Be Creative and flexible

First of all, each dog is different. For example, Retrievers are know for their love of water, and and Beagles and Bassett Hounds  prone to be diggers. Breed traits and your dogs own unique personality will give you an idea of any potential issues, and landscaping considerations. Always remember, it probably won't ever be perfect, but with some creativity it can be beautiful and functional.



Patios and Pathways


            Foot(paw) Paths. Many owners find their dog will take the same paths to the dog’s favorite areas, making unsightly trampled spots around the yard. Instead of trying to fight it, make these natural pathways apart of your landscaping plans. Use flagstone or smooth gravel to define the paths. Avoid sharp gravel, as it is damaging to sensitive paws. If your dog is a runner, keep the ground cover soft, such as using mulch. This will protect his paws, prevent slipping, and he will be less likely run around the paths.


            Around the Fence. Dog are instinctively territorial and will run along the side of the fence. Unfortunately, this behavior is not something that can be changed. Depending on the size of the dog, give them an 18” to 3’ boarder next to your fence. Fill this area with large mulch or shredded bark to keep mud at a minimum. You can hide this area with bushes or tall hardy plants.



Flower Beds and Boarders

            While a paved over yard would have the easiest maintenance, most people prefer to have flowers and plants in their yard. Few things are more satisfying that watching your plants grow into a beautiful garden. Most likely you will need to protect your plant beds from playful pets.

            Raised beds and containers. Keep out running and digging dogs with a change in elevation. Even adding a few inches will make digging in your flower bed uncomfortable. Place your more less durable plants in weighted containers for extra security.


            Group Plants. Protect your delicate or brittle plants by surrounding them with hardy shrubs and plants. Ornamental grasses and perennials are also Dense groupings will also keep your dog from laying down on top of your plants.


            Rocks. Since dogs don't like digging in rock, use it liberally in your landscape. Gravel and decorative stone can be used a ground cover around your plants and keep pet paws away from your flowers. Place chicken wire underneath the rock to keep the rocks from sliding around and provide an extra layer of protection. Make sure to use a sturdy, non-metal edging to protect your dog's paws.


            Fences and Borders. To help your dog get used to the new landscaping and clearly identify what areas are out of bounds, surround your flower beds with a short fence and a border of stone or wood. For a temporary fence, use stakes and chicken wire. Eventually your dog will learn to stay out and you can remove the barrier. Small white picket fences, driftwood, and railroad ties are a more permanent solutions that can be incorporated into the landscape design and don't need to be removed. Trainers recommend using the same material for all boundaries so your dog identifies that material with off limit areas.


Helpful Hint: To keep dogs from laying in your flower beds, install several rounded stakes, a few inches above ground, under the foliage. You won’t notice them, and it will no longer be the bed of choice for your dog.



Flower/Lawn Selection


            Since your yard is where your dog will romp and play, the plants you choose will be important. Two considerations that you need to keep in mind is the plants durability and toxicity.


            Durability. While you don't have to limit your choices to just the hardiest of plants, it's a good idea to limit the most delicate plants. For your lawn, Bermuda or Kentucky Bluegrass are the toughest of grasses. Sturdy evergreen shrubbery is a great way to shield your dog run. If you are using a crushed stone mulch, use drought tolerant plants. Since the stone will get hot in the summer, leave a little space between your plant and the crushed stone. Talk with a garden specialist at your local garden store to get some ideas on durable plants.

            Toxic Plants. Not all plants that are good to look at are good for your dog. Many landscape plants consist of toxic parts, such as leaves or berries. Some plants are only mildly toxic, causing stomach aches or mouth irritation, while others are potentially fatal to your pet. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has an extensive list of toxic plants online at Before going to your local garden center, print out the list as a reference.



Ponds and Water Features


Water features are become increasingly popular in landscaping, however, you may or may not want your pooch taking a dip in your pond. Several considerations before you let your dog take a swim:


            Can your dog get in and out of the water easily?


            Is the water safe? No stagnate water, toxic algae, or harmful chemicals?


            Can your dog harm itself on any tubing, rocks or objects in the water?


For general safety it's a good idea to fence off the water area, especially if you have koi.  Even with a safe pond and a water loving dog, it's always a good idea to supervise while your dog is swimming. If you want a water feature without the risk, think about getting a birdbath or small fountain.


Common Problems




            Near Fences and Gates. This type of digging is often sign of anxiety, fear or excitement. Neighborhood noises from other pets or various activities might be bothering your pet. Perhaps you are gone all day, and Fido is just missing you. Digging might be his way of expressing insecurity and stress. Try providing a place of comfort for your dog. A doghouse or a closed off, covered area is a good way to give your dog his own space to relax. The space should be big enough for him to turn around inside.


Lawn and Flower Beds. If your dog is lying down in the holes, chances are he's trying to cool off. Dogs are sensitive to hot weather and are susceptible to heat stroke, dehydration and sunburn. Give your canine companion a cool rest area by planting big shady trees or featuring a pergola or arbor in your landscape.


            Is there plenty of shade and Fido still prefers your prized flowers to the pergola? Not only it is digging fun for the dog, but it can be a case of “doggy see, doggy do” as he watches you dig around in the flower beds. Think about building a digging bed.


  1. Choose the area – you can convert the problem area, or pick a more convenient spot. Make sure it is in the shade and you are ready to spend some time redirecting your dog to the new area.
  2. Use sand for the bed – sand won’t make mud, dries quickly, and will shake of your dog better than dirt.
  3. Landscape the border with rocks and some tough plants, or a small fence – the size of the bed will be determined by the size of your dog. This defines the area for the dog, and helps with ascetics.
  4. Encourage your dog to dig THERE – bury some bones, toys, or treats for your dog to find and he will go back to his digging bed again and again.




Helpful hint for escape artists: At the fence line install an underground barrier, a few feet or so deep, made of rebar, chicken wire, or poured concrete to keep in your Houdini.



Brown Spots á la Doggy Business


Is that lush, green, dream lawn marred by brown spots? You have a few options.


             Switch plants. Grasses used in lawns are fairly delicate plants. The brown or yellow spots are a result of too much nitrogen in the lawn. An alternative is overseeding your lawn with clover. Your lawn will still be green, but you won’t get those pesky spots.


            Switch to hardscape. A patio is not only a beautiful addition to your landscape, but is also very easy to clean up. However, covering the whole back yard in stone or pavers is a more expensive option.


            Switch where your dog does his business. With a few weeks of training your dog can be taught to keep his business in a contained area. Using flagstone, pea gravel, bricks, or cedar chips are adequate choices. Keep in mind; materials such as dirt, small gravel and small mulch are more likely to track inside. If the area gets stinky, spraying the area with natural products such as Nature's Miracle will help with the smell and won't kill plants.


            If there is nowhere else for your dog to do his business, and you can give up the dream of a green grass lawn, use a hardy grass, such as Bermuda or Kentucky Bluegrass. Since the high nitrogen content is the cause of the spots, you can also dilute your dog’s urine. Some dietary supplements, often containing yucca, can do this, or you can simple grab a hose and flush the area as soon as your dog is done. Time consuming, but effective.



Ultimately, no matter what you change in your yard, you will need to spend time training your dog to have good outside manners. Both you and your dog will be happier if your expectations are clear and consistent. If you are unfamiliar with training methods, there are many resources online and in books. Meet up with a qualified dog trainer for some more personalized help.


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