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Natural Awakenings, Palm Beach County, Florida

Create a Dog-Friendly Yard: Plants, Paths and Play Areas to Wag a Tail

May 28, 2021 ● By Karen Shaw Becker
Boston terrier dog looking outside at a dog friendly yard with safe plants

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Backyards can be sanctuaries, filled with gardens and landscaping. For homeowners with dogs, consider “dog-scaping”. It’s a term coined by landscape designer Maureen Gilmer of Palm Springs, California, who wrote the e-book The Dog-Scaped Yard. Gilmer points out that nobody asks Fido his opinion on how to landscape the yard, “yet he spends more time there than anyone else.” 

The yard should be a safe and secure place for the family dog, so fencing may be necessary to give ample room to roam. Lawn chemicals on grass are linked to cancer in dogs, so those are best avoided. 

Some people choose to go beyond grass to create a rich environment for the dog to explore. Gilmer recommends planting a meadow, complete with tall grasses and perennials, where the prized pet can investigate the terrain. Low troughs of wheat grass are good for a dog to nibble on and may discourage him from chewing on ornamental flowers and plants. Some dogs also enjoy rose hips from Rosa rugosa plants.

Flea-Repelling Herbs

Many herbs were once known as “fleabane” because they could repel fleas. Plant a fleabane garden to discourage these pests from moving in and finding the dogs. “When my dog Dot rubs against them, I can smell the aromatic oils on her fur,” Gilmer notes. 

Suitable plants for this garden include pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), fleawort (Erigeron canadense), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) and eucalyptus. The plants can also be dried and added to a dog’s bedding for a more natural flea repellant. 

When choosing the best locations for herbs and flowers, consider keeping about 18 inches around the border of the yard free from plants. Because dogs regularly tend to patrol the boundary of their territory, any plants on this trail may get trampled.

Provide Thoughtful Areas for the Dog

Dogs love to dig, but if it has become a problem, it could be because the dog is trying to uncover a cool spot to rest. Gilmer recommends being proactive by digging a shallow pit where a dog can comfortably fit in a shady spot. Line it with sand to prevent it from turning into a mud pit and keep it damp. In warm weather, a dog can retreat to this cooling-off spot. 

A plastic kiddie pool can be a welcome addition for dogs to escape the summer heat. To incorporate it into the landscape, dig out an area and set it into the ground.

Another thoughtful addition is a post where a dog can mark his territory to his heart’s content. A large piece of driftwood or an upright log works well for this purpose. Logs are also useful as borders along planted areas where the dog is meant to stay out.

Pathways for the dog to run through are also important, as dogs will create their own routes if they are allowed to. Turn the walkways into proper paths by widening them to three feet. Consider creating a designated area in the yard for the dog to relieve himself.

When planting flowerbeds, put sturdier plants such as ornamental grasses at the edge, while putting more fragile plants in the middle, where a dog is less likely to run over them. Choose plants that are sturdy, but soft, without thorns or spines that could scrape a pet.

A doggy play area will also be much appreciated by a pup. Define it by using logs or stone blocks, then set out a few of the dog’s favorite toys for him to discover. For dogs that like to dig, teaching him that this is his play spot where it’s acceptable can save the gardens. Many four-legged diggers enjoy having a sand pit or designated dig spot where they can express this natural behavior.

By paying careful attention to the plants and features in the yard, the perfect pet-friendly environment can be created. 


Veterinarian Karen Shaw Becker has spent her career empowering animal guardians to make knowledgeable decisions to extend the life and well-being of their animals. 


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