How to Create a Pet-Friendly Home Garden

Dalmatian dog enjoying the pet-friendly home garden

Ready for some outdoor fun, furfriends? In collaboration with our partner blog Green in Real Life, here are helpful tips and ideas for planning, creating, maintaining, and sharing a pet-friendly home garden. 

Pet-Friendly Garden Access and Security

Secure Garden Boundaries for Pets

Ensure that your garden boundary fencing is secure and safe. If you’re starting from scratch, you can try and pet-proof in the planning stages. If you have an existing fence, you may need to enhance it for completeness, height, or strength to keep your pet secure. 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 personally done to date 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 safe and secure out back, as well as general security on the property.  As a mini update since this post was first shared, we’ve moved, yet again. The new house doesn’t suit double side gates, but we liked them so much that we tried to incorporate some of the same flexible security with a driveway gate and side gates.

Pet Access Between the Home and Garden

If possible, plan controlled indoor/outdoor access. This will help with safety and security as well as keeping your house clean. Having a good quality general purpose doormat helps reduce inbound mess. I’ve found that using an extra plush absorbent door mat at our rear patio door makes a big difference, too. See our tips for trying to curb muddy paws and other pet messes to keep a (somewhat) tidy pet-friendly home.

Humphrey blog dog of Dalmatian DIY in the summer hydrangea garden

Garden Layout and Design

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

Pet Exercise and Play Areas

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.

Dalmatian dog playing on open green lawn

Shade and Shelter

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.

Pet-Friendly Materials

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.

Designated Pathways and Pet-Friendly Passages

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.

Barriers to Protect the Pets and the Garden

Use barriers to protect special areas or restrict access to hazards. If your pet is a garden raider (my dogs are berry fiends), you may need to protect edibles with barriers and/or raised beds. 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!

Dalmatian dogs sniffing the berry patch for fresh berries

Pet-Friendly Garden Planting

Hazardous and Toxic Plants

Be aware of potentially poisonous plantings. Many common plants can be toxic if eater and/or cause contact irritation.  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. 

Pet-Friendly Plantings

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.

Dalmatian dog sniffing fresh garden grown strawberries

Protect New Plants from Pets

Use temporary fencing or barriers to protect delicate new plantings, where needed. 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.

Tough Plants for Tough Pet-Friendly Places

Use resilient plantings in borders and high traffic areas where they may be brushed and/or trampled. Layering can help create natural boundaries or reinforce existing barriers, such as adding a buffer to shelter 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.

Pee Patches and Other Potential Pet Potty Problems

Pee Patch Prevention and Management

Dog pee can burn or kill plants the same way as over-fertilising would. Hello, dreaded dog pee patches! 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. As a little pupdate, 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!

Poo Patrol

Scoop that poop! 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 litterbox is a codeword for delicious cat poopy snack dispenser. Tiger (with the exception of his harness adventures) 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…

Cat enjoying the pet-friendly home garden

Other Garden Pet Safety Considerations

Garden Chemicals and Toxins

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.

Garden Tools and Equipment

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.

Wildlife Hazards

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.

Sharing Spaces and Making Memories

Perfect isn’t Always Pawfect

Perfect is seldom what makes the best memories. Some of my favourite memories in our old garden (the garden we had when this post was first shared) are of the messy muddy moments in life. In particular, I’ll never forget Oli’s pure bliss at the arrival of autumn when our big trees started creating his magical carpet of fun. Many a leaf pile was raked and rolled repeatedly before composting. And then puppy Humphrey watching Oli is excitement and fascination, prancing to join the leaf wrestling fun. I don’t miss the raking, but I do miss our leafy fun.

Dalmatian dog rolling in the leaves

Sharing and Caring

Not everything will go to plan. Inevitably, there will be a few pet-related incidents and/or garden casualties along the way. Be gentle with the pets and with yourself, just like the occasional human-caused garden failures and brown-thumbed losses.  Work on prevention, training, and evolve the garden over time to work better for the entire family, pets included. At the end of the day, their love and cuddles will more than make up for the momentary frustrations.  Happy gardening and growing, furfriends! 

Creating and sharing a pet-friendly home garden

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