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Designing a Pet-Friendly Yard and Garden Space

Creating a pet-friendly yard space Are you itching to get out into the yard and garden? Puttering around the yard with our pets at our side is a relaxing way to spend the day. Our pets love to be where we are - and there are ways we can create a pet-friendly yard space, giving our pets the opportunity to run & play, sniff, roll, or just laze around.

Use fencing to keep them safely in the yard.

You don't have to fence the whole yard if you don't want to. A dog run or a kitty enclosure works just as well. Add some comfortable mats, interesting toys and things to sniff, and of course a supply of cool, fresh water, and your pet can safely enjoy the great outdoors even when you're temporarily distracted.

Fencing doesn't always have to mean a five-foot tall wood fence, either. Wood fencing is popular, but there are many options like chain link, rancher's fencing (posts and wire), split-rail fencing, bamboo fencing, even creating barriers with live plants that form a thick, impenetrable screen.

Other things to consider as you create an enclosed yard space:

  • If your dog is prone to digging, you may need to extend your fencing several inches or a foot or two into the ground to prevent escape.

  • Make sure your pet cannot get caught in between the boards or wires, or underneath the fence.

  • Block any spaces between the fence and the ground that your pet might be able to squeeze under. Cut pieces of fence board to fit, or use lattice or even large rocks if you prefer.

Make a fun water feature.

Many dogs love to play in the water, especially on those hot summer days. Some ideas include:

  • The easiest thing to do is get a kiddie wading pool (not the inflatable kind, unless you don't mind if they pop!) and fill with cool water for your dog to splash around in. Get one with low-enough sides that your dog can easily get in and out. If you like, you can dig a hole and sink the pool into the ground so that your dog doesn't drag it around or gnaw on it. The downside to the "in-ground pool" is that it's harder to empty and clean.

  • Create a small 'cooling area' for your dog: dig a shallow hole with gently sloped sides so that your dog can easily walk out when he wants to. Pack down the dirt, then put a plastic liner along the bottom and sides of the hole. Fill with sand. On those hot summer days, wet the sand with cold water and your dog will have a fun area to cool off in.

  • Create a water fountain at ground level. Garden stores carry kits that can help you do this. The running water is fun for dogs and can entertain them for hours while helping them keep cool in the summer heat.

  • A small pond or steam would sure to be a popular feature for your dog too. Be sure that it's shallow and has sloped sides or steps so that your dog can easily get out.

If you have a pool:

  • Consider fencing off pool areas to prevent pets from accidentally entering the area.

  • Put in steps so that pets can get out of the pool.

  • Get a safety pool cover that is specifically designed to hold the weight of people or pets who inadvertantly step off the edge of the pool. These should be professional installed and regularly inspected to ensure that they haven't worn down.

Always supervise your pets around water.

Use pet-safe plants in the yard and garden.

There is a huge variety of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and flowering plants. Some plants are, however, toxic to pets so care should be taken when planning the yard.

Mulches are great for retaining moisture around plants but stay away from cocoa mulch (also called cocoa bean mulch) - it smells good to dogs but is toxic and can even be fatal.

Consider using raised beds for prized plants that you don't want the dog to run through, nap in, etc.

When it comes to dealing with weeds, pull them by hand or use non-toxic, pet-safe treatments rather than harsh, toxic chemicals.

Make a dedicated bathroom area.

Create a small space, hidden or shielded by shrubbery, where your dog can be trained to eliminate. Cover the area with some type of material that's conducive to being hosed down, but isn't too hard on a dog's paws. For example, small round pebbles work well and a layer of bark chips on top can help make the surface softer.

Bring your dog immediately to the area during potty breaks, give him a verbal cue, and reward him when he goes. Consistency can teach him that he is always to go in that one spot. Clean up immediately and hose down when necessary.

Create fun and interesting resting areas.

Many dogs like to survey their 'domains'. Make it even more fun by providing a big flat rock they can lay on, or an elevated area that makes it easier to them to see all around. Shade trees make hot days more comfortable too.

Some dogs also like to have their very own private spots. Create a space that they can go if they want to rest quietly - for example, vines and lattice can make a fun and shady tunnel for dogs to rest in.

Give your dog his own exercise and play space.

A tired dog is a good dog! Running and playing isn't just good physical exercise, it's good for a pet's mental well-being too. A large-enough space where dogs can stretch their legs and tire themselves out is ideal.

Some people prefer that the dog have his own space in the yard so that the rest of the landscaping isn't sacrificed during happy playtime. Visually separating the "dog yard" from the "people yard" can help pets learn where the boundaries are. It can be as simple as putting down a border of paving bricks, or perhaps changing the type of material on the ground.

You can even combine the other elements of a pet-friendly yard space into the 'pet area'. For example, the pet area could include the potty area; it could have small bark pieces as the ground cover, with a fountain in the middle, some rocks to climb and to rest on, and a beautiful shade tree or two.

A good place get hints on what to put in this play area is to think of a dog agility course. There are things to balance on, climb on, jump over, run through... how can you make it interesting for your dog?

Encourage your dog to use the pet area by playing with him in it, or hiding treats or toys in the area. If your dog is a digger and you want to try to save the rest of your yard from his digging, try placing a pile of sand in a 'sandbox' in the dog space. He can dig to his heart's content!

Ultimately, creating pet-friendly yard doesn't have to be complicated or overly-expensive. Pick and choose the features that are most important to you (or your pets), and you'll be enjoying these spaces together for years to come.


"It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness." (Charles Spurgeon)

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