Design a great dog yard

Don't worry – you don't need a degree in landscape architecture, or even a ton of money. According to Gabrielle Fimbres's piece in the Arizona Daily Star, small investments of time, money, and planning can turn your yard (or a small area within it) from a poop-festooned and possibly hazardous waste of space that's not fun for your dog into a neat, fun mini dog park that improves the value of your home.

Fimbres interviewed experts Teresa Truelsen, marketing manager of the local chapter of the Humane Society, and Jason Isenberg, the owner and lead designer at Realm Environments and its subdivision, Petscapes, for inspiration. Among the advice Truelsen and Isenberg shared:

Planning is key. Even a little sketch "on the back of a napkin" is good, Isenberg says. Figure out the layout beforehand – how much yard you want to devote to your dog(s), where you'd place various elements like dog-safe plants, whether you need to do any leveling – and then draw up a budget.

So is safety. Isenberg notes that "it's important to eliminate toxicity"; his company doesn't use chemical pesticides, but that's not the only possible toxin in your yard. Identify whatever's growing back there, and look it up to ensure it's not toxic to canines (a favorite rosebush, for instance, should probably be moved).

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Truelsen adds that items that aren't hazardous to dogs per se could still cause problems, because dogs "will eat and eat and eat, and they won't stop." Translation: Move the veggie patch, too.

Water can be a hazard too. Does your yard include a pool? That could create issues for your pet on two fronts. First, of course, is the risk of drowning; throwing a pair of water wings on the dog and hoping for the best won't cut it. Supervise her in order to prevent an accident (or any unauthorized drinking of treated water). Second is the pests attracted by standing water – including mosquitoes, which can harbor heartworm. An in-ground pool is okay, but kiddie pools and/or other standing water should be drained or otherwise dealt with on a daily basis. And on that note…

Protect against predators. Depending on where you live, a dog who's outdoors could be at risk for bites from spiders or scorpions; getting snatched by hawks or coyotes; or even snagged by a fellow human. Research local pests and predators and proof your yard against them – breaking down stacks of firewood that might hide poisonous spiders, for instance.

And always secure your yard against intruders, man or beast. Make sure your dog can't get out (and that he's chipped, just in case).  

De-poop daily. It's a hassle, but it beats waiting for two weeks and doing it all at once – and, Truelsen says, the neighbors will prefer a more regular schedule. Isenberg recommends getting a pet-waste composter like the Doggie Dooley; it's a few hundred bucks to install, but it's good for the soil and convenient for you.

Don't forget the toys! The dog yard isn't all about dire warnings or poisoning prevention. It's for the dog to play in! And if you have a dog whose digging "play" has already torn up your yard, Isenberg suggests a "dog dig pit." It's exactly what it sounds like; locate it in the shade and fill it with sand, and Rex can dig as much as he wants. (Non-diggers can flop down in it to keep cool on hot days.)

Other suggestions from Truelsen and Isenberg:

  • Make "dog-sicles" out of chicken or beef broth; freeze treats inside, then bust them out on a hot day.

  • Summer weather can be severe, and change suddenly; your dog should be able to get away from triple-digit temps or scary lightning storms.

  • Shade and water are critical – try a self-filling water dish (untippable!), attached to a timer. The set-up might seem a bit pricey, but if you get stuck at work or in traffic, "You know at exactly 3 PM, your dog's water dish is being filled up," Isenberg says.

  • Get creative with materials. Dogs like to roll in grass, but Isenberg doesn't think you need the real stuff; you can buy synthetic lawn made just for dogs. Also consider lighter decking materials that reflect heat instead of absorbing it; small, round stones for gravel that make it easier to walk on and collect poops from; or even a small fountain to make a pleasant soundscape, and/or drinking source, for your dog.

And don't forget to hang out with your dog out there and play. As far as Max is concerned, you're the best feature of all.

For more ideas and materials, check out Fimbres's article here. Meanwhile, we'd love to hear about your dog yards. Have you built your dog a dig pit? Does Dusty spend most of his time outside romping – or napping? Did you give the dogs the whole yard, or just a small and well-appointed corner? Share your "dog-scaping" tips and tricks in the comments!

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