Ask dog owners about their pooches, and many respond as if you asked about their kids. Ask the same people if you can see their backyards, however, and suddenly the conversations turn to their children. Whether you own a 120-pound Labrador or a teacup poodle, one constant of pet ownership is this: Dogs and landscaping don’t easily mix.
The best way to enjoy both your dog and backyard, says Dean Anesi, landscape designer and owner of Urban Garden in Salt Lake City, is to design a landscape both you and your dog can live with. “Rather than attempting to fight their natural behavior, it’s best to design around problem issues,” Anesi says.
Troy Hart’s Sugarhouse neighborhood backyard is a study of how damaging even just one good-natured dog can be. Muddy paths line the perimeter of the iron fence, yellow burn patches litter the lawn, and a wide, shallow hole occupies the lawn at the end of the patio. All this, and more, is courtesy of Hart’s golden retriever, Aspen. “Occasionally I’ll make an attempt at re-seeding some of the bare spots or planting new shrubs, but for the most part, I’ve pretty much given up,” Hart says. “She spends more time back here than I do, so I’ve just let her take over.”
Anesi suggests expanding and complementing perimeter pathways worn into turf with mulch or gravel, rather than trying to “fix” them. “Dogs of all sizes will patrol the fence line, creating pathways in their diligence. These lines can become an interesting characteristic of a landscape if managed correctly,” he says. A two- to three-foot-wide pathway of cypress mulch, crushed limestone, or pea gravel is usually wide enough for even the largest breeds. Create even wider paths around corners where your hound might be tempted to “peel out.”
Pathways should extend around the perimeter of the fence line, even if your dog currently runs along only one side. “A dog-free neighbor might move or decide to get a pet someday, making that side of the yard irresistible to your dog,” says Anesi. For aesthetic purposes, he suggests bordering pathways with resilient ground covers like woolly thyme,
cotoneaster, sweet woodruff, or creeping veronica. Ornamental grasses like blue fescue will also withstand periodic tramping when Fido strays off his or her usual patrol route.
Replace large areas of turf with mounded beds full of tall, dense plants and shrubs. Avoid delicate varieties like hostas, bleeding hearts, flowering bulbs (which, when trampled, never get a chance to grow beyond the shoot stage), and anything with thorns or burrs. Small, picket fences placed around vegetable gardens or beds of younger plants are an adequate deterrent. And, for a splash of color, fill large containers with vibrant annuals.
Don’t get rid of all the turf, however. “Dogs prefer to eliminate on grass,” says Marshall Tanner, owner of Alpha Dog Training in Salt Lake City. To minimize urine burn marks throughout the lawn, train your dog to go in one particular area by taking him to the “potty spot” and praising him when he uses it. Experts advise adding Green-Um (available at most pet stores) to the morning meal of female dogs, which tend to have particularly toxic urine. If you have more than one large dog, Anesi advises core aerating your lawn at least twice during the summer to avoid compaction.
When choosing fences, select opaque rather than easy-to-see-through iron or chain link varieties. Not only will your dog’s ability to see people and other dogs encourage it to bark, but a “transparent” fence also invites children to put things through, like little hands or fingers. And if your dog is particularly territorial, this could mean disaster.
Decks and patios provide comfortable spots for dogs to sun themselves on cool days and, when located just off the back door, serve as a buffer from the dirt beds and messy lawn that result in muddy footprints inside the house. Also make sure to provide your pet with adequate shade. Arbors, pergolas, or mature trees work fine to block the sun, but a good doghouse provides protection on both sunny and rainy days.
To add architectural interest to your yard while staving off canine boredom (the leading cause of destructive behavior), include a large, smooth-topped boulder that serves as a look-out perch, a pond for taking a dip, or a sandbox, which may not add aesthetic value, but will satiate even the most voracious digger. Make sure, however, all are safe and easy for your pet to enter and exit.
Anesi’s final piece of advice: “If you have a dog, it’s probably best to relax your ideal of the perfect yard, at least a little bit,” he says. “After all, for many people, their dogs are not only like children, but are their children.”
PLANTS TO AVOID IN A DOG-EAT-DOG-WORLD
Dogs, unlike children, will eat almost anything—especially when they’re bored. While most plants cause an upset stomach at worst, others are downright deadly. The following are a few of the most toxic landscape plants and garden chemicals, and ones you should avoid. For more information, visit aspca.org. If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435.
- Bulbs (In most cases, the entire bulbous part of the plant is toxic.): amaryllis, crocus, daffodil, day lily, gladiola, hyacinth, lily of the valley, and tulip
2. Perennials: foxglove, morning glory,
3. Shrubs: holly, oleander, rhododendron, yucca
4. Trees: China berry and many fruit trees
5. Vines: English ivy
6. Others: calla lily, philodendron, yew
7. Snail and slug bait: These pest deterrents are extremely toxic to dogs which, unfortunately,
tend to be attracted to both
Find more animal-friendly landscaping tips here!