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CREATING DOG FRIENDLY YARDS
By:  Elizabeth Bublitz

     “Oh, no, my puppy ate the yard!”   
     “Why does my dog dig so much?”                 
     “How can I prevent my dog’s urine burns from killing the grass?”

These problems, among others, have been addressed by my company, Pawfriendly Landscapes,  for the past ten years.  We are a pet friendly landscape company that successfully deals with complaints like, “the dog ate the yard,” by creating beautiful yet functional landscape designs for clients and their pets.  I just released my first book, “Pawfriendly Landscapes – How to Share the Turf When Your Backyard Belongs to Barney,” which is a compilation of the past decade and is co-authored by Judith H. Spurling, DVM. 

               I started my company in the late nineties because landscape companies were not addressing dogs’ habits.  I felt it was a necessity because dogs use their backyard more than any other family member all year round.  Their needs were not being addressed and many people were frustrated with what they saw as “destructive behavior” and were relinquishing them or keeping them chained up so they didn’t ruin their yard.  However, much of their “destructive behavior” was actually just their habits- such as wearing down the sod when they ran to the fence for “squirrel patrol,” running along the fence with the neighbor’s dogs, jumping up on the fence to bark at people walking by, etc.; so I set out to create solutions for dogs and their owners by respecting their dog’s habits and learning to use indestructible landscape material so the homeowner did not have to redo their yard every year.

             I was also determined to create pet friendly landscapes because dogs were being exposed to many dangers in their own yard, such as edging that slices paws, toxic or bee attracting plants or inhumane dog runs.  Many people unknowingly were exposing their pets to these hazards, so I decided to incorporate dog friendly features into the yard. 

             Upon creating pet friendly yards, I discovered their habits actually added interest to yards; nobody knew we were using certain material and incorporating organic shapes for doggie runways or bathroom areas.   Since there were no other resources for pet friendly yards, I turned to my childhood veterinarian, Dr. Judith Spurling, for solutions to dog problems.  Together, we combined our knowledge of landscape material and animal behavior. 

 My philosophy is plain and simple: “leave it to the dogs.”  When I’m in a client’s yard, I let the dog be my muse and create a functional and beautiful landscape based on his or her habits – both good and bad.   I insist dog owners do not clean up after their dog prior to my visit since it’s very important I see their habits.   Not only do their habits add interest but another bonus to creating pet friendly yards is it’s year round, regardless of climate.  All the material we use can be installed during the off season.  Dogs escape, dig, kill sod due to urine burns or foot traffic all year round, not just in the summer, so homeowners can create a more interesting yard any time of year. 

 Since creating beautiful yards is one of the goals for dog owners, I only use organic material that creates an interesting yard, such as different rock, textured plants, elevated gardens or lattice to prevent dogs from digging, escaping or destroying yards.  Shock collars and re-training dogs is not part of their process since they do not add beauty to yards.

   One of the biggest problems is dead sod due to urine burns or foot traffic.  Since plants will not tolerate these problems, I create bathroom areas made of mulch (if dogs do not eat wood or rock mulch).  If dogs eat rock or wood mulch, then artificial turf, pavers or concrete can be used in their bathroom area.  Wood mulch is always a better choice since it neutralizes odor, however, there is a lot of maintenance (top dressing) since wood mulch ages.  Most of my clients do not enjoy maintenance so we stick with rock, pavers or concrete. 

 

Pawfriendly Landscapes - How to Share the Turf When Your Backyard Belongs to Barney.

 (Click on the book to purchase a copy)

  Various rock mulches are used for “doggie runways.”  To determine the correct rock mulch, I need to know how many dogs are using the yard, their breed and ages.  If an owner of two young German shepherds needs a “doggie runway,” then 1.5” round river rock is used rather than pea gravel or .75” river rock since they will migrate due to heavy foot traffic.  Round rock is always used instead of granite, which is jagged and hurts dog’s paws.   I literally see dogs cringe as they walk on the granite.  When creating running paths or new bedlines for bathroom areas, we incorporate organic shapes which make yards more appealing.  In other words, dog’s habits are creating prettier yards and their owner didn’t even realize it.  Designs and material based on their habits actually eliminate that look of “box of sod” that is so common in backyards. 

 Another type of rock mulch that adds interest to yards is large cobble.  Large cobble deters dogs from entering gardens or digging since it is large and chunky.  When dogs walk on it, it feels awkward and is difficult to maneuver.  Cobble can be used as an accent on berms or along bedlines to break up a large scale of mulch.  It can also be used as a dry cobble river bed with dog resistant plantings.  Many times we install it around a tree to prevent dogs from running up to the trunk of a tree and barking at birds, squirrels or other critters that trigger them. 

 Dog resistant plants are textured or thorny.  For obvious reasons, dogs do not like thorny plants, such as barberry or evergreens.  Unusual textures also deter dogs, like lavender or rosemary.  Many of these plants are beautiful winter features which can also be planted in front of the dog’s bathroom creating year round beauty and hide their waste when the dog owner cannot clean up due to inclement weather. 

 Since non textured gardens such as vegetable, annual or perennial beds seem to get destroyed by dogs, planting them in raised beds is a great solution.  Elevated gardens also add interest and, in return, less weeding is required and easy harvesting is achieved.   

 Other tricks include securing lattice to a fence in order to prevent dogs from escaping.  This is especially important since the most frequent emergency seen by veterinarians is dogs being hit by a car.   Lattice with vines or climbing roses not only looks attractive, but keeps dogs safe in their yard.

 If a dog is digging to escape, then chicken wire is secured with nails or staples to the bottom of a wooden privacy fence and held into the ground with fabric pins. When the dog begins digging, he’ll hit the texture with his paws and will stop digging.  If a fence has chicken or mesh wire, edge pins are used at the bottom to secure his premises. 

 Another solution to prevent dogs from entering gardens or chewing plants is to spray the area with a homemade pepper spray solution.  A dog owner can buy jalapeno peppers, blend a few of them with water and pour it in a spray bottle.  Dogs will have the same reaction to the area that they have to textured or thorny plants – once they taste it, they will not go back.  However, pepper spray needs to be re-applied if it rains or the sprinklers are used.

             My company also supports local animal charities like the Denver Dumb Friends League and Good Samaritan Pet Center.  I lecture on the subject at the Arapahoe Community College, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Dumb Friends League, Colorado Free University, and Pro Green Conference among other events. 

              One of the most rewarding parts of my job is when a client tells me they did not realize they could stop the destructive behavior and actually share a beautifully landscaped yard with their pet. Instead of relinquishing their dog, they live harmoniously with their dog.  If we can help decrease the number of pets received by shelters every year, then everything else is gravy.

For more information please go to www.pawfriendlylandscapes.com 

    



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