7 Tips for Designing an Amazing Dog-Friendly Backyard
By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa • January 16, 2023
Here at Tilly, we’re all about planning the perfect landscape design for your family. For some clients that includes rambunctious kids or entertaining for their friends, but an increasing number of clients are asking for landscaping ideas that cater to their dogs! Our design team loves creating dog friendly backyard concepts that will make both the pups and pet owners happy.
When Melanie of Hello Ruby Doodle came to us looking for a backyard makeover for her courtyard that would cater to her and her four legged friend, Ruby, we were more than happy to help. After working with an expert Tilly landscape designer to create their perfect outdoor space, Melanie reflected on her priorities as a passionate dog mom and everything she learned from the process. She used that experience to come together with our designers and compile the Tilly & Hello Ruby Doodle’s top seven tips for planning a dog-friendly landscape renovation!
You know how the saying goes: safety first! You might have dreamed up the coolest doggy play area ever, but it won’t matter if your pooch can slip through a hedge or fence to roam the neighborhood without breaking a sweat. Anticipating any potential problems will help you create a backyard dog friendly landscaping plan that provides plenty of fun for your dog and fewer headaches for you.
#1 // Fencing
If you want to let your pet run free in your yard, fencing is going to be essential. A good fence will keep your dog inside and secure from roads—and the temptation to chase down every bicyclist they see. It will also keep unwanted visitors out, including skunks, porcupines, and coyotes. If you’re concerned about fencing being an eyesore, you can choose from a range of attractive styles or cover it with climbing greenery for a lush, private backyard oasis.
Fencing can also be used to protect areas of your landscaping that you might want to keep dog-free. No matter how well-mannered your pup is, why risk the temptation of digging in your prized flower beds or chowing down on your vegetable garden? Instead, plan your layout so sensitive areas are outside the primary dog run and shielded from any aspiring canine gardeners. You can also create a designated digging area if that's something your dog would enjoy.
Selecting plants for your brand new landscaping requires a little extra research when you have a pet who’ll be sharing the space with you. For the most part, plants are safe unless consumed in large quantities. If eating in extremely large amounts, there’s a surprising number of common landscaping plants that can be toxic to dogs, including hydrangeas, tulips, chrysanthemums, peonies, hostas, and boxwood. However, you know your dog and know how prone he will be to explore or try a bush or branch - many will pass right by them and/or a little nibble is okay.
A few plants we highly recommend avoiding including Sago Palm, Oleander, and Lillies (which are very bad for cats), cocoa bean mulch, but you can view a comprehensive list of toxic plants for dogs on Chewy's website. Again, remember most pets aren't going to be munching all the plants in your yard so this may not be a point you need to worry about too much, unless your pet is the mischievous type.
There are safe plants that can also directly cater to your pet! You can plant herbs like lavender to help repel fleas from your garden (and it smells nice!) and keep your pooch flea bite-free. You can also grow dog-friendly plants in your vegetable garden for them—pups might just be the biggest fans of a crunchy, garden-fresh carrot.
And don’t forget: if you’re going to be keeping any existing plants after a renovation, check that those are dog-safe too!
#3 // Fertilizer & Pest Control
Your dog is going to be rolling around in the grass and sniffing every plant in your landscape! That means they will also be in very close contact with any fertilizer or pest control you use in your yard. Many of these products can be harmful to dogs—especially dogs who might give your plants an exploratory nibble.
Always opt for pet-safe treatments for your landscaping to keep your pup safe! Double check all labels and consult an expert if you’re ever in doubt. You can also choose hardy plants that will require less fertilizing and pest control to keep things simple. We recommend including native plants, which are already perfectly suited to your climate, resistant to local pests and will generally not need fertilizer.
Next up is thinking about the things that will make your outdoor living space as functional as possible for you and your dog.
#4 // Durable Materials
Dogs play hard, and their hangout areas need to be able to keep up with them. Soft wood decking can get claw marks, potted plants might be hit by a wagging tail, and your outdoor furniture will definitely be covered in dirty paw prints. Make sure to choose durable, easy-to-clean materials whenever possible so that your brand new backyard won’t look like a wreck within a week.
#5 // Your Lawn & Ground Cover
One of the biggest things to consider for dogs is your ground cover. Conventional grass can get worn down quickly by a dog with the zoomies, and potty breaks on green lawns can leave spots of yellowing grass all over your lawn.
If you like the look of a green lawn, look for a hardy turf grass, grass alternatives like clover, or even sturdy artificial grass. Silver carpet, miniature stonecrop, creeping thyme are also a very durable ground cover. Kentucky bluegrass and buffalo grass are firm options that are able to recover from foot traffic quickly. Ground cover plants are very low maintenance so a great dog friendly backyard idea.
Synthetic turf is also a dog friendly backyard favorite! It's very low maintenance, which is an added benefit.
If you want to skip the lawn altogether, you can create an amazing dog-friendly backyard with no grass! Choose ground cover materials that are gentle on your dog’s paws, like a cedar mulch, but which won’t have them tracking dirt everywhere.
Pea gravel or river rock can make for a dog run or potty area that’s comfortable for your dog and visually appealing for you.
#6 // Dog Care Zones
Some great features to include to make life a little easier for you and your dog include:
- A designated potty area to keep messes contained and depending on your pup a comfortable place to do their business, like the Bark Potty
- A refreshment area or water feature with constant access to fresh drinking water for hot days and intense play sessions.
- A grooming area to take care of brushing, paw-washing, and any emergency baths after they rolled in something on a walk before you go inside the house.
- A dog house or raised bed with shade so they have a place to relax that’s sheltered from sun, wind, and the hot or cold ground. Take some inspiration from WLO Wood, modern wooden dog crates
- Provide shade in a few places - whether it's man made or below tall trees - throughout the yard to give them relief and keep them cool in hot days
- Create a backyard dog path for your dog to roam through and enjoy!
Alright, we’ve covered all the basics! Now it’s time to get into the fun stuff: your dream backyard ideas for your furry friend. You can go wild with a full blown agility course or keep things low-key with a cozy dog bed for the couch potato pup out there. It’s all about knowing your dog and choosing the features they’ll love.
#7 // Play Areas
Our favorite dog yard ideas are:
- Water play areas! These can range from a full paddling pool to the perfect spot to play in the sprinkler if you’re looking for dog friendly backyard ideas on a budget.
- Approved digging zones like a doggy sandbox where they can hunt for buried treasure (without messing up your garden and expensive plants again).
- A lure course with favorite toys for your pet to chase—perfect for the dogs who long to hunt down the neighborhood squirrels. This can also be a natural course with things like log balance beams (which kids would love too!)
- An agility course to keep their bodies active and their minds engaged!
- A hammock or big comfy outdoor couch with room for you and your dogs.
- A doggy bed in the yard by your outdoor dining area so the pup can be part of the party
Keeping all of these considerations in mind helped us turn Melanie’s small backyard courtyard area into Ruby’s new favorite hangout spot! We hope it will do the same for you and your canine best friend. If you’re looking for a helping hand, send us your dog’s dream backyard wishlist and we can design the perfect dog friendly backyard for you.
And be sure to follow Melanie and Ruby for fun dog friendly ideas!