Thursday, May 27, 2010

Petscaping: designing Fido-friendly outdoor spaces

This big bad boy is Gryphon. Our first, enormous golden topped out at 120 pounds, and when he was a puppy, he was a holy terror. Just into our new home, we decided to get our adorable puppy. We had enough sense to think about some landscaping basics - a high fence and doghouse, but that was about it. This cutie-pie tore chunks of sod up, chewed our little trees down like a beaver, and dug up my beautiful new rose bushes. Our yard was a total disaster.

Dogs need fencing, shelter, shade, water and a bathroom space. Some dogs are climbers and can even leap over six foot fences, and some dig recreationally or to escape. Many create patrolling paths. And of course in Saskatchewan, you need to think about how one snow blizzard can easily turn a six foot fence into a three foot suggestion.

Petscaping is the term to describe landscaping with your pet’s needs in mind. My second passion next to dogs is horticulture – planning, planting and enjoying landscapes, gardens and yards. If you love dogs and gardens, here are some things to think about when planning your yard.

Fences and Gates

If you’ve got or may get a big dog, install tall fences. Some dogs can get over six foot fences with a single leap. Think about how you’d handle it if your dog ends up being like that. Think about the smallest dog that you might have too and make sure they can’t slip through any holes in the fence.

Some dogs dig. Either install your fencing down into the earth so your dog can’t get under it or create a cement barrier just under the fence and/or gate area.

If your property backs onto an alley, street or park, decide how you can reduce the risk of children taunting your dog, which can cause difficult behavioural issues for your dog (obviously kids taunting dogs already have behavioural issues …).

What kind of gate closure will ensure that no one can enter and leave the door open for your dog to escape, and that your dog can’t accidentally knock it open?


Dogs' feet are made for walking, and they’ll wear the finish off any wooden surface. If you want paw-friendly decking, choose something that doesn’t need refinishing. Concrete, bricks or some of the newer synthetic woods are great solutions.


Dogs like walking the perimeter and patrol paths. If you’ve got the luxury of being able to watch your dog before installing paths, use their natural movements to help you choose where to put them.


Dog urine kills grass. If you want them to pee and poo in your yard, are they trained to go in one spot or will anywhere in the yard work? Are children also using the space? Perhaps a separate dog run away from the children's play area would be appropriate. What do you want to do with the poo – a close garbage or perhaps a dog poo compost space?

Dog run

Dogs most likely to bite are un-neutered dogs that are chained. Untethering your dog is one of the kindest things you can do. If you want your dog to have a separate dog run, make it large enough for them to enjoy, and think about how your dog will easily move from your house to the run. It’s pretty simple in the summer, but think through the winter months too when there’s three feet of snow in your back yard and you want fido to move from your back deck into his run to go potty.

Dog houses

Some dogs love to jump up onto their dog houses. When you’re thinking about where to place the dog house, be sure that it’s not right up against a fence – otherwise it could be a step ladder to the other side of your fence.

Design your dog house so it’s raised off the ground, has a door flap, is insulated and, if used in the winter, is heated. Really good houses have a “wind wall” – basically, the house is set up with two rooms – they enter into a porch that opens into their actual sleeping quarters. Lots of neat designs are available online.

  • Drinking water: Where will your dog’s water bowl be located so it’s away from their potty area and easy for you to access and remember to fill? If used in the winter, you can buy heated dog bowls to make sure the water doesn’t freeze - that bowl needs to be near an electrical outlet so it can be plugged in.
  • Grooming: Will you want to wash your dog or at least their muddy paws outside? If so, think about water tap location relative to your dog’s space and your back yard.
  • Play pond: If your dog loves water, do you want a spray pond or kiddie pool to be part of their back-yard life? If so, think about how to restrict unsupervised access so they can’t drown.

If your yard also houses your garbage cans, think about how you’ll limit Fido’s access too it. Nothing smells quite as good as a fresh bag of garbage to a dog. Can you section off the maintenance area of your yard from Fido’s area?


Dogs love digging. Work with that tendency by creating a digging garden and off-limits areas. For your digging garden, create a pit with sand or gravel. Within the pit, bury favourite treats like peanut butter stuffed Kongs, then watch your dog enjoy the thrill of discovering great treats. For the off-limits garden areas, lay down chicken wire on the ground, then affix it to the soil with landscape ties. Your dog won’t be able to dig in those areas.


Especially if you have young dogs, it may be easier for you to keep a good yard if you use raised flower and garden beds and pots instead of ground-level plantings. If you do go for ground-level plantings, you can purchase decorative fences to put around the plants to keep them safe.

If you want a fruit or vegetable garden avoid planting or restrict your dog’s access to grapes, rhubarb, onions, garlic, green tomatoes or potatoes, all of which are toxic to dogs. Dogs love fruits and vegetables - our Gryphon would eat the raspberries off the bottom branches!

To make it easy to select your plants and trees, do it in two steps. First, pick items that work for your planting zone and design needs, then, before buying, check if those plants are toxic to dogs by using the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) online plant tool.

When doing lawn and plant care, be sure to select fertilizers that are pet-friendly. Lots of fertilizers can burn their foot pads if applied incorrectly. Store these items in an area that is safely away from your dog.

Mulch as a toy

Some dogs chew or eat mulch, so be really careful about what you use. Cocoa mulch is toxic to dogs, so avoid that completely. Some dogs chew on and swallow rocks, which can break teeth and lodge in their intestines, which is deadly for them and expensive for you. Determine a safe mulch or ground cover and watch to make sure that your dog is being safe around it. To limit chewing, give your dog lots of alternate items to chew on – raw bones, raw hides and peanut butter or frozen chicken stuffed Kongs are great.


Will your yard be a puppy paradise? You can purchase dog equipment for agility and other sports. If you plan to spend time in that area, it’s worth investigating before your design is finished.

Once you’ve thought it all through, take a quick survey to make sure your dog is comfortable through all seasons. Do they have shade during the hot summer months? Do they have warmth through the winter months? Are you both comfortable with what you’ve got? If you answered yes to all of those questions, have fun with your summer project and enjoy your yard!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Being safe: It’s dog bite prevention week

Crating your kids is one proven way to make sure a dog won’t bite them. (My now teenage nephews are going to kill me for posting this photo.)

Plenty of evidence shows that large breed, un-neutered male dogs that are chained and treated irresponsibly are the most likely to cause serious and fatal bites. So logic flows that if you have sterilized your dog and treat it responsibly, you’re off to a great start. But that’s just a start. Dogs have very few ways to tell you that they’re scared. They have specific body language and teeth. Every dog has a bite threshold, and you can do quite a few things to minimize the risks.

Introductions are really important. Train your child to behave around their dog so they:
  • ask permission before touching a strange dog, “be a tree”, remain calm and avoid eye contact
  • don’t squeal, run, take the dog’s stuff including food and toys, startle the dog when sleeping, give neck hugs

There are great online resources for parents and educators. Here are some particularly good ones:

For older children, involve them in your dog’s formal training program. And, teach your children not to tease a chained or tethered dog. That’s one of the best ways to turn a good dog into an aggressive one.

There are also lots of things you can do to help your dog too:

  1. Pick the right pet for your family. They’ve got different energy levels and emotional drivers. Make sure you research what you’re getting before you bring one home.
  2. Socialize them to people of all ages when young. The more types of people your dog is exposed to, the better. Young. Old. Large. Small. Men. Women. Bearded. Bald. Everyone.
  3. Train your dog. The canine good citizen test outlines 10 manners that your dog should comfortably do. Use this as a benchmark for your dog’s training routine.
  4. Spay/neuter your pet to calm the hormones down.
  5. Watch for warning signs from any dog –hackles are raised (hair goes up on its back), stiff posturing, lip smacking, growling, backing away, half-moon eyes or a hard stare.
  6. Always supervise children around dogs. Dogs are animals, not people and never forget that.
  7. Train your dog to react calmly around strangers especially the milk man, postal workers, meter readers, and others who show up regularly.
  8. Teach a soft bite so if they ever do feel the need to bite, it’ll be a warning rather than a serious incident.
  9. Protect your pet from harms way. Don’t let anyone do anything to your dog that could make it become scared, then aggressive.
  10. If your dog has bitten, train them and manage them so they’re not put into a position to bite again.

When you take on the responsibility of a dog, you’re morally and legally responsible for its actions. Learn what you can, train your dog, and teach your children to behave around them so you can minimize your risks.