Thursday, 29 September 2016
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How to Create a Pet-Friendly Home Garden {Guest Post}

Smiling Dalmatian dog in front of hydrangea bushes

A dog-friendly home includes more than just the house, it's shared outdoor living spaces too.  In collaboration with Green in Real Life, here are some tips for creating, maintaining, and sharing a garden space with your furry family members.

Garden Access and Security

Plan and control indoor/outdoor pet access. This will help with safety and security as well as keeping your house clean.  See our tips for trying to curb muddy paws and other pet messes.

Ensure that your garden fencing is secure and safe.  This may require additional fencing, under-fence barriers for diggers, over-fence obstacles for clever climbers, secondary barriers for blocking gaps, or other boundary adjustments. Consult with your neighbours and, if needed, council or development committees to make sure that everything is as smooth and stress-free as possible.  Unexpectedly, the best thing we've ever done personally for enhancing our dog fencing was to double gate access to the backyard at both the front and the rear of each side of the house (city block). It is great for keeping the dogs safely out back as well as general security on the property. We like double gates so much that we tried to incorporate some of the same flexible security at our new house by using a driveway gate and side gates.

Garden Layout and Design

Sharing is all about balance, consideration and compromise. Your design and planting choices (read more on pet-friendly planting below) for may need to differ from your preferences for a non-pet garden, but you can still have a beautiful shared space.

Designate an exercise or play area, if feasible, and take care when playing.  Our dogs love chasing big bouncy balls, but wild racing dogs and big bouncing balls are not so great for delicate plants and definitely not something I want near any windows!  Select suitable toys and play spaces, and ensure all family members are consistent about the rules.
Smiling Dalmatian dog playing with rugby ball on bright green lawn

Shade and shelter are important, especially if your pets spend a lot of time outdoors. Pets can enjoy natural shade and shelter, but also shared structures like pergolas and arbours, or their own special spaces from basic to deluxe.  If your pets have to spend time outdoors in inclement or wintry weather, make sure that you have a shelter that can keep them safe, warm, and dry.  Don't forget that your pets will need access to fresh clean water at all times.

Choose materials for shared spaces that are gentle on paws.  Try to avoid sharp stones or materials that become dangerously slipper when wet or hot when sunbaked.  It's good planning for human feet too!  Be careful with mulches and avoid cocoa mulch, which is toxic when eaten.  If you have a fluffy pet, fine mulches will stick to their coat so you may wish to avoid this option.

Consider adding designated paths (or, if possible, accommodating existing preferred tracks) through the property in your landscaping and planting so that your dog can prowl and patrol his/her kingdom without trampling your garden beds. For most dogs, this will include access to the borders and boundaries of your garden.  

Use barriers to protect special areas or restrict access to hazards.  If you need to retrain your pet away from areas of your garden, use proper training techniques in conjunction with safe barriers (permanent or temporary).  Don't plant thorny plants as an immediate modifier to block pets, as you may accidentally cause your pet to injure themselves trying to get through to their usual paths and places.  This can be especially dangerous for sensitive areas, such as the eyes. Work to modify behaviour and use plantings for longer term deterrence. In addition to thorns and prickles, some aromatic plants are reputed to have repellent scents, including rue, mustard plant, citronella, rosemary, lavender, etc.  I have to say, my dogs LOVE rubbing themselves all over rosemary bushes, so I'm not sure I can recommend that one for efficacy...although they do smell great afterwards!

Pet-Friendly Planting

Be aware of potentially poisonous plantings. Many common plants can be toxic if eater and/or cause contact irritation.  Green in Real Life has a handy little infographic on Safer Gardening with Pets  and the ASPCA a great tool for checking for potential pet-toxic plants.  This is especially important if you have a young puppy or a grazer.  Being pet safety conscious doesn't necessarily mean eliminating all potential hazards from your garden. It may be a balance of placement, access control, supervision, and maintenance. 

On the flip side, you can also plant a few of their favourites in accessible places or create an edible garden that you can share by planting dog-safe herbs, fruits, and veggies.  If your dog is a garden raider, you may need to protect some of your edibles from quality control tasting with barriers.  Raised beds can be very effective as well.

Use temporary fencing or barriers to protect delicate new plantings. If you can afford it, consider buying larger plants that will be less vulnerable as new plantings.  It can help to build up you garden in layers, starting with your large plants (and hardscaping if applicable) to adjust habitual movement patterns through the garden before adding smaller and more fragile plantings.

Use resilient plantings in borders and high traffic areas where they may be brushed and/or trampled.  Layering can also help to create natural boundaries or reinforce existing barriers, such as adding a buffer or sheltering more delicate plants. If your dog's favourite roaming and resting areas including planted areas, try to select tough plants that can withstand some degree of abuse and save your delicate specimens for elsewhere.

Smiling Dalmatian dog lying on top of garden plants

Pee Patches and Other Potential Potty Problems

Dog pee is high in nitrogen, which can burn or kill plants the same way as over-fertilising would.  If you're starting a fresh garden space, you may be able to train your pet to have a preferential marking place for potty breaks.  Yeah for you if you can!  We have never been so lucky, likely in part due to prior resident pets freely marking on the properties. If the weather is dry, watering wee areas can help to dilute and dissipate urine before it kills plants or burns patches in the lawn. Update: We built a fake fire hydrant dog pee post for our new garden It looks great, but efforts thus far to make it the preferred pee place have been less than stellar. Haha!

Scoop that poop!  Poo patrol. Often.  Nobody likes stepping on poop in the garden, but more importantly, it's important for the health and wellness of your pets and your family.  On the subject of poo, if you have free range cats (or roaming neighbourhood cats...), try to avoid offering up lovely loose dry bare soil as a Utopian litterbox. Especially if your dogs think that a litterbox is a codeword for delicious cat poopy snack dispenser. Our cat is a house cat, but we have roaming neighbourhood cats.  Chunky mulching helps and coffee grounds seem to be a decently effective deterrent and I just need to make my garden less attractive than other neighbourhood litterbox alternatives. Hehe...

Other Garden Pet Safety Considerations

In addition to toxic plants, be wary of other potential poisons.  Be careful with garden chemicals.  Protect your pets from fertilisers, insecticides, baits, fungicides, and other garden chemicals. Remember, eco-friendly or natural products can still be toxic.  Read labels carefully, try to select safe alternatives, and store with care.  Don't allow access to your compost area, as rotting materials may contain dangerous mold.  Remove any wild mushrooms that may pop up on your garden, as some varieties are toxic.

Training about acceptable behaviours can be just as important outdoors as indoors.  It helps to curb bad behaviours, like digging, but also risky behaviour around dangerous garden tools, like lawnmowers, string-trimmers, etc. Remember that in addition to contact hazards, there is an indirect risk of objects being flicked about when you are using tools in the garden. 

Understand the potentially dangerous wildlife in your area and determine what, if any measures are needed to keep your pets (and family) safe. Similarly, understand the protected wildlife (if any) in your area and whether any special measures are required to reduce the risk of harm from interaction with your pets.

Bringing a little bit of the outdoors inside? See our post on houseplant safety for pet-friendly homes.

What would be in your dream dog-friendly garden? I would love a big beautiful space with plenty of room to live, play, grow and garden.  In an urban block, I'd settle for a miniature version of the same, with easy level indoor/outdoor flow to a fully secure, well-fenced, and private big backyard.  

Looking for more pawesome inspiration for your doggy daydreaming?  This post will be pinned along with plenty of other doggone great tips and ideas on our Better Living with Pets Pinterest board

Check out the other great house and home posts in our special mini-series:


  1. Your dog looks so smug lying on your flower garden! Pose or candid?

    1. That's a candid of Oli. He's a natural smiler. :) Ontop of that flower bed is one of both dogs' favourite resting places. I've learned to accept their preference (and my flat plants) and opted for some strategic crushable/expendable plants in that area.


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