Whether your dog will live in your garden 24/7 or simply enjoy playtime there once a week, it’s important that your outdoor space is a fun and secure place for your pup to be.
This post is a comprehensive list of outdoor dog area ideas, including dog kennels, pet-safe plants and exciting extras for all dogs and all budgets. So, for our top tips on transforming your garden into a doggy paradise, read on…
Dog-Friendly Garden Design Essentials
If you only have a limited space or budget for your outdoor dog area ideas, here are the essentials:
1. Room to roam
Above all else, maximise the space your dog has to run around in, especially if your garden is going to be an exercise location when you can’t go for a longer walk. All you need is a clear area with a comfortable surface – a lawn is great, but a patio is fine too (it’s easier to clean up messes and can help keep your dog’s claws short).
2. Stimulating obstacles
Next, aim to add plants and hardscaping that your dog can play with. Dog-height benches, tunnels, steps and flower beds are ideal places for climbing, hiding and exploring. A dog that’s distracted by its surroundings will be less interested in digging under fences and barking at things it can’t see.
3. Shady spots
Even if your dog mostly stays inside, it’s important to have a sheltered area when you’re out in the garden. Trees and bushes create natural shelter, but you can use solid benches, awnings or tables in addition to a conventional kennel.
4. Secure fencing
Your garden fence should be tall enough so that your dog can’t jump over it, and close enough to the ground that they’re not tempted to dig under it. You might even want to build it a few inches into the ground. Check your fence regularly for damage and dig-spots.
Being in the garden means exercising and sunshine – both great for dogs, but also exhausting. Don’t forget to bring a tub of water outside for them, or install a fresh water fountain (more on that later).
Outdoor Dog Area Ideas
Will your dog spend a reasonable amount of time outside? it’s important that you create a safe, stimulating and sheltered space for it to stay.
1. Dogs and Lawns
Lawns are the perfect balance of being practical for dogs and nice-looking for humans. A lawn will stay cool in hot weather (compared to paving or concrete), and the soft grass is gentle on paws!
There are two things to keep in mind though: digging and weeing (which can create yellow patches). Long-term, it’s easier to train your dog not to do either, but in the meantime, provide alternative stimulation to prevent digging, and hose down the areas where they go to the toilet.
2. Garden Fencing for Dogs
Fencing is essential to keep your pet safely within bounds. When choosing your fence, never underestimate what a tenacious dog can jump over, dig under, squeeze through and chew apart!
A six-foot fence is recommended for medium-sized dogs, and it ideally should be installed several inches into the ground. Routinely check the whole way along the fence for holes and dig-spots, repairing any that you find as soon as possible.
Chain-link fencing is fine for containing dogs, although not necessarily the most attractive. It also allows complete visibility in and out of your garden, so if your dog has an anxious temperament or is a desirable breed (or if you just want some privacy), a solid fence is better.
If your garden has a gate, make sure it has a secure closure that can’t be blown open in the wind, or even nudged open by a clever pet. Remind visitors to close the gate behind them, and look for self-closing mechanisms that will gently close themselves without snapping shut on tails or snouts.
3. Garden Kennels for Dogs
Doghouses, or kennels, are available in lots of different sizes and styles, and are essential for providing shade on hot days, and a dry spot in wind and rain.
Not to be confused with indoor crates, outdoor kennels should have a solid roof and walls with an open door or flap, opening either into the garden or into a dog pen.
Remember, even if your dog usually stays outdoors, bring them inside if the weather gets unusually hot or cold.
4. Dog Pens and Run Ups
As a minimum, dog pens should be tall enough for your dog to comfortably stand in, and long enough for them to lay down and stretch out completely. The longer you intend to leave them in the run (especially more than an hour or two), the more space they need to exercise and play.
Ideally, pens should cover an area of at least 30 square feet. Always build the biggest pen you can; bored, cramped dogs are more likely to develop behaviour problems.
Wherever you position the dog pen in your garden, make sure that your dog has shade from a tree or fence throughout the day. Add a cloth or tarpaulin over the top of the pen if not.
5. Landscaping for Dogs
Thinking of making some bigger dog-friendly changes to your garden? There are lots of ways to incorporate dog-oriented design that will still be aesthetically pleasing for human users.
6. Paw-Friendly Garden Paths
Let your dog patrol its territory with the help of paved walkways. Solid paths made from flagstones or concrete are best, followed by wood decking or large pebbles/cobbles.
Avoid small stones and gravel, which can not only be painful and get trapped in paws, but be incredibly dangerous if eaten. Plus, dogs are more tempted to dig through it, and it’s a pain to clean if they use it as a toilet.
7. Puppy Peep-Holes
Got a curious pup? As long as they’re not inclined to bark at every single thing they see, give them a window to the world by cutting a small, eye-height peep hole in your fence.
Alternatively, you can give them a perch to sit on and look out over the garden. A large rock, or set of steps can do the trick – just make sure it’s not so close to the fence that they can jump out in a moment of excitement.
8. Designate a Digging Patch
If you’re trying to deter your dog from tearing up your lawn, add a sand pit or mud patch that you can encourage them to use with treats and praise. Keep the digging patch away from flower beds and fences in case your pup gets carried away.
9. Dogs and Water
If you have space in your garden for a water feature, don’t let a dog stop you. Fresh, flowing water – like a fountain or stream – can actually be a great way to keep your dog hydrated when it’s outside.
Are ponds safe for dogs?
It’s possible to have a pond and a dog in your garden at the same time, but make sure you know the risks.
Pond water can be toxic to dogs, especially if there is blue-green algae present, or harmful bacteria spread by decaying matter (like dead fish). There’s also the possibility of your dog jumping in and not being able to get out.
If you have a pond, it’s best to fence it off or put a guard over the top, and make sure there’s a step or ramp for your dog to get out if they break in.
Can I let my dog into the pool?
Home swimming pools aren’t that common in the UK, so owners aren’t always clear whether it’s okay for dogs to swim or not.
As long as they’re supervised, swimming pools can be a fun way for your pet to cool off in summer and get some exercise. Just make sure your dog can get itself out with a ladder, step or ramp, and be sure to rinse the chemicals off their fur when they’re done. Keep the pool covered or fenced off when you’re not there.
Be aware that dogs will introduce additional bacteria into the water, so you’ll need to routinely check the chemical balance to keep it safe for human and canine swimmers.
What about dogs and hot tubs?
Please don’t let your dog get in a hot tub! Because dogs don’t sweat, they can’t regulate their temperature in a hot tub like humans do – creating a very real risk of lethal overheating. If you have a hot tub in your garden, be extra careful to cover it when you’re not inside. You could always fill a little, pooch-sized paddling pool next to the tub so you and your pup can soak simultaneously.
10. Dog-Friendly Plants
Rambunctious dogs are likely to tear through delicate flowers and trample seedlings (or dig them up) before they can bloom, so look for robust plants that can be established quickly.
Choose large perennial bushes, like hardy geraniums (also known as cranesbill – not pelargonium geraniums, which are toxic to dogs). Alternatives are astilbe, lavender and nepeta (catnip). Catnip is completely safe for dogs to ingest, and tends to sedate them, rather than driving them wild like cats!
Other flowers that are safe for dogs include:
- Michaelmas daisies
- Busy Lizzie
Which garden plants are harmful to pets?
There are many common plants that are poisonous to pets, and lots that can irritate skin, fur, ears and paws. Before you let your dog outside for the first time, check that that you don’t have any of the following:
- Yew Trees
- Lily of the Valley
Always check whether plants are harmful before introducing them into your home – and don’t forget about fresh cut flowers or house plants, too! If you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic plant, take them to the vet straight away, along with plant cuttings if you can.
Keeping Your Garden Safe for Dogs
Toxic plants aren’t the only common garden risk to dogs. Here are some of the other hazards you need to look out for to keep your pet safe outdoors.
- Pest control substances, like slug pellets and mouse/rat poison. Look for organic pest control options (like eggshells), humane traps or encourage garden predators like birds and hedgehogs.
- Weed killer and other herbicides. Avoid them completely or keep your pup away from treated areas. Herbicides are dangerous if they’re eaten, but also if they’re absorbed through skin or paws from walking through a treated area.
- Grass seeds are incredibly fine, and have a tendency to lodge in pet ears, eyes, paws, causing irritation and pain. They can even burrow into the skin, and may need to be surgically removed. If your grass needs a top up, keep your pup indoors for a few days!
- Stinging insects like bees, wasps and hornets. Multiple stings, or a sting to the face or throat (especially if your dog has tried to eat the bug) can quickly become life-threatening. Check your garden, sheds and garage for nests.
- Slugs, snails and frogs can pass lungworm to your pets if eaten. Lungworm causes difficulty breathing, lethargy and excessive bleeding if your pet is injured. Use natural ways to keep them at bay.
- Sheds and garages are filled with tools and heavy items that can hurt your pooch. Make sure they don’t follow you inside, and be extra careful to not accidentally shut them in when you leave. Take a look at our tool storage tips to keep them safe.
- Any chemicals you might have lying around, like paint, white spirit, lighter fluids or antifreeze. They can cause serious harm if they’re inhaled, swallowed, licked off fur or absorbed through skin.
- Cocoa-based mulch.Mulch is great for keeping the surface of your garden soft and cool for dogs. However, just like chocolate, cocoa-based mulch is poisonous if your dog ingests it.
- Rubbish – whether it’s harmful food waste or dangerous materials, lots of things we throw away can still be a risk if pets get access to the bin. Always keep wheelie bins and compost bins secure.
- Foreign objects. Curious dogs (especially puppies) typically explore with their mouths. It’s fairly obvious, but check your garden for sharp stones, broken materials and anything else that could be bad news if eaten or chewed. It’s always a good idea to train your dog not to eat new discoveries!
Enjoy Your Garden With Your Dog!
Dogs and gardens are a perfect match, and you’re bound to have years of fun playing outside together. Hopefully, we’ve shown you some ways in which you can still have a beautiful garden while making it an exciting, stimulating place for your dog to explore and get some exercise.
We’d love to hear about your dog-friendly garden ideas – we also love a puppy picture!