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Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

psychological effects of space perception
Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

Meet the Author and Your Future Designer: Julio Arco is a passionate architect with years of experience in architecture, interior design, urban design, and housing. He studied at prestigious universities across North America and Europe. 


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Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors – Introduction Video

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Why is Space Perception Important in Evidence-Based Design for Pet-Friendly Interiors?

Interior design shapes the experience of interior space through the manipulation of spatial volume, surface treatment, and lighting. It is a powerful tool that can subconsciously affect people’s moods and emotions.

Studies have shown that how we perceive the space around us can affect our mood, emotions, and even our behavior. For example, if we feel like we are in a cramped or cluttered space, we are more likely to feel anxious or stressed. On the other hand, if we feel like we have plenty of room to move around and breathe, we are more likely to feel relaxed and at ease. The way we perceive space can also affect how we interact with others. For example, if we feel like we are in a crowded area, we may be more likely to avoid eye contact and keep to ourselves. On the other hand, if we feel like we have plenty of personal space, we may be more likely to be open and friendly with others.

The psychological effects of space perception are essential to understand because they can significantly impact our emotions and behavior.

Is Dog Space Perception similar to Humans’?

Psychologists and behaviorists have long studied the relationship between humans and dogs; after all, both humans and dogs evolved in the same social context – the human family group – for tens of thousands of years.

As mentioned in Evidence-Based Design Principles for Great Pet-Friendly Designs, according to Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, Atlanta, USA, the social brains of dogs and humans are pretty similar. Berns conducted brain scans on dogs using MRI on humans for decades before adopting and training a dog to stand still in an MRI scanner. He concluded that “dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.” He then concluded, “-…we must reconsider their treatment as property”.

Therefore, rather than considering being dog owners, people should be seen as guardians, adopting responsibilities in the same way that parents and guardians of children have. Consequently, designers should not only plan for how many people will be living in a given space and design accordingly based on their specific needs; we should also consider dogs and pets as part of that design process.

Moreover, considering that we both experience a range of emotions, including love, fear, anger, and joy, and share a similar sense of morality and many of the same social behaviors, a case can be made that some behaviors can be present in both species. After all, dogs have evolved to be the animal species most integrated with human society. 

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors
Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

What affects how Humans and Dogs perceive Space?

1.- Enclosure

Enclosure is the sensation of being surrounded by walls or other surfaces. This feeling can be created by several factors, including the size and shape of the room, the materials used in the room’s construction, and the lighting conditions within the room. This can profoundly affect people’s and dogs’ emotions and behavior. For example, people who feel enclosed are more likely to feel anxious and claustrophobic. The same happens with dogs when they are enclosed in small spaces without access to natural light or ventilation, such as cages or small rooms.

A small enclosure with too many people can also have a negative effect on both humans and dogs. This feeling is created when there is a sense of belief that there are more people in a specific place than there should be. Research suggests that crowding is a personal perception. Studies indicate that, even if a place is not crowded but perceived as such, this could trigger, in the long term, psychological symptoms, including depression, stress, poor development of a sense of individuality, sexual conflict and lack of adequate sleep, which could lead to poor work and school performance and interfamilial tension.

Similarly, in dogs, cramping too many dogs in a small room or cage can have seriously adverse effects on their health and well-being. For one thing, it’s been documented that it can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to other behavioral problems, such as chewing and barking.

Dogs are social creatures, and they need space to move around and explore. When confined to a small area, they can become restless and agitated. So if you want your dogs to be happy and healthy, give them plenty of space to run around in your house or provide them with designated areas.

Like Dogs, humans are also social creatures, and areas where interaction will take place, must be carefully planned. According to The National Collaboration Centre for Environmental Health (2012), how the physical environment is laid out, especially in places where people gather, influences how family members or friends interact, influencing the moods and atmospheres of the area. Consequently, people who feel open and airy in any built environment are more likely to feel calm and relaxed.

There are certain factors to consider to avoid the perception of crowding. Sometimes the number of people in a given space is not necessarily the factor that leads to the perception of crowding but the design itself. Therefore, certain aspects can lead to this perception and should be avoided in a well-planned interior, such as oversized furniture, clutter, deep and dark colors, low ceilings, and small windows (Augustin & Miller, 2012).

Consequently, the furniture’s layout must be able to change into a variety of personal space options. Research has shown that personal space is not static but a dynamic, active process of moving closer and distancing from others to project different levels of desired interaction (Namazian & Mehdipour, 2013).

Consequently, while it is essential to know how humans and dogs perceive personal space, it shouldn’t be used as a unit of measure but instead provide spaces that could accommodate different varieties of furniture arrangements, flexibility, and personalization (Lang, 1974).

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

2.- Territoriality

Territoriality is the sense of ownership that people feel towards specific areas. In the context of interior design, territoriality can be used to create areas that feel private and exclusive such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and home offices.

We’ve all been there. You walk into a room, and somebody is in “your” seat. Or you catch a family member snooping around in your things. It’s natural to feel angry or offended when our personal territory is invaded without permission. Our homes and workplaces are our refuges from the Outside World, and the things within them reflect our unique selves. When someone enters our space without permission, it feels like they’re invading our identity.

Of course, not all invasion of personal space is intentional, and sometimes people just don’t know any better. Therefore, It is essential to balance territoriality and social interaction when designing spaces. For example, several factors can contribute to the feeling of territoriality, including the size of the space, level of privacy, level of control over the space, and the level of personalization.

For example, a designer might use partition walls to create separate seating areas in a living room or arrange furniture so that each person has their own “zone” within the space. By creating a sense of healthy territoriality, designers can make a space feel larger and more inviting while still providing a sense of privacy and boundaries.

In dogs, you might be familiar with this story. I remember the day I brought home my little Australian Shepherd puppy, Thor. However, as he grew older, Thor ran around the house barking at everything he saw through the window or corridor. The mail person? Bark. Another dog walking down the street? Bark. A cat on the patio? Bark, bark, bark!

I quickly realized that Thor was territorial, and that was just his way of communicating, and It’s actually a pretty natural behavior for dogs and one that’s been bred into them for centuries. Dogs are well known for their territorial behavior, which often manifests as barking at strangers or guarding their food against other animals. While this behavior can be helpful in some situations, such as alerting pet parents to potential threats, it can also be a nuisance.

For example, every time I have a new guest coming home that Thor doesn’t know yet, there is a whole ritual I must perform to introduce them properly for Thor to know this new human is not a threat. And only then this new human is welcomed into Thor’s territory. However, when I don’t have the time to perform this whole process, I have a spacious playpen to keep Thor away for a little while. I also put some of his favorite toys and treats in so he can feel secure, and I don’t allow my guests near him. With time and patience, most dogs can learn to control their territorial impulses and become more well-rounded members of the family.

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

Why do Humans and Dogs display Territorial Behavior?

Territorial control is essential for humans because it helps us fulfill several basic needs. First, it provides us with a sense of identity. We feel proud and attached to our territory, whether it’s our home, city, or country. Second, territorial control stimulates us, giving us a sense of purpose and something to strive for. Third, territorial control makes us feel secure, and we feel safe and protected when we’re in our own territory. Finally, territorial control provides us with a frame of reference. It helps us understand our place in the world and see ourselves in relation to others. So, you can see why territorial control is so important to us!

According to J. Lang, The 4 Basic Characteristics of Territory include:

  1. The ownership or rights to a place
  2. Personalization – the marking of an area; through photographs or objects
  3. The right to defend against intrusion
  4. The service of several functions ranging from the meeting physiological needs

Therefore, designers must be aware of the psychological effects that space can have on people to create spaces that are visually appealing and conducive to social interaction and healthy territoriality. By understanding the essential characteristics of territoriality and how they manifest in human and dog behavior, designers can create spaces that fulfill a variety of needs of their clients. You can also read our post on How to deal with territorial Dogs.

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

3.- Personal Space

Interior design is about more than just aesthetics—it’s a responsibility to create healthy environments that promote well-being and safety for humans and pets. Our personal space is the area around us that we consider our own, and it can vary depending on the situation. Personal space is essential because it allows us to feel comfortable and safe in our environment.

When our personal space is invaded, we can feel uncomfortable, anxious, and even threatened. Consequently, it is essential to consider personal space when designing a space, as it can significantly impact the occupants’ emotions and behavior.

For example, we may feel uncomfortable if someone stands too close to us in a line at the grocery store, but we may not mind if someone is close to us while we are watching a movie together. This happens with dogs as well, my dog Thor is the happiest when I hug him, but he doesn’t like it when a stranger tries to pet him without his permission.

Home is the most crucial physical setting for most people. Therefore, it is vital to know the adequate distances in which people feel comfortable socializing. People interact with the built environment surrounding them in accordance with complex social rules and preferences, even when these are not always known consciously by them (Martin, 2011). Personal space, territoriality, and crowding are the core units for measuring social and personal space. This is highly relevant since, when designing interior spaces, this is crucial in how the user will experience the space.

According to Edward Hall, interpersonal distance can be viewed as a form of non-verbal communication that suggests the nature of the relationship between those engaging in social behavior (Bechtel et al., 2002). Research in how people feel comfortable or uncomfortable within different distances attempts to define the optimum layout of furniture to create an environment where people’s feelings are adequate to promote a good interaction in gathering areas. As was written by Namazian & Mehdipour (2013):

“the built environment provides the setting by which we live our lives and impacts our senses, emotions, participation in physical activity and community life, sense of community and general well-being” (p.109). 

Consequently, Edward Hall (Bechtel et al., 2002) came up with a study establishing how people feel within different distances. This study suggests that, in intimate moments, we will be up to 45.72 cm (18 inches) apart; in personal situations, we are comfortable at 45.72 cm (18 inches) to 1.22 m (4 feet) apart. In social situations, the distance raises from 1.22 m (4 feet) to 3.65 m (12 feet), and, in formal situations, we’re over 3.65 m (12 feet) apart (Sammons, n.d.).

It is easier to understand the dimensions when picturing family members inside these spaces surrounding three-dimensional bubbles. Even though these distances may serve as a general rule, Hall also mentions that culture plays an essential role in people’s perception of personal space changes (Sammons, n.d.). Moreover, homes are not only used by family members but as a place for social gatherings with friends and acquaintances.

Things can get a little complicated when it comes to canine personal space. Unlike humans, who typically have a pretty clear understanding of personal boundaries, dogs often have to figure things out for themselves. This can lead to some awkward situations, especially when two dogs meet for the first time. Fortunately, dogs are experts at reading body language and picking up on olfactory clues, so they can usually quickly determine whether another dog is a friend or foe. Of course, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes dogs just need a little help learning how to share their space. But overall, dogs are pretty good at working things out on their own – it’s just one of the many things that make them such extraordinary creatures.

Like their owners, pups need space at home where they can go to clear their minds. Sometimes dogs have rough days, and at times like these, they need somewhere to go and let out their frustrations. As their owner, you should create a space for them at home where they can go and get rowdy if they need to. This will allow your furry friend to release any pent-up energy and hopefully result in a calm pup when you return home from work. Another reason why canines need personal space is to have a comfortable spot when guests come over. As much as people love them, dogs can get rather excited when people come in the door. If your pup has a designated space that they can retreat to, they are more likely to stay calm and relaxed in the presence of guests.

In conclusion, both humans and dogs have complex socialization rules, and the personal space they need varies from case to case. Dogs need less personal space than humans, but they are more likely to be aggressive if their personal space is invaded. Humans need more personal space than dogs, but they are also more likely to be afraid of dogs if their personal space is invaded. The best way to avoid problems is to be aware of these differences, respect each other’s personal space, and create different social areas in our homes, so both us and our furry friends can have a comfortable place to relax.

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

4.- Proxemics

Proxemics is the study of how people use and perceive personal space. It’s a relatively new field, but it’s already had a significant impact on interior design. Proxemics can create more comfortable, functional, and inviting spaces.

The most important thing to remember about proxemics is that everyone perceives personal space differently. Some people need a lot of room to feel comfortable, while others are perfectly content in a smaller space. That’s why it’s essential to consider the occupants’ needs when designing a space.

There are four main proxemic zones: intimate, personal, social, and public. Intimate zones are for close contacts, like hugging or holding hands. Personal zones are for conversation and interaction, like talking or shaking hands. Social zones are for groups of people, like parties or meetings. Public zones are for large crowds, like concerts or sporting events.

Intimate zones

Intimate zones are usually only reserved for close friends and family, while public zones are generally open to anyone. When designing a space, it’s essential to consider the type of proxemic zone, as it will affect how the occupants use and perceive it.

Personal space

Personal space is the area around us that we consider our own. It can vary depending on the situation, but it’s generally about keeping a comfortable distance from others. Most of us have an innate understanding of personal space, but it’s also influenced by cultural norms. For example, it’s considered rude to stand too close to someone in some cultures, while in others, it’s perfectly acceptable.

Social space

Social space is the area around us that we use for interacting with others. It’s generally larger than personal space, but it can vary depending on the situation. For example, we might need more social space when talking to someone we don’t know well or when we’re in a group setting. But we might need less social space when talking to a close friend.


Public space is the area around us that anyone can use. It’s usually the largest proxemic zone, including places like parks, streets, and beaches. And while when designing interiors, we might not be including any public spaces, it’s worth knowing about it too. When designing a public space, it’s essential to consider how many people will use it and what they’ll be doing. For example, a park might need to be designed differently than a street, as different activities will take place in each.

In dogs, proxemics are pretty similar. You probably have noticed your dog getting anxious when someone is near him in his territory but ignoring people at the same distance in the park; you’re seeing proxemics in action. Dogs are very aware of the personal space around them and use it to communicate their feelings.

When a stranger is in their territory, they may feel threatened and react accordingly. However, when they’re in a neutral space like the park, they’re more likely to be relaxed and ignore people unless they’re causing a disturbance. We can better communicate with our dogs and create harmonious relationships and safe interior environments by understanding proxemics.

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors
Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors


In conclusion, humans and dogs are social creatures, and a significant amount of social interaction takes place at home and not only by family members but also with friends, acquaintances, and relatives. Therefore, the layout and distribution of the furniture should be flexible and capable of changing, as does the dynamic of interaction with different people depending on the relationship and desired closeness to each other. Besides furniture arrangement, other techniques and considerations, such as proper illumination, symmetry, scale, and colors, are helpful to create a sense of a bigger space, therefore avoiding feelings of clutter or overcrowding. Nevertheless, considering the flexibility of personal space, territory, and crowding in the design process can be helpful in the understanding of interior spaces, they are not to be seen as unbreakable rules for architectural design (Namazian & Mehdipour, 2013) but as guidelines and advice. Therefore, a proper combination of these techniques, plus knowing what level of social interaction the occupants plan to have in their home and the pet’s personality, are fundamental to the design process. 

Enclosure, territoriality, personal space perception, and proxemics should be considered when designing interiors. Our furry friends have a very similar way of looking at the world, and it’s as essential to take their needs into account when designing our homes. We can create spaces that are both comfortable and functional for both ourselves and our four-legged companions.

  1. Some final recommendations to create a sense of a bigger indoor spare are:
  2. Select lighter colors for use in shared spaces. Providing ample lighting.
  3. Washing the room walls with light can expand the apparent size of the room without being directed at the room’s occupants.
  4. Leaving open space in the furniture plan. Do not block traffic flow to doors with large furnishings.
  5. Keeping the view to the windows clear; simpler window treatments maximize light and exterior view.
  6. Using organization and symmetry in visual displays, such as art, bookshelves, or accessories.

Table 2.5 – Space Perception Strategies. Source: Augustin & Miller (2009).

This article is a part of a series called Evidence-Based Design Principles for Great Pet-Friendly Interiors, click this link if you want to learn more. 

Amazing Psychological Effects of Space Perception in Pet-Friendly Interiors

Hire an Online Interior Designer at Havenly

There are several online interior design websites, but Havenly is your best option to hire from a robust list of interior designers that will help you in decorating and creating the perfect dog-friendly home. When you sign up for Havenly, you will take a short quiz about your design style and what you are looking for in a designer. Havenly will then match you with a designer who will help you select paint colors, furniture, and accessories that are both stylish and safe for your furry friend.

In addition, your Havenly designer will be able to provide tips on how to create a space that is both comfortable for your dog and inviting for guests. With Havenly, creating a beautiful and functional home that your dog will love is easy and stress-free.

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M.Arch. Julio Arco
M.Arch. Julio Arco

Bachelor of Architecture - ITESM University
Master of Architecture - McGill University
Architecture in Urban Context Certificate - LDM University
Interior Designer - Havenly
Architecture Professor - ITESM University

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