Dog-friendly planting for your home

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People love their dogs. They also love their gardens. But sometimes, these two passions seem to conflict.

By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Master Gardener, and Cynologist

There’s no reason that you can’t have both dogs and attractive landscaping. But landscaping with dogs does present challenges that may require some compromises.  The goal of this balancing act is to achieve an attractive, dog-friendly yard. I’m here to offer you some strategies.


Many gardeners are concerned about dogs and lawns.  While it’s true that dog urine can be damaging to grass, there’s a lot of mythology on this topic. The damage done by dog urine on lawns and other ornamental plants is caused by excess nitrogen in one spot.  This is the yellow spot that “burns” plants. By spraying water consistently every time wherever your dog urinates on the grass, the problem would go away.  In fact, the diluted nitrogen would actually green up your lawn.

Avoid problems by training your dog to go potty in a particular part of the yard

It isn’t much harder to train your dog to eliminate on command than it is to housetrain in the first place.  Just clean up often. A dog will start avoiding his toilet area if it’s filthy. This means more than a couple of stools in the area.  Put dog poop in the garbage, or flush it down the toilet. Please don’t add to your compost pile, as it could contain worms or other hazards.

Consider switching to a different type of grass.

Some grasses hold up better to paw traffic than others. Among the warm-season grasses, Bermuda grass is among the toughest. For cool-season grass, try Kentucky bluegrass. But if you’re trying to get a new area of lawn established, sod is easier to establish than seed if you’ve got pets.

An alternative type of “green carpet” is clover.  Clover lawns have many advantages over grass lawns, one being that clover doesn’t stain the way grass does after being subjected to dog urine.

Borders and Paths

Like people, dogs make a beeline to where they want to go.

If your dog wears a dirt trail into the lawn, consider switching from a grassy expanse to a hardscape. The advantages of hardscape go beyond solutions to landscaping with dogs since hardscape offers a low-maintenance alternative to grass. Stone walkways exude charm and are a desirable addition to your landscaping, regardless of dog problems. Stone and masonry are beneficial for landscaping with dogs because they minimize the mess dogs make through urination, digging, and plain old wear and tear.

Avoid bark mulch

Dogs can easily disturb or ingest mulch and coco bark mulch is poisonous.  It’s better to use an inorganic product. Crushed stone mulch is maintenance-free, holds up to dog traffic, and provides a clean look.


If you are building a fence, think OVER, UNDER, and THROUGH. 

Make sure the fence is 4 to 6 feet high so your dog cannot get over it. Avoid gaps between the fence to prevent a dog’s head from being wedged and between the fence and the ground. Ensure that the fence extends well below the ground to deter your dog from digging its way out. Don’t try to grow any plants in the area immediately adjacent to the fence. Dogs are territorial, and their favorite path in a fenced-in yard will be right along the fence. Unsightly “dog paths” are the result of this predictable behavior. Rather than fighting it, plan your yard around your dog’s predictability.

If a physical fence isn’t in the plan, another containment option will teach your dog boundaries. A dog trainer could help you with this.

Plant Materials

If the plantings in your yard possess any significant degree of diversity, there’s a good chance that you’re growing poisonous plants.

You’d be surprised at how many of the most common landscape plants and native volunteers contain at least some parts (leaves, berries, etc.) that are toxic.

Avoid bare soil

It’s a perfect invitation to dogs to dig.

Consider using ground covers like thyme, cotoneaster, or sweet woodruff between larger woody plants. When choosing plants, choose robust plants that can cope with being trampled and try to keep your garden densely planted all year round—densely planted areas are often good deterrents to dogs, especially if you train them that these are no-go areas. Grasses are particularly tough plants that are unlikely to be injured by the most rambunctious of dogs.


Keep plants in containers or behind a barrier

For a vegetable or herb garden, a permanent enclosure, such as an attractive picket fence, is a good idea.

Eye-level barriers, such as rope strung between wooden posts or low-level box hedges, can protect these plants. Besides, a dog is less likely to go crashing through a raised flowerbed than one at ground level.

Suppose you don’t want any dog toilet activities to occur; having some sort of barrier will help.

Also if you’ve planted vegetable seeds into the ground, by keeping the seedbed moist your dog will avoid it.  Dogs prefer to dig in dry, loose soil.  In addition, use a straw mulch to cover the soil in between rows of vegetables or individual plants such as tomatoes for added protection.

Paths and walkways

Densely Plant where pets are likely to take shortcuts

Ensure that planting is especially dense in places such as corners of beds, where pets are likely to take shortcuts.

Massing shrubs or ornamental grasses can help keep pets on the straight and narrow. Most will go around rather than through such plantings. Initially, you may wish to include a few prickly plants such as berberis until other plants are sturdy enough to form a pet-proof barrier.

Shrubs, Trees, Perennials

When adding new plantings, larger-sized trees, shrubs, and perennials are more likely to earn pet respect than little sticks that look like chew toys.

Avoid shrubs with brittle branches that would snap if a dog barged into them—choose shrubs with pliable, springy branches instead. Place wire cages around trees and shrubs to prevent dog urine from reaching their trunks and roots and damaging them. That way, dogs can go about their business, and you can relax, secure in the knowledge that Fido’s urine won’t be killing your favorite specimen.

Try to avoid conifers if you have a dog—if your dog cocks his leg against one, the conifer will turn brown. Try tough-leaved evergreens instead.

One company that knows their stuff is Riverside plant and tree service experts.

Water Features

Don’t forget creature comforts

Like you, your dog will appreciate shade and a place to get a drink on a hot day.  If you decide to have both a dog and a pond, you will need to decide whether the dog will be allowed in it. If not, a raised water feature will be most likely to keep your pet out. And if your dog is to be allowed a dip in hot weather, make sure the pool is easy for him to climb out of and the liner is durable.

You will also have to avoid keeping fish and keep pond plants to a minimum.

Final Note

You can train a dog to respect the garden.

Take into account your dog’s breed and characteristics—digging will be a particular problem with terriers and many hounds.  Big dogs are more prone to crush plants, and agile dogs need higher barriers to keep them out of the garden.

Dogs are social animals, and if allowed in the garden for long periods of time, make sure there is someone or something to keep it occupied.

When planning your garden, remember informal gardens lend themselves most easily to sharing with pets.

Ensure that your garden is safe for pets, and then protect your garden from your pets.

By following these strategies you and your furry friend will both have the garden of your dreams.


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