Two grey-haired Schnauzer dogs chase each other happily on the lawn in the yard. The dog on the right side rushes towards the other one on the left side while the other one leans to the left to avoid the attack.

How to Create a Pet-Friendly Yard

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How to Create a Pet-Friendly yard

 What is pet-friendly backyard? At its best, it’s a wonderful, stimulating space, however we know that dogs can cause havoc by digging up plants and urinating on lawns and can also be at risk from certain plants and pests. When creating the ideal outdoor space for ourselves, we should also consider our pets!

Let’s explore what it takes to create a pet-friendly yard.

dogs running and playing

A well-designed yard doesn’t begin with selecting plants or laying out beds, but rather is about considering how we want to use the space to suit our needs. 

Set aside areas as appropriate:
  • family dining
  • entertaining
  • play areas
  • growing vegetables
  • quiet shady area for relaxing, reading.
  • pet-friendly areas

Garden Design with Pets in Mind:

    • Safe and secure fencing
    • Try to repel ticks
    • Protect from toxic plants 
    • Avoid harmful chemicals 
    • Keep away from sharp objects
    • Prepare for yellow spots

A pet-friendly yard is a safe area for pets to run, play and relax with you.

10 basics for your backyard  space 

  1. Avoid using chemicals on the lawn that will be absorbed when the pet licks a paw. 
  2. Create a designated area for play or digging, using sand or bark.
  3. To prevent a dog running through your borders, create paths through them, or create clearly defined boundaries, using hardy shrubs or a low-growing box hedge. Raised beds are a great option, too.
  4. Some dogs will dig under fences, or escape through small spaces or holes. Make sure your fence is well-secured at the base.
  5. Dogs can jump surprisingly high. Small dogs can be contained by a 1 metre (3 1/2 ft) fence. Medium to large breeds with good jumping skills require 1.8 metres (6 ft) fencing.
  6. Self-closing gates are ideal as you’ll want to keep gates secure at all times.
  7. Keep your shed secure to avoid access to chemicals or sharp objects. Even wire plant stakes can become a dangerous toy for your dog.
  8. Lock your compost bin or avoid composting items that can be harmful if ingested – eg avocados, grapes, onions. 
  9. Avoid using non-organic slug pellets, as these are toxic to all wildlife. Try to keep your dog from eating slugs, snails or frogs! Lungworm is a serious infection that can be contracted by eating them. Signs include difficulty breathing, coughing, lethargy and bleeding for longer than normal.
  10. Plan to live with yellow grass (urine spots), or train your dog to go to one area that you can hose down regularly. Try these master gardener tips to rejuvenate yellow patches.

Design and plant to repel ticks:

Ticks wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs, holding onto leaves and grass by their lower legs. Their upper pair of legs are outstretched, waiting to climb onto a passing host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard and finds a suitable place to bite.

  • make sure your dog is on preventative medication!
  • Minimize tall or mid-sized grasses; always keeping grass short
  • Remove overhanging bushes. Ticks don’t jump but can be encountered by brushing against branches or by having them drop down onto a pet walking beside or under the plant.
  • Control white tail deer, chipmunks and other rodents to help limit ticks.

“Our previous dog died from kidney failure due to Lyme disease. We were not aware of the shots and oral medication necessary in areas where ticks are abundant. When we got our current dog 2 1/2 years ago he had been surrendered with Lyme. He needed 2 rounds of doxycycline and a lot of testing. He’s now on a year round preventative medication.” 

Plant choices for a pet-friendly yard:

  • Open lawns are seldom a factor in tick transmission. Keeping grass mowed in an area used by dogs is an effective preventive measure.
  • Any environment that favors deer, mice, and chipmunks should be avoided as these creatures are most involved in the  transmission of ticks and tick-associated diseases.
  • Sadly, mixed vegetation with uncut grass, wildflower and shrubby vegetation, especially adjacent to woodlands is prime habitat for deer, mice and ticks!
  • Use native plants and avoid invasives, especially the most noxious ones rated here!
  • Fencing against deer is a possible solution if you can afford to install one high enough.

Deer-resistant plants

Read More about Deer-resistant planting.

Additional Resources

Protect from Toxic Plants

Many dogs like to eat plants and bark. One of the challenges when selecting plants is determining if there are any impacts to dogs. Avoidance is better than dealing with the side effects of gastro issues!

Avoidance tactics:

  • Choose plant materials carefully and just don’t use the most toxic ones listed below
  • Use raised beds, or fenced-off areas, but avoid cheap plastic decorative fence your dog will chew.
  • Some desirable plants aren’t dangerously toxic but can cause stomach upset, eg Milkweeds for monarch butterflies. The best place for these is in your front garden.
  • In fact more plants in the front garden is a great design principle for dog owners in general!

Here are reliable resources listing common plants which may be toxic to dogs and cats and should be avoided:

And here’s a list offered by the Unionville South Pet Hospital in Ontario:
Arum Lily 
Autumn Crocus 
Australian Flame Tree 
Azalea Baneberry 
Bird Of Paradise 
Bishop’s Weed 
Black Laurel 
Black Locust
Bleeding Heart 
Blue-Green Algae 
Bracken Fern 
Bulb Flowers 
Camel Bush 
Calla Lily  
Cardinal Flower 
Cherry Tree  
Chinaberry Tree 
Coral Plant 
Elephant Ear (Taro)  
False Hellebore
Flame Tree
Felt Plant 
Four O’Clock  
Golden Chain 
Ground Cherry 
Heliotrope  Hemlock  
Horse Chestnut  
English Ivy 
Lily Of The Valley 
Easter Lily Lupine Marijuana Mandrake 
Mexican Poppy 
Vetch Yellow Jasmine 
Mock Orange  
Morning Glory 
Mountain Laurel 
Poison Ivy
Poison Oak 
Potato Shoots
Rain Tree 
Ranunculus (Buttercup) 
Red Maple 
Sweet Pea

By making a few plans to protect your pet (and your special plants), you can now happily relax and enjoy your outdoor space with your pet!

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