Dogscaping: 9 Tips for Creating a Fido-Friendly Backyard

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated March 29, 2022
A baby and dog play in a backyard
Photo: E+ / Getty Images

Say goodbye to dug up daisies with savvy and safe dogscaping

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Sharing your backyard with a four-legged family member doesn't have to mean patchy lawns or barren hardscaping. It's possible to create a safe and enriching outdoor space for your dog that still looks lush and inviting. These dog-friendly landscaping tips will keep you on the right path.

1. Pick Pet-Friendly Plants

Dogs often explore with their mouths, especially when things smell good. Doing a bit of research to make sure you don't have plants that can poison your pet around the yard is a sensible first step. Although eating too much of any plant can lead to tummy troubles, just a few popular pet-friendly plants include:

Steer clear of thorny plants or those with barbed seeds (like foxtails) that can embed in your pup's skin.

2. Prepare a Potty Patch or Opt for Pet-Friendly Lawn Alternatives

If you want to stop dog urine from ruining your lawn and make cleanup easier, introduce a designated potty area. Initially, you might need to keep your dog on a leash, guide them to the space, and reward them whenever they relieve themself there.

Or replace the lawn altogether. Pick landscaping that won't discolor, and that’s easy to hose down and scoop up from. Well-draining pet-friendly artificial grass, tough and non-toxic ground covers like clover or creeping thyme, inexpensive dye-free bark mulch, or low-maintenance hardscaping, like pavers or smooth pea gravel all work.

3. Designate a Digging Plot

A dog digs in a soil patch
Photo: MikeFusaro / Adobe Stock

Many dogs love nothing more than a spot of digging, especially breeds like terriers. Save your lawn while still allowing your pup a place to indulge in this natural behavior and build them a sand or soil pit you can redirect them to. 

Burying some of your dog's favorite toys makes it more of a stimulating challenge and motivates them to get started. Covering over the sandpit at night stops neighbors' cats, or other wildlife, from using it as a litter box.

4. Steer Clear of Problematic Pesticides, Mulches, and Fertilizers

Protect your pet from lawn pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and plants; exercise caution if you choose to use them. Few are 100% safe for pets. Read the label and do additional research on which ingredients can be problematic before applying anything. 

Many common fertilizer ingredients aren’t toxic but often contain appetizing fish, blood, or bone meal. If your dog eats them in large quantities, it causes tummy troubles, and there’s a risk of life-threatening gastric torsion, bowel obstructions, or pancreatitis. Ingredients such as iron or nitrogen can lead to poisoning too.

And watch out for sweet-smelling cocoa bean mulch—an eco-friendly mulch option rising in popularity. Because it contains the same poisonous ingredient as chocolate—theobromine—it can cause severe illness if a dog ingests a lot. 

5. Shape Up a Shady Spot

Because they can’t regulate their temperatures as well as humans, it's up to us to help our dogs to stay cool and comfortable in the summer—and that includes in the backyard. 

Always provide a shady retreat where air circulates freely and there’s plenty of fresh water available. Tarps, gazebos, and shade tree canopies work well, and you might want to have a damp sandpit or shallow doggy pool for them to sink into. You can also build a DIY dog house to offer them a shady place to rest and have a drink. When the mercury rises, always supervise your dog in the garden and bring them inside before they get too hot to prevent the very real danger of heatstroke. 

6. Dog-Proof Your Fencing

A child and dog play in a backyard
Photo: Przemyslaw Iciak / Adobe Stock

Self-closing gates and secure fencing save the panic that comes with a dog that always runs away. Make sure you fully enclose fence bottoms to prevent your dog from digging out to the other side and that the paneling is high enough—your dog might surprise you with just how high they jump. Replace any loose or rotting slats and add reinforcement like chicken wire in places you have concerns about. You could hire a local pet fencing company for any major repairs or replacements. 

Electric fences might seem like a suitable alternative, but they aren’t foolproof and cause unnecessary pain and stress for your furry family member. 

7. Be Mindful of Pool and Water Feature Safety

Pools and water features are great for helping to keep your dog cool. But, even if your pup loves to swim, these parts of your garden still carry risks. 

Fence around your pool, so your pet can’t access it while unsupervised—even pool covers are risky if water gathers on their surface. Make sure there are slip-free steps or a ramp for your dog to get out easily, and don’t let them drink the pool water—the chlorine and other chemicals can make them sick. Keep ponds and other water features clean. A buildup of toxic blue-green algae is life-threatening for your pet, and they can also be hosts to harmful parasites.

8. Tidy Away Tools and Other Hazards

Regularly check the yard for signs of hazards lying around. Unplug the lawn mower or strimmer when you aren’t there to supervise, and put chemical products or sharp tools away in a secure space like a garage or garden shed. When using risky tools like chainsaws, it’s better to keep your dog indoors. The loud noises could be stressful, and there’s the risk of injury from the machinery or falling timber. 

Keep a secure cover on your compost bin—the mold and bacteria that build up are highly dangerous—and don’t let your dog develop a habit of attacking the sprinklers

9. Make Your Garden a Stimulating Sensory Experience

We all know dogs love to use their noses, but studies show that sniffing can increase optimism and reduce stress in our four-legged friends. By creating a sensory space where dogs get to explore using their noses it can be a relaxing, confidence-boosting, and enriching part of their daily routine. Include a selection of different non-toxic, edible plants for them to explore. Think about different textures, tastes, smells, and even colors. Consider natural agility elements of active dogs that like to explore. Tree stumps, logs, tires, and railway sleepers all work well and can give your dog a natural vantage point.

Offer them choices on where they might want to relax with different ground cover textures and this is where the sandpit comes in too.

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