The Dirt on Dog-Proofing Your Yard
10 steps to a safe outdoor space. Landscaper not required.
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Whether your backyard is a lush botanical garden or a weed-infested wasteland, your dog won’t know the difference. It’s their very own haven for rolling around in the dirt, patrolling for squirrels, and pooping literally everywhere. It’s likely more hygienic than the dust bowl that is the dog park, but lawn chemicals, toxic plants, and other unexpected hazards can transform your summery outdoor space into a danger zone for your dog. Read this before you go finding your green thumb.
1. Consider your dog’s natural tendencies
Before you get to work, it’s a good idea to read up on your dog’s breed (if you know it). All breeds have their own quirks, and that can impact your approach. “Some breeds are more prone to destructive behavior, while others are known for being escape artists, like huskies,” explains Dr. Susannah Teran, DVM. “Understanding the breed can help identify potential challenges. For example, a Shiba Inu is quite capable of climbing a fence, while a Dachshund is more likely to tunnel under one. So as a pet parent, you would make very different choices about how to secure your yard based on these tendencies.”
2. Make sure your plants are dog-friendly
Azaleas, daffodils, and tulips are just a few of the numerous plants and flowers poisonous to dogs. Before you let your pup set foot your yard, uproot any deemed toxic by the ASPCA’s extensive Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List. Another thing to consider are allergies; many weeds, trees, and grasses are common allergens to dogs. If you find your dog is itchy after romping around in the yard, a blood test can pinpoint environmental allergies.
3. Keep compost out of reach
Composting is great for the planet but not so much for your dog. As food or plant matter decays, it can produce a mold that’s poisonous to dogs. Even in trace amounts, this mold can trigger tremors or seizures if consumed, so keep your compost bin safely out of your pet’s reach.
4. Use natural garden products
Before spraying weed killer or scattering fertilizer, check the product label to make sure it’s safe for dogs. If you have no choice but to use a toxic pesticide, read the instructions to see how long you need to keep your dog away from the area before it’s safe to return. And when not in use, store those products in a shed that your dog can’t access.
5. Secure your yard with a fence
Even a well-trained dog is at risk of wandering away from a yard if it’s not fully enclosed, especially scent hounds bred for tracking small game, like beagles and coonhounds. If you already have a physical fence, walk the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any holes big enough for your dog to squeeze through and repair any loose boards or reinforce the barrier with chicken wire.
If you’re shopping for a new dog fence, certified dog trainer Lisa Plymale suggests, “Solid fencing that a dog can’t see through is preferable. For one, it’s very secure. And by blocking visibility, it will help prevent your dog from developing unwanted behaviors, such as barking or charging the fence whenever a person or another dog goes by. You also want to make sure the fence is tall enough that your dog can’t jump over and low enough to the ground that they aren’t tempted to dig under.”
And don’t buy into the belief that an electric fence will keep your dog safe. The “positive punishment” (repeated shocks by an e-collar) it takes for a dog to learn where the property line ends isn’t even a guarantee: Some dogs will still fly past the boundary in a state of adrenaline in hot pursuit of a squirrel, then will be wary of coming home once they calm down (and remember the shock).
6. Tidy up your yard
“Left to their own devices, dogs will chew on a wide variety of things,” says Plymale. “That includes rocks, bark, hoses, or even the siding on the house. The more you can do to clean up the area where they spend time, the better.” In addition to putting away potential hazards like gardening tools or kids’ toys, you should regularly pick up yard debris. Fallen fruit, sticks, seeds, and leaves can all be harmful to your dog if they ingest enough of them. And the pits and seeds of stone fruits (cherries, plums, peaches) contain cyanide. Cyanide.
7. Practice pool safety
If you have a pool (jealous), you also have a few special considerations for your dog. Chlorine and other chemicals can be harmful to dogs if they drink it — and to some dogs, a pool is just a giant water bowl. Fencing the pool with a secure dog gate is the best way to keep them safe. Even the best swimmer is at risk of drowning or water intoxication if they can’t locate the steps to climb out.
8. Secure your balcony
Balconies present a unique danger: clearing the railing. Knowing your dog’s athleticism is a start. “Some dogs are more prone than others to chase,” says Dr. Teran. “If you know your dog can’t resist going after a pigeon, then a balcony may not be a safe place for them. If your dog does spend time out there, make sure you put a barrier in place that prevents them from going overboard.”
9. Avoid standing water
Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes — literally, they lay their eggs in it. As if you needed another reason to deter mosquitoes, they can transmit heartworm, which is fatal if left untreated in dogs. So be sure to capsize any pots collecting water and level your yard to allow rainwater to run off. If you live in a city, rodents are carriers of leptospirosis, an infection most commonly found in contaminated water. Lepto is considered a core vaccine in urban environments, but vaccines are not 100% effective against all strains.
10. When in doubt, supervise
Despite your best efforts, it’s not possible to fully dog-proof a yard: you can’t prevent tree limbs from falling or neighborhood critters from leaving behind found objects. Ideally, when your pup is outside for more than a few minutes, you should be close enough to keep an eye on them. Besides, they want to hang out with you.
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Kate Sheofsky hails from San Francisco, where she developed a love of writing, Giants baseball, and houses she can’t afford. She currently lives in Portland, OR, and works as a freelance writer and content strategist. When not typing away on her laptop, she enjoys tooling around the city with her two rescue pups searching for tasty food and sunny patios.