With the warm weather, everyone is anxious to get outside. With more than 30 percent of American families owning pets, a common challenge is how to accommodate dogs and outside cats when the family is eating, entertaining, or simply relaxing in the backyard. There are so many choices today that it is difficult to navigate your way through the maze. We will do our best to guide you.
You can start by evaluating how your family spends their days. Are family members away most of the day leaving dogs at home alone? Is someone home most of the time to handle necessary bathroom trips outdoors? Does the family take frequent overnight trips that require special arrangements to take care of the dog? Your answers to these questions will help narrow your choices from:
Small dog run - can be used for extended periods of time when the dog is alone. Adding a dog door allows your dog to move freely between house and outdoors, which helps when no one can walk the dog. Where 5 years ago My Handyman was building these runs, today there are many quality kits that are easy to assemble such as those found at ClassyPetShop.com.
Fenced in yard - might be preferable if children will spend a considerable amount of time playing outdoors and expect the dog to be part of their play group. With fencing, parents can monitor children's activities and not worry about the whereabouts of pets, yours or the neighbors'.
Invisible fence solutions - are great but there remains a fear that once a squirrel entices a dog to leave the property, they are unable to return. This type of solution works well if an adult will be present whenever your dog is outside.
If you are spending time outdoors, you want to enjoy yourself and not be reminded of the challenges that dogs present. The goal is to balance your lifestyle with their needs. You want them to have space to play, to do their business but it does not have to dominate your outdoor living space.
Here are a number of ideas to help you achieve this balance:
Hardscape materials - offer a low maintenance alternative to grass for your dog's high traffic areas, i.e. the dog run or paths most frequently travelled through your backyard when they go outside. You have many wonderful choices from brick to etched concrete, flagstone or crushed stone mulch.
Sturdier Grass and Green Alternatives - include grasses that hold up better to foot (and paw) traffic like Bermuda and Kentucky bluegrass. Alternatively clover lawns do not stain the way grass does from dog urine.
Protect Sensitive Plantings - with various types of barriers to keep pets away. Short picket fencing or hedges can protect flower beds while adding to your landscaping theme. Wire cages might be needed to prevent dogs from urine from damaging sensitive tree trunks and roots.
Create Dog Territory - where dogs always go, i.e. leave a foot wide path of gravel adjacent to fencing as dogs are territorial and will always walk, and mark, their territory. Avoid fighting a dog's natural pathways by adding hardscape walkways over them to blend with your other landscaping.
You can train your dog to use a designated "toilet space," preferably one that is easy to clean up (dirt or gravel). This area should be away from outdoor living spaces where you might see/smell anything prior to cleaning up. In fact you can use a short fence or hedge to surround this space, with either a pathway to enter or short enough that the dog can easily jump into the space.
One last and very important message: there are many plants that are poisonous so be careful to discuss this any time you are purchasing new plants. You may also want to get a landscape company to review existing plants after buying a new home.