What's the most pet-friendly way to landscape?

Some dogs have good reason to dig. Sweetie was buried alive after her family mistook her for dead when she was hit by a car. She dug herself out of her grave a few hours later. What's your dog's excuse?
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­You know something's wrong as soon as you get home and let your dog in the back door. Instead of leaping up into your arms and licking your face, it slinks past, its belly dragging on the ground. You take one look at your yard and your stomach sinks as you process the devastation. Your dog wags its tail nervously and looks at you as if to say, "I know you told me if I ever destroyed the yard again you'd leave me along the highway, but I just couldn't resist. Pleeeeease don't kill me."

There's a common solution to this problem. All you have to do is create a pet-friendly landscape. Dogs tend to spend most of their time outdoors, but even indoor cats can benefit from a pet-friendly landscape. That said, how do you create one?


­The best way to create a landscape you and your pet can both enjoy is by giving in to your pet's natural tendencies, like digging. Since your cat or dog doesn't have the higher reasoning and verbal skills to negotiate effectively, it's up to the human (yes, you) to take the lead. Paying attention to your animal's bad habits -- we're sure you're already acutely aware of each one -- can help you plan your landscape with features that prevent these behaviors. Try focusing your creativity and attention on these areas, and simply give up the backyard to your pet. After all, they probably spend more time back there than you do.

This doesn't mean that your backyard has to be a wasteland of mud holes and beaten paths. We've got some tips on making an attractive, pet-friendly yard. Since dogs are the most high-maintenance pet commonly found in yards, we'll focus on them first.


Dog-friendly Landscaping

How terribly cute
How terribly cute.
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­One way to reclaim your yard from the grip of a rambunctious pet is simply to train it. Should you have a perfect storm of a busy schedule, a fabulous yard and a less-than-intelligent dog, however, here's some advice on creating a landscape that you and your dog can enjoy.


­You might consider adding a pond for your dog to wade in for laying or cooling down (more on that soon). If your dog has created a dirt track to run on in a particular area of your yard, you can cover the track with mulch or shredded bark, and disguise it with a row of shrubs to provide an attractive barrier. It's important to create a landscape that will prevent bad behavior as well.

Digging is perhaps the most widely-known and annoying dog behavior. It's among the most destructive. Dogs dig holes for a variety of reasons; knowing why your do­g digs can help you address that in a pet-friendly landscape. If your dog digs holes throughout your yard, you're in luck. This is the easiest type of digging to address, since your pet is in search of something it smells buried in the ground [source: Estep and Hetts]. Establish a digging area in your landscape, filled with sand and soft soil and topped with wood mulch for easy digging. You can easily train your dog to dig only in its digging pit by burying bones and treats in the pit. Keep an attractive rake or shovel nearby so you can easily refill your dog's holes and smooth them over.

Other types of digging, like those near fences and gates, may mean your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, fear or excitement. You can address these issues by providing your dog a safe, comfortable outdoor shelter like a dog house in your landscape. Holes that your dog then lays down in usually indicate that your dog's looking for a cool place. By providing more shade in your yard, especially by planting trees, you can curtail your dog's digging for comfort. Digging along your foundation can be especially damaging, since it allows rain and moisture into the ground beneath your house, which can cause settling. You can keep your dog from doing this by laying a 12-inch wide piece landscape fabric between your house's foundation and your yard and planting beds. Top the fabric with a 12-inch wide strip of chicken wire laid flat over the fabric, then cover with ornamental rocks. This will keep your dog from digging, since dogs don't like how rocks and chicken wire feel against their paws, and experts recommend a 12-inch border between your house and any mulch or ground cover plants to prevent termite infestation and rot [source: NYTNS, Polinski and Russ]. It's a win-win.

Since dogs don't really like digging for rocks, it's a good idea to use them as much as possible as ground cover in planting beds and around plants. Well-established plants present the most challenge to a destructive dog; using rocks around young plants will give them a change to mature without molestation from your dog. Creating raised beds is a good idea as well. This creates a digging position your dog will find uncomfortable. Selecting good edging around ground-level planting beds is important; you want sturdy, non-metal edging that won't cut your dog's paws if it does decide to dig.

Plant selection is important in a pet-friendly landscape, whether your tailoring it to your dog's or cat's needs. We've got some pet-friendly planting tips and more on cats on the next page.


Cat-friendly Landscaping

Indoor cats can use some time spent outside, too.
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Cats usually ask little of us humans aside from food, water and petting. Despite their gentle natures, cats could also use a pet-friendly landscape tailored for their kind. Cats require protective measures to keep them safe in the backyard. Even if you own an indoor cat, experts suggest that some occasional time outside can help reduce bad indoor behaviors created by cabin fever [source: NYTNS].

­Like dogs, some common landscape plants that are innocuous to humans can harm or kill cats. Most types of lilies, perennial flowers like crocus, narcissus and tulips, castor beans, yew and English ivy (among many other plants) can cause symptoms like loss of appetite, diarrhea, convulsions and even death in cats [source: ASPCA]. Keeping these types of plants out of backyard areas where your cat may venture will help protect it.


Cats do love to nuzzle and chew on plants, so investing in cat-friendly plants is a good idea for your landscape. Of course, catnip is a good addition, but cats also usually love most types of mint, cat thyme and valerian -- which acts as a sedative on cats and humans alike.

Since cats tend to be small and agile enough to circumvent fences that block larger animals, some companies offer kits that you can add onto a privacy fence. These help keep your cat in your yard and unfriendly dogs out. You'll also want to pay attention to other predators that can overcome fences, like owls. Since owls are crepuscular -- active at twilight -- it's a good idea to keep your cat indoors once the sun sets.

If your cat isn't of the more destructive variety, there are some steps you can take to prevent landscape ruin. Like dogs, cats don't like thorny shrubs. They also don't like wet ground. Keeping a marshy area around a backyard pond will prevent your cat from trying to swipe fish from it [source: Cats Protection]. Keeping planting beds moist will deter digging, but make sure you don't overwater your plants, though.

You can also opt to spread palletized chicken manure around your planting beds. Cats aren't fond of the stuff, but if you have a landscape shared by a cat and a dog, take heed: Dogs happily roll in chicken manure [source: Cats Protection]. It'll keep your cat out, but your dog will smell terribly. You can opt instead for deterrent sprays made of garlic or pepper oil; either should do the trick.

Just remember, you love your pets. Surrendering your backyard to a pet you love can warm your heart and make them happy at the same time.


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More Great Links

  • Estep, Daniel, Ph.D. and Hetts, Suzanne, Ph.D. "Why dogs dig." Rocky Mountain News. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.animalbehaviorassociates.com/pdf/RMN_dogs_digging.pdf
  • Russ, Karen and Polonski, Bob. "Low-maintenance landscape ideas." Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. Accessed December 2, 2008. http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC1703.htm
  • "Landscaping for dogs." HGTV. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.hgtv.com/landscaping/landscaping-for-dogs/index.html
  • "Pet-friendly landscaping keeps animals safe, happy." New York Times News Syndicate. August 20, 2008. http://www.wfaa.com/sharedcontent/dws/fea/pets/stories/082108dnlivlandscaping.390ef70.html#
  • "Portfolio of pet-friendly yards." Pawfriendly Landscapes. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.pawfriendlylandscapes.com/portfolio.html
  • "Prized pet plants." Mountain Valley Growers. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/mvv1-98.htm
  • "Top tips for gardeners keen on feline-friendly deterrents." Cats Protection. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=82604
  • "Toxic plants for dogs." CyberCanine. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.cybercanine.com/toxicplants.htm
  • "17 common poisonous plants." American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Accessed December 4, 2008. http://www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pro_apcc_common