10 Dog-Friendly Landscaping Ideas for Your Backyard

4 dogs playing fetch in a backyard with 2 women

You might love your landscape, but it can’t love you back the way your dog does. When you’re thinking about dog-friendly landscaping ideas to protect your grass and plants, you should think about what will make your dog happy, too. 

A dog-friendly yard should be two things: 1) a space where the lawn and garden are protected from dog-related damage, and 2) a space where your dog can have fun!

1. Doggy splash pool

It’s not news that summers are hot, but they’re extra hot when you’re covered in thick fur like sweet little Spot is. He needs to be able to cool down after a round of fetch under the scorching sun, and there’s no better place for him to do it than a splash pool!

If you’re looking for an easy and cheap option, you can pick up a hard plastic kiddie pool for about $20, or even less. Emphasis is on hard plastic — the inflatable kind doesn’t stand a chance against Spot’s tough claws. Worried your large dog would drag a pool across the yard? Set the pool a few inches deep into the ground for stability. 

Dog owners who are more concerned about the aesthetic of their landscape might consider installing a water feature such as a fountain or shallow pond made of smooth (not sharp or jagged) stone for their pup to run through.

2. Flea-repelling garden

Worrying about fleas is one of the worst parts of owning a dog. But there are plenty of ways to prevent fleas in your yard, such as flea-repelling plants. 

That’s right, there are plants that naturally overwhelm fleas’ senses and steer them away from your lawn. Fill your backyard with these plants, and Lassie can play in the backyard to her heart’s content without being eaten alive. 

Here are some plants that repel fleas and are non-toxic to dogs:

  • Catnip
  • Marigolds
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Use cedar chips as mulch in your flea-repelling garden for even more potency. Fleas (and many other pests) hate cedar.

Beware: Many of the plants you’ll find recommended around the web for repelling fleas are toxic to dogs if ingested. You can check whether a plant is safe or not on the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants.

3. Sandbox for digging

small dog digging in a sandbox
Rachel | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

One way dogs damage lawns is by digging holes all over the place. When your dog digs up the lawn, it kills the grass and dries out the soil. In the garden, digging destroys your prized plants. You might be able to train your dog to stop, but some pups just can’t suppress their urges. 

That’s where a sandbox comes in handy! Instead of trying to force your dog to stop digging, give him a designated space to get the behavior out of his system where he won’t hurt the lawn, soil, or your plants. 

You can build your own doggy sandbox in a few simple steps:

  • Step 1: Dig a pit in the lawn about 8-12 inches deep. The pit can be any shape you want, but it should be large enough for your dog to comfortably lay down and play inside. 
  • Step 2: Mix a bag of fast-setting concrete according to the instructions on the package. When the concrete is ready, line the bottom and sides of the pit with a thin layer. Poke a few small holes in the concrete on the bottom for drainage. Let the concrete dry. 
  • Step 3: Fill the pit with playground sand, which you can find at hardware stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. 

Bonus tip: Keep the sandbox slightly damp during summer, and your dog will love it even more. One reason dogs dig holes is to find a cool spot to lay down, and a damp sandbox would fulfill that need much more than a dry lawn! 

4. Dog paths

Dogs are territorial animals, and they like to patrol their territory. That’s why you might see your dog walking the same path over and over again every day, usually around the perimeter of the yard. 

When your dog walks across the same stretch of lawn over and over again, she tramples the grass and compacts the soil in those areas, creating a “dog path” marked by thin or bare patches of grass. 

Do you know what’s more attractive than dead grass? Paving stones! Build your dog her very own pathway out of pavers or pea gravel and teach her to walk there instead of on the grass. Make sure you use stones that are comfortable on her paws and don’t get too hot. 

Pro Tip: Light-colored stones absorb less heat than darker-colored ones, so they’re better for walking paths. 

5. Dog window 

If you have a solid wooden or vinyl fence around your backyard, you can make it a lot more interesting for your dog by adding a dog window. A dog window is a small section of clear plastic that lets your dog see the world beyond the backyard while staying safely inside the fence.

A dog window is fun for your dog, and it could help save your lawn and garden, too. The more entertained your dog is while outside, the less likely he/she is to dig up your grass or plants. 

You can either build your own dog window and install it yourself or purchase one and have a contractor install it for you. Either way, test the plastic before you let Fido outside to make sure it’s solid enough that he can’t get out.

Thinking of making your own dog window? Here’s a quick video tutorial from DIY Network to get you started:

6. Designated dog zone

The most effective way to protect the lawn from your dog is to keep him/her out of it entirely. If you have the room, consider fencing in a section of the backyard and turning it into your dog’s own personal space to do whatever they want. 

Your dog’s outdoor space should include:

  • Plenty of room to run around and play
  • A water bowl or fountain to drink from 
  • A doghouse or other shelter from sun, wind, and rain 
  • Plenty of toys to keep him/her entertained

With a designated dog area, you can let your furry friend outside without worrying about the safety of your lawn and garden. 

7. DIY agility course

dog jumping over a wood beam in a backyard
Tadeusz Lakota | Unsplash

Is your pooch a big fan of the agility course at the dog park? Think of how happy he/she would be to have one in her own backyard! Incorporate jumps, tunnels, balance beams, and other fun elements into your landscape design to keep your dog active, entertained, and away from the garden. 

Building your own agility course might seem like a huge project, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can build balance beams and ramps with a few 2x4s and bar jumps with PVC pipe. You may not be able to build a tunnel that easily, but you can purchase a dog tunnel online for just $30 or $40. 

8. Plenty of shade

Dogs need lots of shady spots to relax and cool down, especially in summer. If you notice your dog often digs holes and then lays down in them, she’s probably just trying to cool off. Providing more shade could eliminate their need to dig. 

Create more shade in your backyard by:

  • Planting tall shade trees
  • Installing an awning, pergola, or other covering
  • Adding a doghouse 

9. Garden barriers

wooden fence with gate, surrounding a garden
Deb Nystrom | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Wood, stone, or wire barriers around your plants can shield them from dog pee and digging and look quite stylish at the same time. Install barriers around the base of trees and shrubs and around the perimeter of flower beds or vegetable gardens to keep your pup at bay.

If you don’t like the idea of barriers, you could try raised garden beds instead. Raised gardens are planted in soil mounds above ground level or in containers lifted up off the ground. Either way, these beds are high enough to discourage digging and marking. 

10. Dog-friendly grass alternatives

Here’s a life hack for you: Your dog can’t ruin your grass if there’s no grass for him to ruin! Replace the grass in your dog’s favorite hangout spots with hardy ground cover plants or mulch. 

Ground cover plants are plants that grow low to the ground and spread out horizontally, creating a similar appearance to a turfgrass lawn. But ground covers are low-maintenance and difficult to damage compared to turfgrass. 

Here are a few durable, non-toxic ground covers that are perfect for homes with dogs:

Irish moss with tiny white flowers throughout
honeymoon music | Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Irish moss
  • Silver carpet
  • Labrador violet
  • Creeping thyme
  • Snow-in-summer

Warning: Beware of common ground covers that are toxic to dogs if ingested, such as clover, hostas, and chamomile.  

Besides ground cover, another option for replacing your grass is mulch. Mulch requires even less maintenance than groundcovers because it isn’t alive. Plus, your dog can pee and poop on it to his heart’s content without ruining it. 

Some of the best dog-safe mulches are:

multicolored pebble gravel
James St. John | Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Smooth stones or gravel (make sure the stones aren’t small enough to get stuck in paws)
  • Rubber nuggets
  • Cedar chips
  • Straw 
  • Coconut fibers

Warning: Avoid any materials that might hurt your dog’s paws and any mulch containing cocoa bean shells, which are highly toxic to dogs (just like chocolate).

Can’t bring yourself to part with a traditional turfgrass backyard? The least you can do is reseed the lawn with a dog-friendly grass type, such as tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, Bermudagrass, or Zoysiagrass. 

FAQ about dog-friendly landscaping

1. How do dogs damage lawns?

These are the most common ways that dogs damage lawns:

Peeing: Dog pee’s high nitrogen content burns the grass and kills it, turning it yellow and then brown (don’t worry — you can fix dog pee damage).
Pooping: Dog poop also contains nitrogen and can hurt the grass if it sits out, but the main concern with poop is the harmful bacteria and fungi it fosters. 
Digging: Dogs dig up grass and plants, which kills them and dries out the soil, making it difficult for anything to grow in that spot in the future. 
Running: When dogs run, walk, and play on the lawn, they squash the grass and compact the soil. This becomes a big problem if the dog runs back and forth across the same stretch of grass every day.

2. What kind of yard is best for dogs?

The very best backyard for a dog will include:

Plenty of space to run around
As little grass as possible so as to avoid urine damage (or at least a damage-resistant grass type)
Lots of shade
Hardscaping materials that are kind to paws

3. What landscaping plants are safe for dogs?

When you’re shopping for new plants to add to your dog-friendly landscape, look for plants with these qualities: 

Non-toxic if ingested 
No sharp thorns or thistles
Hardy enough that if your dog pees or jumps on them, they won’t die

Which dog-friendly landscape plants are best for your yard all depends on the climate where you live. If you’re unsure what kind of plants you want, seek guidance from a local greenhouse professional. 

See Spot run: The joy of dog-friendly landscaping 

Dog-friendly landscaping helps protect your lawn and garden from your dog’s negative behaviors, but that’s not all it does. Creating an entertaining backyard space also encourages your dog to exercise and have fun!

If you use some of the ideas we described here, you can not only reduce dog-related damage to your landscape but also improve your pup’s quality of life. Fido and Fluffy are sure to reward you with plenty of tail wags and kisses. 

Need help protecting your lawn from your pooch? Reach out to a local lawn care professional today for lawn reseeding, mowing, fertilizing, and other maintenance to keep your lawn healthy. The only thing these pros can’t do is train your dog for you. 

Main Photo Credit: Anthony Duran | Unsplash

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and editor with a passion for sustainable, earth-friendly gardening and lawn care practices. When she isn't sharing her knowledge about lawn care and landscaping, you can find her curled up with a good book and a cat in her lap.