Dog Friendly Garden Design
The planting and features that you include your garden will depend somewhat on the nature of your dog. Some dogs are very well behaved in the garden, and will allow you to owners to plant and landscape without too much concern. On the other hand, some dogs will run through flower beds, dig up lawns, eat and chew plants, jump in ponds and generally cause chaos!
If your dog is one of the latter, you can still enjoy a colorful and interesting garden. All that is required is some creative design that takes your dog’s behavior into account. The pages in this section look at garden design strategies that cater to the needs of dogs and other pets, while aiming to create attractive gardens for owners to enjoy.
Think carefully about the basic layout of your garden. Take your dogs established behavior into account. Consider the routes around the garden that your dog uses the most, and plan pathways accordingly.
Frequently used grass paths are likely to become worn and muddy in wet weather. Try using bricks or paving stones along the routes your dog uses most frequently rather than grass cover. By doing so, you can greatly reduce the maintenance levels of you garden. Hard materials such as brick, slab or stone can also be easily hosed down if your dog pees on them.
Be sure to make movement around the garden easy and enjoyable for your dog. Beware of slippery surfaces, especially in wet weather. Cover slippery steps with mesh or some other material to increase traction.
Take your dogs’ age and physical condition into account and make adjustment accordingly. Ensure they have easy access to the house, their kennel, water bowls, shaded areas and their favorite spots in the garden. If your dog has difficulty climbing steps, provide a ramp or additional means to help them. Ready-made ‘Doggy Steps’ are available from pet suppliers, or you can construct your own.
Flower beds in central areas of your garden are vulnerable to damage caused by your dog running through them or playing in them. Damage often occurs in flower beds separating two open areas of lawn or paving. Dogs often charge straight through these to get from one area of the garden to another, and plants may be trampled and crushed. Likewise, flowerbeds situated between the back door to the house and the main area of the garden often suffer as dogs run through them in the excitement of being let outdoors.
Flower borders around the periphery of the garden are generally much less likely to incur damage them than flower beds in central areas. You may decide the easiest option is to remove any flowerbeds in the middle of your garden your garden. Laying central areas of the garden to lawn will reduce maintenance and also provide more space for your dog to play.
Another solution is to create a formal pathway through a border. A path made of bricks, stone or slabs along the route your dog normally takes can minimise damage, allowing the majority of your plants to remain intact.
As another option, you could try using robust plants in flowerbeds that your dog tends to pass through. Some plants are remarkably resilient, and will stand up to dogs crashing around in them. Cheryl S. Smith, in her book ‘Dog Friendly Gardens – Garden Friendly Dogs’, notes how she found success planting lavender in a border between her back door and the main lawn area of her garden. She found that the lavender not only stood up to her dogs running through it, but also had the added bonus of making the dogs smell nice when they did so!
The high nitrogen levels in dog urine can lead to scorched patches on lawns and damaged plants. To some extent, this is simply part and parcel of dog ownership. However, there are measures that can be put in place to minimize damage.
Dogs can usually be trained to use a certain part of the garden for ‘doing their business’. As with house-breaking, a little time and patience is required, but it is worth putting the effort in.
If you have a male dog, it is a good idea to provide a ‘marking post’ for it to pee against. An old tree stump can provide an attractive solution. You also can buy products designed to encourage your dog to pee in a certain spot.
Be aware that plant pots and containers can be attractive marking posts for male dogs. Plant pots are very useful to dog owners, in that they provide a relatively safe growing environment for plants and flowers. However, male dogs may use pots as territorial markers, and plants ‘in range’ may suffer for the high levels of nitrogen in dog urine.
To avoid this, you can invest in taller pots where the plants will be ‘out of range’ of your dog’s pee. Alternatively, try raising smaller pots by placing them on bricks, tree stumps or other raised surfaces.
Garden Fences and Boundaries
One of the first things to consider when you design a dog-friendly garden is the type of fencing you need to keep your dog safe and secure. Secure fencing can keep you dog contained within the garden, and also prevent animals and people from gaining access to your garden and your dog.
Whatever type of fencing you decide on, you should ensure that your garden is totally secure before you bring a new dog or puppy home. Once your new puppy or dog has arrived you will be busy with its care. Putting up a fence can be time consuming, and involves tools and materials that may be hazardous to your dog or puppy.
TYPES OF FENCE
The type of fence suitable for your garden will depend on your location, the amount of passing foot and vehicle traffic, and the nature of your dog. You may choose a solid barrier that restricts visual access, or a fence that allows those on either side of the garden boundary to see through it.
Some dogs are easily agitated by events outside the garden and people passing by. In such a case, a solid fence that restricts visibility may help to divert your dog’s attention from happenings outside the garden. Solid fences that restrict vision may also increase security. Dogs are sometimes stolen from gardens, and keeping your dog hidden from public view may reduce the chances of this happening.
You should also keep in mind that dogs sometimes get their heads stuck in the gaps between fence posts. Some dogs may be able to dislodge posts and squeeze through surprisingly small gaps in a fence.
Never underestimate your dog’s ability to climb or jump over a fence. Dogs of certain breeds can easily clear a 6 foot fence, and some may climb fences up to 8 feet tall. If your dog is particularly adept at scaling fences, you might want to consider adding an internal overhang to the top of your fence to stop your dog climbing out of your garden.
Keep in mind that dogs may use other objects and structures in your garden to help them climb out. Garden furniture and outbuildings can provide a ‘step up’ for dogs with a taste for adventure!
DIGGING UNDER FENCES
Some dogs may dig their way out of the garden. There are two ways to prevent this: you can dig down and sink your fence a couple of feet into the ground, or you can line the internal circumference of your fence with paving slabs or other hard material. Even If your dog is not inclined to try and dig its way out of the garden, try and avoid gaps at the bottom of fences. A gap at the bottom of a fence can encourage even the most unadventurous of dogs to attempt to dig under and escape from your garden.
Garden Structures & Shelters
Dogs are prone to overheating in warm weather. They don’t sweat like humans do, and (most) have fur coats that restrict heat loss. Some breeds, such as those from northern climates or mountainous regions, have especially think double coats. Their coats allowed these breeds to survive freezing winters in their native lands, but can cause problems for them in more temperate climates where they often live today as pets.
You should make sure your garden provides ample cool, shaded areas for your dog to seek shelter on hot sunny days. You should also provide somewhere that your dog can shelter from the rain and wind.
A well designed kennel can provide ample shelter for your dog. Many attractive options are available to suit your personal taste and blend in with your garden. Alternatively, you could build your own. Dog kennels can be very simple to build, and many straight forward design plans are available online. If you do provide a kennel for your dog, ensure that you position it so that the entrance is sheltered from the wind. Have a look at our page on Dog Runs and Kennels for more detailed information.
GARDEN SHELTERS FOR OWNERS AND DOGS
Another option is to invest in a garden shelter that you and your dog can enjoy together. A waterproof garden shelter increases the time you can spend outdoors with your dog. A shelter that provides protection from summer showers allows you to sit outdoors in the warmer months even when it is raining. Sitting quietly a garden shelter with your dog at your feet, listening to the sound of the rain and enjoying the smell of the earth is a wonderful way to spend a wet summers afternoon.
Arbors, gazebos and awnings can all make a huge difference to the appearance and enjoyment of even the smallest of gardens. If space or funds are limited, simple ‘sail’ type canopies are widely available from garden suppliers, and can be purchased and installed with relatively little expense.
GREENHOUSES AND COLD-FRAMES
Greenhouses and cold-frames allow us to grow plants that would otherwise fail to thrive in cooler climates. Older traditional structures with glass paneling can pose a hazard to dogs and other pets, which may break glass panels by running into them. Thankfully, today many greenhouse models are available with polycarbonate glazing. Polycarbonate can be as clear as glass, but is much stronger and a lot less likely to break if a dog runs into it or bumps against it. Where space is limited, a lean-to or smaller upright plant house can be a good option, allowing a sheltered growing environment in small patio gardens.
Be sure not to leave toxic chemicals in your greenhouse if there is any chance that your dog might gain access. Also, be aware that many of the more exotic plants, including fruit and vegetable species that are often grown in greenhouses may be toxic to your dog. Take a look at our list of toxic plants as a starting point when considering what to grow.