If you're still looking for a home, think about your dog or cat's temperament. Is he old and arthritic? Then a home with stairs may not be your best bet. Do you have a big dog that likes lots of room? In the absence of a nice-sized yard, try to find a house with at least one oversized room so the two of you will have room to play together.
Now that you've chosen your new home, what if your nose tells you that the previous homeowners had pets -- of maybe a whole house of them? It's wise to get rid of the smell for good, or else your cat or dog may try to make his mark, too. I've not tried these, so I can't personally recommend them. But I have heard others rave about two products that seem to work really well: Urine-Off and 1-2-3 Odor Free. The 1-2-3 product also works on human odors and vomit odors, and it comes with a guarantee.
As you're thinking about décor, think about your pet, too. Pretend you have children: Store harmful materials like cleaning supplies out of reach. Don't leave electric cords where your dog can chew on them or where your cat can zip by and accidentally pull down a lamp. And though every new house needs plants for that instant, at-home feel, remember that some, like philodendron, can be poisonous. That doesn't mean you can't have them; just keep them out of reach. The New York Botanical Garden offers a list of other dangerous houseplants.
Before you bring your pet into the home, designate the places they'll feed and eliminate. Make sure the food dishes are easy for the pet to get to yet in a place you won't trip over them. If, like my dog, yours insists on eating on a carpet, come to grips with the fact that she won't change and just keep a rug (and a Dustbuster) nearby.
In the various homes I've lived in, I've put the cat box in a closet, a bathroom, a garage that never opened (cutting a pet door into the door leading into the garage), and in a basement (using the same cat door idea). By far, the basement was my favorite choice; although when you can't smell it, you have to be sure you'll remember to change it. Wherever you choose to put it, remember that you want this house to feel like home for both you and your guests -- so you don't want it to smell like a pet store. Try putting a doormat in front of the cat box to help keep litter from walking its way into your house on your cat's paws.
When you decide where your dog should do its business, take him there when you first arrive at the house. If he doesn't urinate then, give him some water and take him back to the spot a half hour or so later, helping him understand that this is where you'd like him to go.
Don't forget about flea and tick control so you don't end up with an indoor infestation. Also, the Humane Society of the United States notes that most cities and counties require pets to be licensed and to wear an up-to-date rabies tag. Your best bet is to get a new pet ID tag that includes the pet's name, your address, phone numbers, and the pet's license number.
Lick Thy Neighbor?
Be sure that licking is ALL your pet is doing to the neighbors. Laws regarding pet behavior are getting stricter, so call your city hall to find out what your local ordinances are.
You don't want to risk letting your dog run loose in case she might bite someone out of fear or aggression. Even if you're just washing the car in your driveway with your dog sitting nearby, you can't possibly know what might happen if another pet owner should walk by with his dog. If yours rushes out to defend you and hurts the other dog or its owner, you're very likely going to be liable -- often not only for medical expenses, but for lost wages or even therapy bills if the child or adult was traumatized, according to Nolo's Everyday Law for Everyday People. You may not be liable if your dog was provoked or if the injured person was trespassing, but it's often hard to prove this after the fact. If you have a dangerous dog that you keep in a fenced yard, be sure to post a Beware of Dog sign and make sure the gate has a lock children can't reach.
When you're the one doing the walking, keep your dog on a leash -- no matter how well behaved or trained he is. It only takes one squirrel or rabbit across the street to send him bolting. And if you run into strangers on your walk, a leash gives you better control in case your dog suddenly decides to be protective.
To be the ideal neighbor, you'll keep your pets inside instead of letting them run loose, unless you have a fenced yard from which your dog or cat can't escape. Cats who get to spend time outdoors without restraint are not exactly neighbor-friendly. Even if they're spayed or neutered and are not mating at night, they still can get into fights with cats and other animals, dig up gardens, and make a nearby child's sandbox their litter box. Dogs left outside might chase cars, bicycles or joggers; soil the neighbors' yard; or knock over trash cans. The Humane Society suggests following the on/off rule: If the pet is OFF your property, it's ON a leash. And the Humane Society also reminds that pet owners are responsible for any damage, accidents or bites caused by our four-footed companions.
Having lived in a variety of neighborhood styles in five different states, I can assure you that two things that cause most neighbor-to-neighbor rifts are dog barking and dog poop.
Nothing's worse than having someone new move in, only to have their barking dog disrupt your sleep or wreck your afternoon on the patio. Be sure you're not that new homeowner. If your dog does have a tendency to bark, keep her inside except for walks and exercise. If you can hear her barking even when you're outside, then investigate collars that offer a tiny, harmless shock or citrus squirt every time your dog barks.
Chances are good that you've stepped in a dog's mess at least once in your life, and it's certainly no joy. You can be sure your neighbors won't find it a joy, either. Always, always, always carry bags and pick up after your dog. I use anything from old newspaper bags to old plastic grocery bags to small, leftover scented bags designed for used diapers. (It's great to keep the latter in your car, in case there's no garbage can near the area where your dog eliminates.)
One last consideration: If you get tied up with your life and don't have time to pick up the dog poop in your own back yard, check to see if the odor carries. Some neighbors have been known to file a nuisance complaint if they have to suffer through unpleasant odors whenever they open their windows or if they can't enjoy their own yard without smelling yours.
Chances are good that you DO plan to be a good neighbor and pet owner -- so sit back and enjoy the fact that a pet can make your new house feel even more like home.