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Creating a Dog-Friendly Landscape

Feb 1, 2023 | Lawns, Services

As a dog owner myself, I can attest to the frustration many homeowners feel when the primordial needs of a dog (scratching, digging, peeing, and pooping) can conflict with the desires of an outdoor landscape pleasing to behold and easy to maintain. At times, it’s easy to raise the flag of defeat and give reign over the landscape to the dog.

Fear not, landscape and dog lovers! The two can co-exist. It may require some effort or investment in landscape design. In the end, it will be worth it.

Frequent Walks Curtail Digging

Most dog owners know that the way to a dog’s heart is through food and walks, with the emphasis on walks. A happy dog (i.e. a dog who gets lots of walks) will often refrain from anxious behaviors such as digging and scratching on that beautifully manicured lawn or the azalea just ready to bloom.

Because of work and family obligations, many homeowners don’t have the time to regularly walk their dogs, even though they know that’s what’s best for them. Jaime Deason, owner of Fetch! Pet Care of Silver Spring, Maryland (Fetch Silver Spring), says that her business is available to support dog lovers in giving the gift of a walk. Jaime completes background checks on all her sitters, and then trains them herself. Says Jaime, “Walking a dog regularly is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, and to prevent the unwanted attacks on your landscape.”

Leave Plenty of Empty Space in the Landscape

Sam Nelson, a former landscape designer with Johnson’s Landscaping Service, Inc., and a dog lover himself, said there are several things to consider when planning your landscape to accommodate dogs. First, Sam suggests “observing your dogs as they run throughout the yard. Make sure to notice where they like to go in the yard and in your landscape and plan leave this area as ‘open space’ for the dog.  In this way, dogs will create a well worn path in some areas while leaving other areas to flourish.”

Liriope Protects Other Plants

Sam observed that “dogs like to pee and run on the edging of plant beds.”

To soften the blow of this inevitable occurrence, Sam suggests lining the plant beds with low-lying liriope. This can help because the liriope is hardy enough to withstand the dog’s urine while simultaneously low enough to support larger shrubs and plants behind it.

Choose Safe Plants for Your Pup

Finally, Sam reminded homeowners and dog lovers to be careful when choosing plants because some, like the Japanese Acuba, can be poisonous to dogs when chewed. 

To ensure that your backyard is safe for your dog, choose plants from the list of non-toxic options, such as rosemary, marigolds, sunflowers, and zinnias. You can also look for plants labeled as “pet-friendly” or “dog-friendly”. Consider the size and growth habits of the plants you choose, as well, to avoid creating a hazard for your dog. Before adding any new plants to your backyard, it’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or horticulturist to ensure that they are safe for your pet.

Put Up Some Shade for Your Dog

Creating shaded areas in your backyard is important to keeping your dog cool and comfortable during hot weather. There are several ways to add shade to your outdoor space, including installing a pergola, building a shade structure, or planting trees. When choosing a shading option, consider the size and layout of your backyard and the sun’s direction and shade patterns throughout the day. For example, a pergola with lattice panels can provide dappled shade that allows for sun and breeze, while a shade sail or umbrella can be easily moved as needed. You can also plant trees that provide a natural shade, such as deciduous species that lose their leaves in the winter or fast-growing trees like bamboo. When creating shaded areas, ensure a comfortable place for your dog to rest, such as a shaded dog bed or a cool surface like tiles or bricks. By providing shaded areas in your backyard, you can help your dog stay cool, comfortable, and protected from the sun’s harmful rays.

As you can see, with a little effort and investment, a dog lover can enjoy both their landscape and their dogs….the two can co-exist!

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About the Author

Matt Johnson grew up in a family of landscapers and gardeners as the grandson of Raymond Johnson (Founder, 1933, Johnson's Florist and Garden Center) and son of James and Carol Johnson (Founders, 1960, Johnson's Landscaping Service, Inc.). Since 2007, he has led Johnson's Landscaping Service with his brother, Charlie.  Matt and his wife Jaime live in Petworth in Northwest DC with their 3 sons and 2 big dogs.

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