make it a popular flooring choice, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) continues to be the subject of considerable controversy. Its production releases an extraordinarily toxic chemical–dioxin–and many, including the Healthy Building Network, consider PVC to be one of the “most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced.”

Does Green Building Cost More?
It doesn’t have to. Many green building features and products cost the same as, or even less than, their conventional counterparts. Other green features may cost more upfront but result in savings year after year. Energy-efficiency upgrades, for example, usually pay for themselves by lowering your monthly energy bill.

Here are two places to start your investigation. If you’re thinking of remodeling or other large-scale projects, visit For tips on home care, see

Next: Green Glossary

FSC Certified
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization whose certification process provides consumers with assurance that wood was harvested from well-managed forests and plantations. Be sure to look for the FSC label when purchasing wood.

LEED Green Building Rating System

A national standard established by members of the US Green Building Council, it provides a framework for assessing building performance and sustainability. It is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The release of vapors from a material; many materials in the home offgas formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). TIP: Interior plywood emits urea formaldehyde (a carcinogen)—use exterior-grade plywood instead.

Rapidly Renewable Resources

Don’t contribute to deforestation; instead, use products made from rapidly renewable resources that regenerate quicker than the demand for the products—bamboo and cork for example.

Volatile organic compounds are a range of chemical substances that become airborne, or volatile, at room temperature. They are found in paint, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, glues, cleansers and disinfectants, moth repellents, dry-cleaned clothing, and even air fresheners. VOCs are a major source of indoor air pollution, exposure can cause symptoms ranging from nausea, eye irritation and headaches—just think of how your dog will feel being that much “nearer” to the source TIP: by choosing a zero to low-VOC water-based paint, you can really reduce, or even eliminate, this concern.

Safer Paint
Here’s a quick chemistry lesson. Not everything with “organic” in its name is actually good for us. When we walk into a newly painted room, the first thing we notice—besides the lovely color—is the smell, which comes largely from VOCs, chemicals added to paint to speed up drying time. Choose low- or zero-VOC paints; interior flat paint with VOC level of 50 grams per liter or less, and interior non-flat pain with 150 grams per liter or less. VOC content should be labeled on the packaging. Note: that low odor does not mean low VOC, some manufacturers use fragrance to mask the paint odor.

The Bark is the award-winning magazine of modern dog culture—it speaks to the committed dog enthusiast—and is the indispensable guide to life with dogs, showing readers how to live smartly and rewardingly with their canine companions. Bark is the recognized expert on the social/cultural world of dogs in America, and what they mean to us. Click here for your FREE issue.


sandra m.
Past Member 7 years ago


minkie a.
minkie amoroso8 years ago

I have always had pets and have always tried to keep the house clean for them, as well as myself. I have a rule in my home - NO SHOES ON IN THE HOUSE. ESPECIALLY, in the winter!

We never know what we're bringing in on our shoes. And in the winter with all the snow melt, rock salt and the sand everyone puts on their sidewalks. We have no idea whats in our food never mind whats in that stuff. Did you ever look at your floors and see how white they are after you come in after walking through the snow melt?? So think what that does to your feet if you walk barefoot like we do??? IT'S SCAREY!!!!!

Kelley D.
Kelley Denz8 years ago

I feel it is important to make sure when you're cleaning your house you use safe cleaners. Your dog does lick the floor, drink out of the toilet - you get the picture.

I use Parsley Plus Multi-Surface Cleaner for cleaning counters, walls and my bathroom.

I use Toilet Kleener.

All the cleaning products I use are all natural and safe for the environment.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p9 years ago

very good article thankyou

Reinoud De Vrij
R.S De Vrij9 years ago

Gewoon een Ibroptruven nemen half pilletje en alles is oke

Randolph D.
Randolph D9 years ago

If you're going this far to protect your dog, then you have to go all the way. Inspect and research all questionable ingredients in your dog's food, the bizarre chemicals in whatever flea/tick formula you're using, and whatever bizarre drugs/vaccines pushed by the vet. Go ALL the way and give your dog healthy live foods, nutritional supplements, and homeopathic remedies to prevent sickness to REALLY help protect him. Greening your home is only half the battle.

Xavier Vespa
Xavier Vespa9 years ago

I have the same lie-on-the-floor philosophy to keep my house clean for my two-year-old.

Megan B.
Megan B9 years ago

Be careful when choosing something based solely on one aspect, such as a material that is rapidly renewable. For example most bamboo used for cabinets and flooring comes from China and with that comes a huge CO2 foot print. So it may be better for the environment to use some local soft or hardwood and is manufactured in your area. These days it is easy to get swept up in new green materials, but if they are a world away are they really that green in the end?

Tamara A.
Tamara A9 years ago

Remember: you don't have to build new to build green. The greenest house is often one already built. By installing storms--which is now also eligible for tax credits--instead of new vinyl-based windows (which only have a life expectancy of around 10 years), installing a dual-flush retrofit (or just using the ancient "brick in the tank" or "let it mellow" tricks), and others, you can save a HUGE amount of embedded/embodied energy already in the building. It takes energy to saw wood/bamboo, make bricks, glass for windows, etc., whether old or new. And people don't always think of the money and energy involved in demolition--buildings don't disappear by themselves.

Lynn Swartwood
Lynn Swartwood9 years ago

My son-in-law is a house painter who uses only low VOC paints. This has resulted in a great business because he is also one of the few sober painters around. After a little research I found the theory that so many painters drink because that keeps them from having to come down off the high they get from the paint fumes. Makes sense to me.