Every spring do you spend hours repairing the damage to your backyard caused by your dog the previous year? Do you end up repeatedly reseeding your lawn, filling in holes and replanting shrubs and bushes that have been urinated on, chewed, or dug up? Has it become a losing battle? Take heart, your backyard battles may be over. “Dogscaping” is a fairly new trend that translates to creating a backyard that meets the needs of both humans and canines. You love your dog, you love your backyard, your dog loves your backyard and the goal is to co-exist peacefully with minimal damage. Some simple backyard design changes along with a little dog training or redirecting, can save your yard, make your life easier and allow both you and your four legged friend to peacefully enjoy the backyard.
The key to designing a dog friendly backyard is to know your pet and its habits. As all dog owners know, dogs are individuals with different personalities, traits and habits. Just as with people, no two are exactly alike. Take into account your dogs breed, size, likes, dislikes and temperament to design a yard that will make everyone happy.
Always put safety first. Dogs need to be safely contained in the backyard. Boundaries are a necessity to prevent a dog from escaping and possibly becoming lost or injured. Fences are the most common type of enclosure and there are many types of fencing available. If you choose vertical boards, make sure the uprights are close enough together that the dogs head cannot squeeze between them and become trapped. Horizontal board fencing is available as well as chain link fencing. To prevent your dog from digging under the fence and escaping, install chicken wire, slate, or rocks under the fence. If you don’t like the look of a fence, an invisible fence is an option that is triggered by the dog’s collar. It emits a high pitched sound that acts as a deterrent if the dog attempts to cross the boundary. Stone or cement walls are another option. Whether it’s a fence or a wall, be sure it is high enough that the dog cannot jump over it. Double latches on gates are a wise idea. Dogs are intelligent and some have quickly learned how to maneuver a latch to open it.
Pathways in your backyard can help control where your dog runs and helps to keep it off the grass and out of garden areas. Pathways should be two to three feet wide and should curve or arc to make turning easy. Running dogs will cut a corner rather than slow down to make a sharp turn. Many dogs like to patrol the perimeter of the yard and paths around the perimeter allow the most running space. Paths should be lined with paw friendly materials that stay cool and comfortable on a dog’s feet. Paths made from concrete, brick, flagstone, smooth rock or pebbles are long lasting and work well. Wood chips are another good choice unless your dog tends to chew wood or is long haired in which case the wood chips will become entangled in its fur. A word to the wise, never use cocoa mulch which is poisonous to dogs.
There are three major reasons dogs dig; one is to escape, another is to bury bones or toys and the third is to create a cool place to lie down on a hot day. We have already mentioned preventing a digging escape by using stone or wire under the fence. If your dog buries things in the yard, it will help to designate a digging spot. Choose an out of the way corner and fill it with loose soil and mulch. Encourage your dog to dig in that spot by burying a bone or a favorite toy there. If you do this a few times the dog will catch on that this is the spot to dig. If it is a shady area it will dig there to create a cool spot to lie in as well.
Designated Bathroom Spot:
To avoid brown spots on the lawn from your dog’s urine, choose a specific spot and train your dog to use only that spot. When you let it out into the yard, walk it to the spot immediately and it will soon get the idea. If you have a male dog, install a marking post or upright piece of wood. If you want to be a little more whimsical there are artificial fire hydrants available.
Outdoor dogs need shelter from the rain and the sun. Dogs are subject to heatstroke just as humans are and they need a shady spot to retreat to on hot days. Being left for hours in the rain, even on a warm day, is a miserable experience for a dog. If you do not have a shade tree in your yard a doghouse works for some dogs, others refuse to go near it. An overhang, a space under the deck, an entrance into the garage or even a tarp erected in a corner of the yard will serve the purpose.
Flower And Vegetable Gardens:
Some dogs will be very happy to devour your vegetable garden and even some of your flowers. To avoid losing your gardens, plant vegetables in raised beds or fence the vegetable bed. Flower beds can be edged with rocks or flanked with ornamental grasses, bushes or shrubs to deter your dog from getting close to them. It is important to use only pet friendly plants as some common plants are poisonous to dogs. Check the ASPCA website for a long, comprehensive list of plants that are toxic and those that are non-toxic to dogs. Fertilizers and herbicides can also be dangerous to a dog’s health. Be sure to purchase natural or organic pet friendly products. These products are readily available in garden centers.
Insects, Fleas And Ticks:
Remove standing water to avoid mosquito breeding, trim grass, shrubs and bushes to minimize ticks and use natural or organic insect repellants in your yard. Purchase an insect repellant specifically made to be safe for dogs and use it daily. Invest in a flea and tick collar and replace it when necessary. Keeping these insects at bay will help to keep your dog healthy.
A spill proof water bowl or a self- filling water system is a necessity if your dog will be left alone for several hours. Be sure the water dish is filled to the brim with fresh, clean water before leaving your pet. A dog on its own for an extended time will require some food as well. Leave some dog treats that will be unaffected by changing temperatures.
Your dog is less likely to get into trouble or wreak havoc in your yard if your dog is not bored. Add some toys to the yard. A chewing toy, a ball, an outdoor tunnel if you have the room or even a viewing bubble in the fence enabling your dog to see what’s happening outside of the yard will keep the dog occupied.
Although these tasks may seem like a lot of work and expense, it doesn’t have to be accomplished all at once. Spread it out over several years. Gradually increase hardscaped areas and minimize grass. Tackle the biggest problem in your yard first. Solving one problem is a great first step. Plan it out on paper, watch how your dog reacts and adapt your expectations to your dog’s response. The reward for your efforts will minimal effort and upkeep for an attractive backyard where you and your beloved canine companion will be happy, peacefully enjoying the backyard together.