Landscaping With Dogs in Mind: Tips for Canine Owners

What to Do About Urine Spots on Lawns

Dog in garden
Yoshihisa Fujita/MottoPet/ Getty Images

There's no reason why you can't be the owner of both a canine and an attractive yard. But landscaping with dogs in mind does present challenges that may require some compromises. Be prepared to perform a balancing act between what the designer in you wants and what owning this kind of pet requires.

If your dogs are to be allowed to run about in the yard, you'll probably have to make adjustments in terms of what you have on your property and how you maintain it. If you fail to make some accommodations, the dogs may make a mess of your yard.

Avoid Urine Spots With Hardscape

Dogs and lawn grass do not mix well. For small areas, consider switching from a grassy expanse to hardscape, which consists of non-living landscaping materials such as bricks, concrete pavers, and stones. The advantages of hardscape go beyond solutions to landscaping with dogs, since hardscape offers a low-maintenance alternative to grass that obviates lawn care, which can be not only labor-intensive but also expensive. Stone and masonry are especially useful for pooch owners because they minimize the mess dogs make through digging, urination, and plain old wear and tear.

Make liberal use of crushed stone mulch. If you grow plants in such mulch in a sunny area, select drought-resistant plants, since stone gets hot in the summer. Do not place the stone mulch directly up against the plants.

Backyard plants
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Know Your Grass Types

If you prefer grass and reject the idea of incorporating hardscape, consider switching to a different type of grass. Some grasses hold up better to foot traffic, paw traffic, and various other forms of abuse. Among the warm-season grasses, Bermuda grass is among the toughest. If you need a cool-season grass for landscaping with dogs, try tall fescue grass.

Green Grass Alternatives

Installing a tougher type of grass will solve only one lawn-care problem encountered in landscaping with dogs: namely, wear and tear on grass. It will do nothing to solve the problem posed by canine urine. Sometimes called "dog spots" or "puppy spots," these are the unsightly yellow stains or "burns" on grass caused by the nitrogen and salts in dog urine.

But there's a type of "green carpet" that solves the problem of urine spots: clover. Clover lawns have many advantages over grass lawns. If you're a dog owner, you'll especially appreciate that clover does not stain the way grass does after being subjected to canine urine.

Diluting Dog Urine

If you can't bring yourself to renounce the fragile type of grass that your pup is currently inflicting damage upon, you can still prevent urine spots with vigilance. When you see a dog urinating on the grass, rush to the garden hose. Turn it on and bring it over to the area where your dog has just urinated. Douse the area with water, thereby flushing it and diluting the harmful elements in the urine.

Fences for Dog-Friendly Yards

One way to keep dogs away from the delicate plants in your yard is by building fences around them. Fenced-in gardens have a charm all their own, enjoying something of a courtyard feel. Wooden picket fences can be especially attractive, as can wooden lattice fences. Plant some perennial flowers behind a white picket fence, and you're well on your way to creating an English country garden that will supply you with endless delight.

Alternatively, you could use fencing to create a designated area within which your dog is allowed to roam.

Dogs in field
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Wire Cages

Place wire cages around trees and shrubs to prevent dog urine from reaching their trunks and roots and damaging them. That way, dogs can go about their business, and you can relax knowing that your dog's urine won't be killing your favorite plants. Wire cages are fairly simple to build:

  • Buy a roll of chicken wire, tall enough that your dogs can't jump over it.
  • Drive four stakes into the ground around the tree or shrub, about 2 feet away from any foliage or bark. Now measure the perimeter of the square area formed by the stakes.
  • Using that measurement, cut off a length of the wire.
  • Run the length of wire from stake to stake, tying the wire to the stakes with twine or zip-ties.

The result is an enclosure that will keep your dog at bay. Note, however, that this strategy represents a severe compromise for your landscaping. Use it only as a last resort. Chicken-wire is not especially attractive, but you could improve the appearance with decorative posts for your stakes.

Addressing Dog Path Issues

If a fence surrounds your property, do not try to grow any plants in the area immediately adjacent to the fence. Dogs are territorial, and their favorite walkway in a fenced-in yard will be right along the fence, resulting in unsightly "dog paths."

Rather than fighting your dog's predictable tendency, you can choose to install stone walkways over existing dog paths. Now everyone will be happy: the dog still has its path, and you get to have a better-looking yard. Stone walkways exude charm and are a desirable addition to your landscaping regardless of dog problems.

Stone walkway
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Dog Behavior Modification

Here's what can be done to encourage new behaviors that solve the problem of urine spotting.

One option is to train your dog to restrict its toilet space to a designated area. To facilitate clean-up, make sure that the designated area has a surface of dirt or gravel.

Some have suggested that a change in a dog's diet (for instance, mixing a bit of tomato juice into dog food) may neutralize the harmful elements in canine urine before it ever has a chance to harm your grass.

An expensive (but viable) option is to invest in an electric dog fence. In this case, rather than putting it along the whole perimeter of your property, it would be installed in such a way as to keep your mutt confined to a designated area within your yard. The companies that sell these products send professionals to your home not only to conduct the installation but also to train your dog so that they will quickly adjust to the confinement system.

Plant Toxicity Awareness

If the plantings in your yard possess any significant degree of diversity, there's a good chance that you're growing poisonous plants without even knowing it. You would be surprised at how many of the most common landscape plants and native volunteers contain at least some parts (leaves, berries, etc.) that are toxic. If you have dogs, cats, or small children, it behooves you to learn more about poisonous plants.