Class: Creating a Pet-Friendly Landscape

I have a couple of possible showcase gardens that would both involve dealing with dogs. My last experience of gardening with dogs was with the one I grew up with. “Get out of the garden!” was the only command that she obeyed without hesitation, so I wasn’t sure how to address dogs that hadn’t had the same training. Lucky for me, the Denver Botanic Gardens just happened to have an applicable class.

Elizabeth Bublitz of Pawfriendly Landscapes has been doing dog-centric landscaping since 1998. She had been in the landscaping business already, and as a dog-lover and owner she noticed how many other owners were frustrated with their pets. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves, we heard about what causes that frustration. “My yard is mud, but I used to have grass,” was the overarching theme. Elizabeth’s solution was to figure out how to work with the dog’s nature instead of against it so that there could be a beautiful garden and a happy dog, making for a happy owner.

I keep running into the idea that it’s easier to give in to whatever the natural inclinations are, whether it’s xeriscaping in dry landscapes or working with natural runoff directions. She made it very clear. “If it isn’t going to do them any harm and they aren’t going to escape, let them have it.” This included things like pulling your plantings away from the fenceline so that the dog could run their sentry-routes right beside the fence instead of wearing paths in the turf in front of the plantings. Some dogs dig. If it’s not against the fence or at the house foundation, just work the fact that they dig there into your design. She did discuss dog runs at the very end of the class, but it was mostly focused on the assumption that the dog was going to be residing in the garden/yard itself, as that tended to be the kind of person that called her for help.

I learned a lot about dogs along with the expected knowledge about landscaping. Apparently they like to have perches from which to survey their domain. I always thought that was a cat thing. When you are considering an ornamental boulder, consider one they could get on and stay on for this purpose. They also like to see what’s happening on the other side of the fence. If you give them windows (asking your neighbor’s permission, for the sake of good manners), they will be less inclined to jump over to check things out. They also tend to be very habitual. If there is an established path worn into your turf or through your garden bed, you can usually turn it into a deliberate path and they will stick with it. You may also be able to use different techniques to subtly reroute them. With the exception of terriers, most dogs will go around instead of through thick plantings.

The theory behind her designs is that the dogs will tell you what they want. If you listen to them, they will actually make your yard lower maintenance and more attractive. She likes less formal or “cottage gardens.” The organic shapes that the dogs encourage along with her preference for berms to vary the level of the garden provide a lot of interest in what could be a pretty bland yard. You will be putting three to five feet of stone along the fenceline to give them space for their sentry rounds. This keeps the wet grass away from the fence that is probably wooden, meaning that you won’t need to water over that far, keeping the fence drier than it might be otherwise, which helps its longevity. You will probably be using rock instead of wood for mulch, since dogs like to eat wood, and assuming that your dog doesn’t eat rocks. Once they are installed, if it is done correctly, you shouldn’t need to refresh them like you do with wood mulch.

I think my favorite part about the class, though, was how very practical it was. She discussed xeriscaping because those are the plants that do the best out here with the least amount of babying. She showed us pictures of these absolutely gorgeous gardens, then discussed that they can be done in stages. After all, it is better to slowly add things than to have to go back in and take things out. To manage the mud in the meantime, she suggested erosion blankets or landscape cloth. Just make sure that you pin the seams really well. Apparently dogs like to pick at seams to rip them up. Erosion blankets are something that landscapers have access to. Anyone can get their hands on landscape cloth. The plants are chosen for various reasons, but ornamental grasses aren’t used in dog areas since they get eaten. Thorny bushes can be used to discourage dogs that eat plants.

I am amazed, and pleased, that every one of my instructors so far has been very willing to share and encourage us. I also have contact information for each of them if more questions come up later. Elizabeth even recommended the cat version of herself, Cat-Man-Do, for feline questions and landscaping. I’m sure that there are plenty of people in this field that wouldn’t necessarily encourage the competition, but I am loving the people in the field that I have met so far.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing them. I especially like the idea of designing in a big boulder that the dog(s) can use as a lookout spot and the second idea of cutting a window in your fence – perhaps using an ornamental old metal grate for a cool detail – so that the dog(s) can see through it.


    • When I went to visit a new garden this weekend I was looking at the yard and thinking we could do this! and this! and I really need to focus on the vegetable garden since that’s the point of the visit . . . I keep getting stuffed full of good ideas and I need to remind myself to implement things one at a time.


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