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Pet Friendly Yards

Creating a Backyard Retreat for You & Your Pet

Know yourself, know your pet and know your property.  Understanding the whole picture will help to make any landscaping project successful.   What amount of effort will you put into the landscape?  Creation and Maintenance?  The type of dog may influence what will or won’t work.  Breed characteristics?  High or low energy?  Water loving?  Young puppy or sedate elder dog?

Training, Exercise and Supervision.
Any pet can be taught to respect the outdoor spaces just like training them to respect the inside spaces.  Remember the adage:  “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog”.  A big yard cannot substitute for the attention and exercise your dog needs.  Boredom often manifests in bad behavior:  chewing, digging and barking.  Play with your dog.

Peeing and Pooping.
Just natural doggie business can wreak havoc on the lawn.  Dog urine has very high nitrogen content.  If you already use a high nitrogen based fertilizer, the problem is more noticeable.  Female dogs squat, resulting in a high concentration of urine.  Males usually go on something and spread it around to mark their territory.  Water can dilute the concentration.  Designating a bathroom area and training the dog takes patience, but will help to prevent those spots in the lawn.  The commercial product, Pee Post, is a pheromone treated yard stake that encourages pets to eliminate in the designated area.  Cleaning up the piles helps keep the lawn green and the environment healthier.  High quality food contains more protein and less filler, more is absorbed and less is processed as waste.

If you apply chemicals, keep animals and children off for at least 24 hours.  The chemicals can be tracked to undesired locations (imagine Roundup paw prints).  Even products labeled ‘animal safe’ should be used with care; the product may be ingested by licking the paws.  Tools can present a danger to Fido as well. Proper storage of chemicals and tools can eliminate some of the risk exposure.  Many common landscape plants and native volunteers can be toxic.  Puppies are most likely to eat anything that they can find.  The ASPCA maintains a list of poisonous plants on their well site.  Electrical cords or connections for lighting should be secure from dogs.  Sprinkler/irrigation systems can trip up running dogs and should be kept out of the way if possible.  Be conscientious about the placement of Garden Art.  Those lovely and breakable gazing balls need to find a secure place in the landscape.  A boisterous pet can topple multiple piece pagodas, Sharp metal sculptures could be the cause of serious injury.

A good fence makes a good dog.  Consider height, spacing of pickets or other openings, including under the fence for escape artistsLeave space free of plant material along the perimeter, your dog will likely patrol the fence line.  Electronic fences have been popular and invisible to the landscape.  Read the manual – the dog won’t.  There is some training involved for the dog to become familiar with the system.  Electronic fences won’t keep other animals out and if your pet does get through, he may not want to come back in.  Remember to check the batteries in the collar and the fit if the dog is still growing. Fences won’t work for cats unless you have the top closed.

Watch behavior (yours, your family and your pet), the path of least resistance is easier to work into the landscape than trying to modify the behavior.  Take material into consideration, playful dogs and children can easily disturb pea gravel and mulch.

Water features.
Depending on the dog, a water feature is to be avoided or could be the best entertainment feature in the landscape.  If you have a pool, supervision and training is essential – the dog should know how to get out.  Remember to rinse the dog after a dip in the pool as chlorine can burn the dog’s skin and paws.  Provide a fresh water supply, a thirsty dog will drink what water is available.  The songbirds won’t appreciate their birdbath used as a punch bowl.

Cat Greens.
Cats go bonkers for catnip (nepeta catoria), rolling around in the plant.  They also adore catmint (nepeta faassenii).  Fortunately both are tough plants that are able to withstand feline attention.  Caution:  ALL felines in the neighborhood may visit.  Unless you have a cat run, cats are healthier inside and the songbird population isn’t ravaged.  You can grow what grass inside, one fast-growing variety available is Pet Greens.

Protect new plantings.
Temporary chicken wire will allow the plant to get established.  Choose larger size trees, shrubs or perennials, which are more likely to earn the respect than smaller sticks that look like chew toys,  Grasses and hedges are particularly tough plants that are unlikely to get injured by the most rambunctious dogs.  Commercial sprays can also be used as a deterrent.

Landscape Style.
A formal yard is structured; even slight damage is noticeable in the landscape.  Damage to individual plants is not easily concealed.  An informal yard is more forgiving landscape for the gardener and the pets.  Mass plantings present a wall of foliage and can discourage casual trampling.  Containers and raised beds may keep the plants and pets separate.  Contemplate groundcover alternatives to grass.


  • Local Dog Training
  • Pawsitively Unleashed
    1296 Ridge Rd., Custer, WI 54423, 715-347-3294
  • Camp Bandy
    9376 Lake Emily Rd., Amherst Junction, WI 54407,
  • YMCA
    1000 Division St., Stevens Point, WI 54481,


  • “Dog Friendly Gardens”
    Cheryl S. Smith, Dogwise Publishing, 2004.
  • “The Perfect Puppy”
    Gwen Bailey, Octopus Publishing Group LTD, 1995
  • “The Dog Whisperer”
    Paul Owens with Norma Eckroate Adams, Media 1999

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