A backyard is an area for dogs to play, blow off excess energy and relax. A well-designed backyard allows your dog to play safely unsupervised and provides a space for you to play with your dog. Design your backyard to include safe dog-friendly areas that provide shelter, a sunbathing area, a shade area, a digging area, water play area and an exercise area. Your dog will thank you for providing him with his own doggie paradise.
The most important aspect of your dog's backyard is safety. Patrol the perimeter of your yard and make sure the fence is in good condition. Repair any holes or weak spots in the fence. Fill in any gaps in the corners or at the bottom of the fence. Another safety aspect to consider is plant safety. Many types of plants are poisonous to dogs. Walk around your property and take note of the plants in your yard. Check the ASPCA's "Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List" to find out if your plants are dog safe. Remove any plants that are on the toxic list and any plants that you cannot identify. If you really want plants that are toxic to dogs, plant them in raised planters out of your dog's reach. Check the ASPCA's list before planting any new plants.
Dogs need a sheltered area to protect them from the elements. A doghouse is the easiest way to give your dog protection from the heat, wind and rain. Invest in a high-quality doghouse that has insulation, a leak-proof roof and is raised at least 2 inches off the ground. Put bedding inside the doghouse to keep your dog comfortable and warm. Choose a doghouse that is large enough for your dog to stand, turn around and stretch out in. Put a door flap on the entrance of the doghouse in the winter months. For additional protection from the elements, place the house under a patio cover or other covered area.
Sunbathing is a favorite activity of many dogs. Provide a comfortable place for your dog to soak up the sun's rays. A patch of grass or a deck is a perfect sunbathing spot. Because dogs like to keep an eye on what is going on in the house, choose a sunbathing spot that is close to the backyard entrance into the home. Put a dog bed in the sunbathing area for extra comfort.
Even if your dog has a shelter, it is still nice to incorporate another shady area for your dog to relax in. A tree is the best form of shade. It adds beauty to your yard and is a nice play to relax underneath. The foliage provides shade and catches the breeze to keep the area cool. Other shade options include an umbrella or a covered deck.
Digging is a natural instinct for dogs and it is so much fun for them. Instead of being annoyed with your dog for digging up your favorite flowers, give him a spot of his own to enjoy his hobby. Provide a dirt or sand-filled digging area. A sandpit works well as a digging area because it differentiates where it is safe to dig. Dogs learn that sand is OK to dig in and dirt is not. Another advantage of sand over dirt is that it is cleaner and does not turn into mud that can be tracked into the house. Fill a child's sandbox with sand or dirt, make a custom sandbox, or dig a shallow hole in the ground and fill it with sand or dirt. Digging is a messy sport, so place the digging area away from areas that you want to keep clean, such as decks. Hide dog toys and treats in the digging area to encourage your dog to use his new spot. Your dog may need a little training to learn that he is only allowed to dig in that one spot. Every time you catch your dog digging elsewhere, pick him up, bring him to his digging area, and praise him when he digs in it.
Some dogs enjoy playing in water. If you have a water-loving dog, put a shallow water feature in your yard. A water feature also provides your dog with a way to keep cool in warm weather. Make sure the water feature is shallow enough that your dog will not drown and that it has a circulating pump to keep the water from going stagnant and attracting mosquitoes. Garden supply stores are good places to find shallow water fountains and ponds with circulating pumps. Another option is to build a custom water feature.
Exercise is not only fun for your dog, it provides an outlet for him to get out his excess energy. Set aside an area in your yard for open space. In the open space area you can play catch with your dog, he can run and he can play. If you have an active dog, you can make the exercise area more interesting by adding an obstacle or agility course.
A Yard, Not a Prision
A well-designed backyard is great, but it is not an alternative to human interaction. A backyard should not be a prison for dogs where they sit alone day in and day out. The San Bernardino County Animal Care and Control Program says that keeping dogs in backyards without human interaction 24 hours a day is "one of the worst things you can do to a dog," because it goes against a dog's basic instinct. Use your backyard to provide your dog needed playtime, but also bring him inside to spend time with you.