Dog House Info

History of the Dog House

Believe it or not but dog houses have been around in one form or another for thousands of years.

Archaeological evidence shows that dogs were quite prevalent in ancient Egypt (going back to 4500 BC or so) and were often held in high esteem as pets and hunting partners. Some dogs were even considered to be messengers of the gods. Egyptian nobility kept their hounds in mud-brick kennels, where the dogs were trained and cared for by professional dog trainers. These are some of the earliest known dog houses in the historical record.

Dogs were also an accepted part of ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman societies and were often viewed as status symbols. Small dogs were popular as "companion dogs", spending much of their time living and sleeping under the same roof as their owner. The master's home was their home. Such was the life of the privileged pooch throughout the ages.

But, for every dog that lived the life of leisure, there have been many more homeless ones, relegated to scrounging for an existence in the streets on the edges of human society. For example, during the Middle Ages, packs of feral hounds roamed many a hamlet, scavenging for a living, sleeping wherever they could find cover, and basically terrorizing the locals.

Hunting became a very popular sport among the nobility during the Middle Ages and noblemen often maintained sizable dog kennels. Hunting dogs were considered valuable pieces of property and their owners were willing to spend large sums to properly feed and house them. Reportedly, King Henry I of England had a kennel containing several hundred dogs. (Unfortunately, I have thus far been unable to find any details on exactly how these kennels were constructed.)

Not surprisingly, the "common" dogs owned by peasants had much less elaborate sleeping quarters than the dogs of the elite. Few peasants could afford to spare precious building materials for dog houses so their dogs lived on or under porches, in barns, or even inside with their owners.

Dog breeding came into its own in the 1800's, especially among the aristocratic members of society in America and industrialized Europe. This was an era of elite kennels with private registries that only dealt with canines sired in equally illustrious kennels. Pinkies extended please... The classic pitched roof dog house was apparently in vogue by this time. Evidence for this includes Victorian era mausoleums in the shape of doghouses.

The pitched roof dog house was good enough for presidential dogs of the 1800's. This photo, taken between 1889-93 by Library of Congress photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, shows the dog house digs for First Lady Caroline Harrison's pet collie Dash. (trivia: The Harrisons also owned two opossums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection.)

In combination with a heightened interest in dog breeding, dog shows became very popular in the 1800's, among both the nobility as well as the middle class. It wasn't uncommon to see show dogs being shipped on rail cars inside feces-filled wooden crates. These crates were effectively their homes for a good chunk of their lives. Now, that's a bummer...

During World War II, The U.S. military used German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies, and several other breeds as messengers, sentries, trackers, and mine sniffers. They were transported in vented wooden boxes, which also doubled as houses on the battlefield. These animals were well cared for, and the ones that survived, were returned to their civilian homes when their tour of duty was over. In more recent wars, dogs have been transported in wood, aluminum and steel dog boxes.

Historically, most dog houses have been hand-made from whatever materials could be scraped together. This has changed over the last century, especially since World War II, such that most dog houses today are commercially mass produced in factories. Contributing factors here include reduced costs and greater availability of plywood, framing lumber, and roofing materials as well as the introduction of new materials such as foam sheet insulation, pressure-treated lumber, and weather resistant plastics and wood finishes. Advances in machinery and manufacturing techniques have also played a role.

Of course, the underlying driver in the growth of the dog house industry has been the huge increase in pet ownership. Results from the APPMA 2005-2006 National Pet Owners Survey showed pet ownership at its highest level ever, with 63 percent of all U.S. households owning a pet. About half of all households own a cat, dog, or both.

Wood has been the preferred material for dog houses over the years due to it's ready availability, low cost, ease of working, insulating properties, and structural integrity. The demand for wood dog houses has been accommodated over the last quarter century or so by the emergence of a number of medium-to-large sized companies that specialize in wooden houses. Some of the big names in the business today include Merry Products, Ware Manufacturing and Blythe Woodworks. Some companies - such as Merry Products - leave the actual construction to Chinese manufacturing plants and focus solely on marketing, distribution and customer service. Don't be too surprised to see this overseas manufacturing trend increase in the future.

Plastic dog houses were introduced in the 1960's and have steadily grown their market share since. In some cases, the companies producing plastic dog houses got their start building wooden ones. Doskocil, the leading U.S. manufacturer of both plastic portable kennels and doghouses, started business in 1962 when Ben Doskocil landed a contract to supply wooden travel kennels to Delta Airlines. By 1968, his company was producing plastic kennels which soon became the industry standard for pet transport.

Doskocil pioneered other advances including dog houses made from structural foam plastic. In 1986, the company launched the Petmate brand to better distinguish its pet products in the marketplace. About 10 years later, they merged with the California-based Dogloo, Inc., maker of the popular igloo-shaped doghouse.

Lots of people like to build their own dog houses. I can't back this up with solid evidence, but I have a strong hunch that the number of hand-crafted dog houses has grown considerably since the early 1990's thanks to the greater availability of dog house plans on the Internet in combination with the growth of woodworking as a hobby. I look for this trend to continue.

What does the future hold for dog houses? I predict there will be more houses built from composite wood/plastic lumber, reduced use of pressure treated lumber, greater use of laminated panels, perhaps with integrated insulation layers, and maybe even some innovative new designs that don't resemble today's dog houses. But don't expect the basic wooden snoopy dog house to go away anytime soon...


Recommended Reading

Thurston, Mary Elizabeth. The Lost History of the Canine Race. Our 15,000 Year Love Affair with Dogs. Kansas City: Andrew and McMeel, 1996.

Walller, Anna M. World War II and Korean War Dog History. Study on the history of War dog training and utilization during and after World War II. Department of the Army, Office of the Quartermaster General, 1958


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