When I was a kid, we had a three-sided, flat-topped plywood box—generously referenced to as “the doghouse”—positioned on the back porch, beneath our kitchen window. Over the course of my childhood, it would house three dogs, several cats—often simultaneously – and countless rodents and bugs. I remember the day my brother erected it, carving an off-centered opening with his rusty saw, perforating the sides with three holes. He answered my quizzical, 4-year-old stare with just one word –“ventilation.” And while I bemoaned our dogs sleeping outside, vowing never to enact such cruelties when I was a grown-up, our dogs were no worse for the wear. They’d trot into the mudroom to eat their breakfast and trot back outside to enjoy a day of off-lead adventuring. The ’70s was a good era to be a dog.
Those early days, sitting on the porch—often folded into the wooden box, alongside my pets – taught me a valuable lesson. Dogs, like people, need a cozy, protected nook to call their own. Think of a toddler’s crib: The security of a portioned space signals safety while the restrictive enclosure induces calm.
Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a doghouse in the tristate area, let alone a dog cavorting about unattended. Our 21st-century canines lead a structured existence, confined to leashes or outdoor enclosures and fully adapted to a more expansive floor plan, namely, the family residence.
Without hesitation or embarrassment, people laud their dogs and elevate their rank, regarding the responsibilities to care for their four-footed companions on par with raising children. Dogs are welcomed inside, share luxurious furnishings, and are provided a human grade diet fit for an Olympian. Many are assigned attendees to scoop their poop and satisfy their daily need for exercise and play. Dog people would consider it cruel and dangerous to leave their pets outside after dark.
This raises the question, Are doghouses really necessary? Should these structures be deemed relics that will go the way of the rotary phone, typewriter, and outhouse? While a fanciful doghouse can embellish a garden, has it become more ornamental than utilitarian in our neck of the woods?
Ask me and I’d say, Yes, yes, yes. Dogs should be brought inside and given a special nook in all the rooms you share. The days of leaving dogs out on the porch are happily behind us.
But then I would pause to consider my own backyard. Outside my kitchen window sits a monolithic eyesore — a Step Two Playhouse, purchased for my daughter’s second birthday. Seven years later, it has served its purpose. Why have we not dismantled it? Simple: Our dogs adore it. They race around the house’s exterior, dig beneath its foundation, play hide-and-seek as they dart through the door and leap through the windows. And when they grow tired of roughhousing, they all venture in for a nap. And Heaven forbid they would be left outside after sunset, I would know exactly where to find them. Though I bought it for the kids, the dogs have taken it over.
A quick search of doghouses on Google shows they’re still a hot commodity. You can purchase plans for under ten bucks or spring for a deluxe model that will cost into the tens of thousands. There are your basic wooden A-frame and plastic igloo versions as well as more elaborate structures that include a fenced pen area. Want to get fancy? You can commission one to match your home, or go as far as reflecting your dog’s heritage—say a Swiss Chalet for a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.
Prominent architects have even been commissioned to build miniaturize homes—referring to the activity as bark-architecture. Finally, a customer who makes as good a client as he does a companion, never voicing a criticism or complaint.
I’ve been in homes where a Pomeranian’s artful abode livens up the kitchen decor and other homes where the family bed is the hot spot. At the end of the day, dogs are quite resourceful and will find a quiet place to rest their heads, whether it be a box on the back porch, an ornate, pre-fab mini-mansion, or the pillow next to your head. For dogs, what is most important is the family. The one place they need to live is in a person’s heart.
Dogs—they’re not so different from us after all. Go figure.