What is a Dogtrot?

Malcolm Tatum

A dogtrot is a house design that is found in many areas around the rural Southern section of the United States. The concept of a dogtrot house includes an open expanse in the middle of the structure. That open area spans from the front to the back of the home, allowing air to circulate through the space unencumbered. The fanciful name for this wide center passageway comes from the fact that a household pet could easily use the space to traverse from the front to the back of the house with ease.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the dogtrot cabin was one of the most popular home options during the 19th century. Cabins built with this basic floor plan normally had sleeping and sitting areas in one big room on one side of the center passage. The opposite side would house a kitchen and eating area. Depending on the preferences of the owners, the center passage was either left open to allow traffic through or would feature doors at each end of the passageway. Often, the open design was the more popular in rural settings.

There are several advantages associated with dogtrot houses. One has to do with ventilation. In the humid South, having an open passageway meant that breezes could circulate through the structure with greater ease. From a practical point of view, having the space set aside for food preparation being removed from the sitting and sleeping areas meant those spaces would remain cooler even in the heat of the summer months. Because the center dogtrot was covered, the wide center hallway was also the ideal place to sit in the evenings when the heat of the day had passed.

The open passageway was also practical for hauling firewood and water into the home. With no doors to deal with, it was a simple task to haul fresh water to a water barrel that sat in the passageway near the entry to the kitchen area. In like manner, cut firewood could be neatly stacked along one wall in the passageway, effectively keeping the wood out of the rain and thus ready to use for cooking or heating purposes.

Dogtrot house plans are still popular for weekend cabins. While dogtrot house plans today may or may not break down the two large rooms into smaller areas, the wide center passageway is still present in the design. In some cases, each end of the passageway may be outfitted with rolling doors, making it possible to seal the area off if desired. However, many people enjoy the open feel that dogtrot cabins tend to provide.

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