Can You Stage the Household Dog?

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

You arrive at a listing appointment to be greeted by a big German Shepherd’s slobbery licks or two Chihuahuas yipping away at your every slightest movement. Many home owners have pets, but pets can pose a serious challenge when listing a home for-sale.

Stagers and real estate professionals traditionally want to remove any signs of a pet living there, tucking away the kitty litter boxes and mounds of pet toys and beds. They’ll also want to address that smell: Yes, Fido, often leaves a scent behind that a little vanilla and cinnamon candles or plug-ins may try to ease.

While you’ll likely better your chance with buyers by removing any signs of a pet on the premises, sometimes you may have no other choice but to tackle Fido head on. What do you do? … Stage the pets!

When I sold my home a few years ago, I didn’t know what to do with my two small, feisty dogs during the workday when impromptu showings came about, and I wasn’t able to get home in time to hide all traces of dog, including the dogs themselves. (Many home owners don’t like the idea of paying for doggy daycare if they’re already paying for child daycare too!) So why not stage the dogs too?

That’s exactly what I did to my Yorkshire Terrier and Italian Greyhound. It was winter so I dressed them in matching light blue sweaters–a tad much, I realize, but I wanted them to look clean and well-groomed–so buyers would know that my house was too! I kept the dogs in their new, fluffy beds in the laundry room behind a gate, with a framed sign posted near the entryway to let guests know they were there.

The sign had a picture (showing the dogs in matching handkerchiefs–again, wanting them to look clean and well-put together–but also showing the dogs as harmless, in case they barked whenever the door was opened.) The sign read: “Welcome to our home!” I included the dogs names to personalize it, a reminder that they won’t harm you as you look around since they’re behind a gate in the laundry room (where they’d like to stay, please), as well as a mention to please forgive any barking–”we get excited to show off our home!”

Ironically, the dogs seemed to help me sell my home. We received two offers from buyers when the dogs were present, and none when they weren’t there. Did we make our house–or at least our laundry room–more memorable? Certainly. But did we turnoff some buyers? Probably a few, but we probably won over a few too who had a soft spot for well-dressed dogs.

Some agents and staging professionals have actually used dogs in listing photos to show off a home online–it’s a new staging trend called “placement pets.”

The “placement pet” idea gained some traction when the now-former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s listing photos (yes, we said “listing” photos, not those other photos!) featured a fluffy orange cat sleeping on the windowsill in a bedroom.

Others took notice and started experimenting with the staged pets in photos too: Fluffy cats perched on windowsills, Golden Retrievers playing in a yard to appeal to families, and boxers with choke collars in the industrial city loft that might attract singles, according to an article at AOL Real Estate on the “placement pets” trend.

In the article, Tristan H. Harper, a senior vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman agency in New York, says he uses designer dogs to help sell properties, even all the way up to using the perfectly poised pooches to sell a $3.75 million penthouse.

Sure, pets can be a turn-off to a lot of home buyers–those who have allergies, pet haters, or simply just view them as smelly pests. But when you don’t know what else to do with that home owner’s dog or cat and there’s simply no other place to hide them, then maybe instead of trying to pretend they aren’t there, you just give them a little staging too.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. One of my clients had a beautiful Persian cat. When taking photos of the home, the cat was the star. He posed on t;he master bed sleeping on a blanket placed at the foot of the bed like a model and the photos looked like we had purposely placed him there. The photos were beautiful.

  2. Thank you for bringing up a subject that is dear to my heart…as a dog foster for special needs, I cringe at the condition of some pets that I run into when showing homes.

    Some are luxury homes with pets that are matted, loaded with flea frass, have no water, or are crammed into a too small crate with a wire floor.

    These neglected pets are a turn-off to potential buyers.

    Thank you for some great suggestions!!

  3. What a clever article and what an interesting trend!

  4. I am a serious animal lover but have always viewed listings with pets as a major problem. In the case that homeowners are unable to remove the pets from the site, the animals are usually locked up which sometimes evokes an uncomfortable feeling for the people viewing the house. You offered the perfect solution in what you did with your pets. Dressing them in clothing and posting the signs sent a message that they were happy pets and did not mind staying out of the way rather than appearing to be serving a jail sentence.

    Also, some homeowners take offense when you suggest tucking the animals away, but this solution is one that may potentially soothe their emotions. They may look at this as a way to have the best of both worlds – showing their house without buyers feeling attacked by jumping and yappy pets, but still being able to show off the animals that they love so much.

    Wonderful solutions!

  5. Interesting trend but not sure that it should be more the exception than the norm. Kitty still needs a litter box and doggy still has to do his/her business. The smell is still going to be there, even if the seller is diligent about placement and clean up which most can’t or won’t do in my experiences with clients. Even buyers who are pet owners looking at a listing don’t want to smell it or contemplate replacing flooring. Taking this trend a step further maybe sellers should stage their kids too! Great post:)

    Ana Hitzel
    AccentPositives Home Staging
    Southern California

  6. My husband is convninced that we sold our last home so quickly because my dog and I were wearing matching winter coats and were walking on the front sidewalk when buyers came to view our home. On their offer they requested we leave the doggy door and pet ramp.

  7. Great article! Yet another reason to try virtual staging

  8. Doggone Good ideas! I love it!

  9. Melissa, thank you for your insightful piece. Yes, many of us have and love pets. We keep a “hall of fame” collection of all of our clients pets at on our blog in order to celebrate our furry friends. Yes, some people just don’t like pets or can’t stand the allergies, but for buyers that have their own pets, being real is the way to go!

  10. Maggie

    What to do with the cat box? And works people be annoyed if they can’t see the laundry room? That’s where our dog will be


  11. Donna Shelley

    Very cute idea for cute little doggies. What do I with the Rottweiler that barks incessantly? Oh and did I mention the odor?

  12. Great article! I have to try out these ideas on my next home I sell.