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Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 Leave a Comment

By Sarah Christian, Urban Gardens Design, Inc.

 If you were a dog, what would you want? The answer is different for each breed because they have different traits but the more you can think like your dog, the better you can accommodate its traits and personality needs and the better your chance of designing a space you can both enjoy.

Elements of a Dog Friendly Garden 

Shade & Shelter  

Like humans, dogs enjoy basking in the sun so they should have a place to do that, but more importantly, they can become overheated easily and need a cool place to escape the heat. They will happily share pergolas or other shade structures with their owners but can also use a comfortable, shaded lawn or planted area or even a doghouse. In rain or as the seasons change, dogs don’t want to be wet or cold, so your dog will need shelter to stay safe from the elements. 


Whether it is a simple bowl, an automatic refilling water bowl, or something more elaborate, your dog needs clean, fresh water to stay hydrated and cool.  

Bathroom area  

Your dog has to relieve himself somewhere but make sure it’s in a place that’s both acceptable for you and comfortable for your dog. Contrary to what you may think, it doesn’t have to be a lawn area. Designate an area of your yard as a dog area and train your pet to go there and nowhere else. Cover the area with material your dog will accept that you can clean easily. Flagstone, brick, pea gravel, and small cedar chips are all good choices. Small cedar chips are easy on paws yet large enough so they won’t cling to their coats. Even artificial turf can be an acceptable option. Consider a marking post for male dogs such as a wood stump.  

Safe & Secure Fencing  

Inspect your fence and make sure there are no gaps or holes. Also make sure your dog can’t dig out from underneath or jump over the fence to get out. If you have a digger, you may need to install an underground barrier made of rebar, chicken wire, or poured concrete. 

 Paths to Run & Patrol

If you have an unused area of your yard such as side yard, you can enclose the area and have a space dedicated to your dog. However, if you and your dog need to share the garden space, keep in mind that dogs need exercise and a place to patrol their territory – usually along the perimeter of the fence at the property line. A dog will investigate every time it hears a noise and yard areas closest to sidewalks, neighbors’ doorways, etc. will be high traffic dog areas and are not the best locations for more delicate landscaping projects that may be trampled. 

 One suggestion is to sacrifice a couple of feet along the fence for a perimeter path. You can plant a living screen to hide the dog run or install low, open fencing that is covered with vines or obscured by taller plantings. This can be simple, open fencing such as a welded wire mesh such as hog wire stapled to short posts, galvanized steel tubes fitted through holes drilled in the posts, or galvanized cable attached to the post with a simple eye-hook.  If your dog has already created its own path through the garden, don’t try to redirect them. Instead, turn their well-worn path into a formal one.  

 You might also try installing a window in closed fences or walls to allow your dog to see what is happening on the other side of the fence. This can be constructed of plexi-glass or welded wire and framed in.


 For more delicate plants, consider gardening in raised beds, vertically with vines or climbing roses grown on a trellis or against an exterior wall, using pots for annual color around a patio or deck, or installing attractive ornamental fencing in areas you wish to be off limits to your dog.  If you plant densely, dogs tend to stay out of beds. Tougher plants like ornamental grasses should be planted around the outside edge of the garden and more fragile plants should be planted further back.

 Protect new or tender plants with staking or install temporary fencing around newly landscape areas until they are established. Small trees can be protected with tree wrap. Use tough plantings like groundcovers that can take foot traffic but avoid thorny and spiny plants which can cause serious eye injuries. Be very cautious about planting poisonous plants in areas that will be accessible to your dog.

 For a list of poisonous plants, visit www.aspca.org/toxicplants.  
 Sources: Your Dog & Backyard Landscaping, by Cheryl Smith Sunset.com, How to Landscape A Dog Friendly Garden

Sarah Christian is a landscape architect who owns Urban Gardens, Inc., a Stapleton based design/build company. She provides landscape design and consulting services to residential clients whose projects range from new subdivisions with a blank slate to historic renovations. You can visit her web page at www.urbangardensinc.com for more information.


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