Three Design Tips for a Dog-Friendly Garden

After more than thirty years I can say that it is possible to have a well appointed garden and a happy dog too. Through trial and error, advice from nurserymen and master gardeners, and sharing ideas with gardening friends, I have learned about gardening with dogs. It isn’t too complicated, really.

I simply keep three things in mind. First, I begin with the end in mind. The yard and garden have to suit the needs of everyone in the family, including Lizzie, our dog. After all, she spends more time outside that we do. She needs a little open space to romp (so do we), a comfortable place in the sun tempered with a bit of shade (so do we), and she enjoys a cool drink on those warm summer nights… there seems to be a pattern here. OK, our dog pretty much enjoys most all the same garden features we do. But wait, we’re not quite done.

I’ve noticed that dogs rarely appreciate the fragility of those specimen plants the nurseries charge so much for. Nor do they appreciate artfully winding paths. Every dog I have known has taken the most direct route to her destination. I discovered this in my first garden many years ago. I was new to Oregon and wanted some of those incredible Rhododendrons. I popped for eight beauties in five-gallon pots. Every day, my Rhodies got a little smaller as my lively Springer Spaniel ran down the garden path and “bumped” into them.

Susan’s Top “Dog Friendly” Plants

These plants don’t show up on anyone’s “toxic” list and will bounce back from a little abuse.

  • California Lilac (Ceanothus sp.)
  • Chokeberry (Aronia sp.)
  • Clumping bamboo
  • Coreopsis
  • Currents or Ribes sp. (Saxifragaceae)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)
  • Lavendar (Lavandula sp.)
  • Ornamental Grasses (various varieties of Deschampsia, Eragrostis, Helictotrichon Miscanthus, Pennisetum)
  • Rockrose (Cistus sp.)
  • Sedges (Carex sp.)
  • Bridal wreath (Spirea thunbergii)
  • “Spring Bouquet” Viburnum (Caprifoliacceae tinus)
  • Dwarf purple osier willow (Salix sp.)

My advice is to note your dog’s natural paths through the yard and plant tough and hearty specimens near play and run areas. See my list for some other hearty plants that can be “bowled over” and recover nicely.

My final planning point is to know your dog’s nibbling habits and know what parts of the plants in your yard might be toxic. Back when I started gardening, if I had I known that all parts of the Rhododendron and Azalea are toxic to dogs, I would not have planted them. Fortunately, my dog preferred salads of green beans and strawberries. Today, my garden is full of Rhodies and Azaleas, but I know that our dog, Lizzie, limits her nibbles to a couple of harmless ornamental grasses. It’s easy to find out what plants and parts of plants are toxic – just search on: “pet toxic plants”.

If you share your garden with your dog in work, play and rest, your dog will be more relaxed and less likely to relieve boredom by chewing, digging or other destructive behavior. So plan your garden with your pooch in mind. In the end, you’ll be happily surrounded by beauty and your dog will be happy just to be with you.