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How to Plant a Dog-Friendly Garden

I enjoy cultivating cold-hardy flowers in my Zone 5 Illinois garden.


How to Create a Dog-Friendly Garden That's Perfect for the Whole Family

You can have the attractive backyard of your dreams—one that you and your dogs can enjoy together. Dog-friendly gardens allow dogs to be dogs while their owners can enjoy healthy green lawns, colorful flowers, and thriving fruit and vegetable gardens. Pet-friendly landscaping uses an organic approach to gardening that's safer and healthier for our families and dog friends.

There are quite a few challenges for the dog owner who wants a landscape that is perfect for the pet but pleasing to humans too. Dogs tend to wear paths, especially along fence lines, because they are territorial. They are known for lying down in your favorite flower bed and smashing down all the plants. They often like to dig down to the cool soil, plus their urine can create burn spots in grass. Don't despair! There are many low-cost ideas for your pets and your plants to coexist peacefully! Use this as a guide to creating a dog-friendly garden and yard.

Dogs are known for lying down in your favorite flower bed

Dogs are known for lying down in your favorite flower bed

Dog-Friendly Plants

Planting dog-friendly plants is an essential component of creating your dog-friendly garden. Dog-friendly plants are hardy and non-toxic yet beautiful. They stand up to your dog's daily rigors and bounce back from abuse. Many woody shrubs tolerate aggressive pruning and stand up to most canine activities. The majority of these species don't mind the soil compaction created by heavy paw traffic and generally coexist well with dogs and children.

Here are five recommended shrubs for dog-friendly gardens:

  1. Red-Twig Dogwood
  2. Smoke Tree
  3. Forsythia
  4. Spiraea
  5. Lilac

Another must in a dog-friendly garden is a tough ground cover. These low-growing powerhouses tolerate stepping, rolling, and turning while providing color and texture to a garden setting.

Here are five recommended ground covers for a dog-friendly backyard:

  1. Elfin Thyme
  2. Irish Moss
  3. Miniature Stonecrop
  4. Labrador Violet
  5. Snow in Summer

Ground covers make great accents to flower beds, and they look great between stepping stones or in rock gardens. They fill in quickly and choke out weeds naturally. Lush ground covers make the ground softer, so it's better for your dog to nap on or for you to walk on in bare feet!

Landscaping Essentials

There are certain key elements to consider when planning a dog-friendly yard. Observe your dog's behavior and personality traits. Where does your dog like to patrol? Go potty? Lounge? Dig? Run and play? Incorporate all of these into your dog-friendly landscape design.

A bored dog can exhibit nuisance barking or dig and chew in inappropriate areas. Make sure your pup gets plenty of exercise—a tired, happy dog is a well-behaved dog. For a more enjoyable outdoor lifestyle for you and your best friend, invest a little time in behavior modification. Your pet needs a dedicated owner willing to show him the way.

Here are four elements to consider when creating a dog-friendly yard:

  1. Designated Potty Area: To limit the aesthetic impact to your lawn, encourage your pet to eliminate in the same area each time. For boy dogs, some plants and shrubs are more forgiving, such as flowering woody shrubs like spirea, viburnum, shrub roses, and weigela. Watering down the area also helps eliminate brown spots.
  2. Exercise Area: Most canines love to run and frolic. For a champion sprinter or frisbee catcher, make sure to include an open area of turf to indulge your pup’s need for play.
  3. Shade: A spot to keep cool is a must for dogs that enjoy time in the garden. Your furry friend needs a place to escape from the hot sun, so a shady area is a vital element to a dog-friendly landscape. Perfect spot to take a nap!
  4. Water: Dogs need fresh water to keep hydrated and cool off. It's very important to provide a source of cool, fresh water they can drink when the need arises.
Nap time

Nap time

The Top Four Reasons to Compost

Making your own rich compost is environmentally friendly and pet-friendly. Why clutter your curbside and community landfill with grass clippings and kitchen scraps—turn them into gold for your garden!

Here are the top four reasons to compost:

  1. Protect Your Dog: Keep your pup out of harm's way by creating your own all-natural fertilizer. Commercial chemical fertilizers can make pets sick and can be deadly if ingested accidentally. Dogs explore their yards with their noses and mouths so doing the natural thing makes sense for a pet-friendly, safe haven.
  2. Save Your Plants: Putting compost around the base of your garden plants several times throughout the year gives them consistent nutrients in small doses. Too many people over fertilize using chemicals. This can burn your lawn and landscape plants. It's much better to use a kinder, gentler approach. Your plants will thank you!
  3. Save the Planet: Using organic compost rather than artificial chemicals, you are protecting our rivers, streams, lakes and even our drinking water supply.
  4. Save Money: Store-bought manufactured fertilizers cost money, which really adds up over time. Composting with food items and other household waste you have lying around your home and garden is free—and very satisfying for the whole family.

Paths: Using Hardscapes

Dogs are territorial and like to patrol their property. This frequently leads to worn grass and trampled flowers. A good way to combat this is to judiciously use hardscapes in the yard so dogs have a path to follow.

Using mulch along fence lines is one solution. You can utilize brick pavers to line a path to the back door or use gravel to fill in other high-traffic areas in your yard. This will not only help to prevent mud being tracked into your house, but it also creates a buffer space between the landscape and the doorway to allow your pooch to wipe his feet or allow the dirt to wear off his feet before entering the house.

Pieces of driftwood persuade dogs to stay away from planted areas plus make attractive edging. Put up temporary fencing around newly landscaped areas; when you remove the fencing, add a rock border or low fencing as a reminder to stay out.

A tired, exercised dog is generally less likely to get into mischief. Make sure your hound has plenty of long walks and fun play time.

Dog-Friendly Garden Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which type of mulch should you NEVER use in a dog-friendly garden?
    • Wood chip mulch
    • Cocoa mulch
    • Shredded bark mulch
    • Compost
  2. Which herb plant helps repel flies?
    • Basil
    • Fennel
    • Rosemary
    • Thyme
  3. Which of these fruits is NOT dog friendly?
    • Apples
    • Blueberries
    • Grapes
    • Pears

Answer Key

  1. Cocoa mulch
  2. Basil
  3. Grapes

Pet-Friendly Garden Tips Video

Dog-Friendly Fruits and Vegetables

Dogs can enjoy a bevy of fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement their normal kibble. Adding fresh fruits and veggies gives you the opportunity to share the bounty of your garden with your four-legged friends. Here are some favorite dog-friendly, organically grown fresh produce you can give to your pup. Always remember to feed fruits and vegetables in moderation—a few berries here, a spoonful of pureed pumpkin there. Too much of a good thing can trigger stomach upset, particularly fruits, which contain certain acids your pet's digestive tract can only tolerate in small doses.

  • Apples: Try peeling them and giving a few slices to your pooch. Most love the taste!
  • Blueberries: The sweet flavor is very attractive to canines. A popular and healthy treat given to sled dogs to help their muscles recover more quickly after vigorous activity.
  • Pears: Like apples, these make a great treat for dogs. Beware of the seeds.
  • Strawberries & Raspberries: Once dogs develop a taste for these luscious berries, they may patrol your patch looking for the choicest fruits. Restrict your dog's access as too many berries may cause diarrhea.
  • Bell Peppers: In moderation, these colorful veggies add much-needed vitamins and minerals to your pooch's diet.
  • Broccoli: Dogs reap the benefits (like humans) of the cancer-fighting properties of this super veggie. You may want to add steamed broccoli to your friend's diet. Feed sparingly.
  • Carrots: A great treat for pups of all ages. Carrots can help overweight dogs manage their weight by keeping them full with their high-fiber content.
  • Celery: Many dogs love to chew its stringy, crunchy stalks. Cut into small pieces to make them easier and safer (no gagging) to eat.
  • Green Beans: Contains high amounts of protein and fiber, both which promote weight loss. Best to serve cooked to ease digestion.
  • Pumpkin: Vets prescribe it due to the many health benefits, especially helps to bulk up stool. A few tablespoons of canned, roasted or pureed pumpkin is gobbled up by hounds.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Loaded with vitamins, minerals, calcium, and fiber. Cooked and mashed this veggie is irresistible to dogs.
Bella enjoying a picnic in the park

Bella enjoying a picnic in the park

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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Dayna on September 01, 2018:

Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Just moved to a new home that has a beautiful yard full of poisonous plants. A lot of work to do. Now I have ideas what to use as replacements.

Deb on September 26, 2017:

Thanks for your quiz. Learned something.

Marie on June 30, 2016:

Thank you so much for posting this educational read! I am finally getting around to landscaping my yard and was wondering what you might recommend for a water-wise ground cover? I live in San Diego and have a small corgi so I am trying to find the most drought resistant option that won't attract the thousands of brown widows, rattlesnakes, and rats that in my neighborhood. Thank you!

Kelsey Elise Farrell from Orange County, CA on May 06, 2015:

Great hub, I think it's important to note that sago palms (which I didn't see you mention) are EXTREMELY poisonous. My neighbor had one that his six year old lab and small rescue dog dug up, it was terrible. The lab they had to put down and the smaller dog had nearly a year of vet visits and rehab to make it through. Otherwise, GREAT hub. My mom's a petsitter who frequently has upwards of 6 dogs at her home, this is great information that I will pass onto her.

Jim and Laura (author) from Chicago area on August 27, 2014:

Thanks for stopping by Nora! I'm glad you found this hub helpful. You can still enjoy a nice, attractive yard with your dog friends by selecting hardier dog-safe plants and maintaining the garden and lawn organically. I gave up using chemicals years ago...better for you, your animals, and the local wildlife.