Building a dog-friendly backyard

backyard for your dog

Ever wonder what Rover is thinking about when he’s surveying your backyard from the porch steps?

Perhaps he’s dreaming of a landscape complete with a special play area, a grassy meadow to run and roll in, paths to amble along and a solar heated kennel from which to watch over his kingdom. Sound too fanciful to be true? Not so, according to Howard Folkman, a landscape designer and lifelong animal lover who designed the ultimate backyard plan for dogs and their cat buddies shown on these pages.

This animal paradise is based on a real design and includes everything a four-footed fur-person could possibly want, from a doggy deck complete with raised tub to a mini-agility course. Nor is a huge property a prerequisite. “The entire plan covers about 75’ by 100’,” says Howard. You may think transforming your yard into something this ambitious is beyond you, but all it really takes is an organized approach. “First, list your animal’s needs and wants, taking his personality, likes and dislikes into consideration,” says Howard. “For example, some of my dogs like to go beneath things, like the Under Deck Doggy Den, while others prefer to be on top of Hound Hill.”

Next, form a site plan of your yard and zone it. “Keep it broad and simple to start with and decide where you want each area to be located. Then you can concentrate on the details. Once you’ve done your site plan, you can start connecting things and figuring out how different areas fit with existing structures, the yard’s topography, and so on.” Along with your animal’s needs, Howard also stresses the importance of sustainability in planning the garden. “Design for where you live and use local materials. Remember that the choices you make for your landscaping inevitably affect animals in the future, both domestic and wild.” Be sure to also use non-toxic, environmentally-friendly materials and plantings wherever possible.

Whether you go all out with your design, or just decide to incorporate one or two elements, you’ll be enhancing your companion’s quality of life by adding extra interest and enjoyment to his outdoor environment. Whatever you decide to do, don’t be afraid to use your imagination. As Howard says, “Go beyond the status quo.”

Howard’s garden layout incorporates spaces for dogs, wild birds and cats, who have their own enclosure (although if under supervision or on a leash, they would love the rest of the yard, too!)

Doggy Deck

An outside space for both pets and their caretakers. Enclosed with 3’ fencing and gates to keep dogs clean while they dry off and get groomed.

Doggy den

A 1.5’ to 2’ space under the deck lined with smooth pebbles. The area provides dogs with a cool, dry, secure environment and satisfies
their strong inherited need to be in a den.

Solar heated kennel

This U.V. protected glass roofed kennel will provide a warm outside habitat for dogs who live in a cold winter climate.

Play structure & agility course

Great for the agility competitors or, with a bit training, as a “fitness center” for the average canine. Will provide you and your dog with a fun place for behaviour and training activities.

Relief area

Paved with a bed of compacted 1/2” crushed rock at least 3” deep. This surface will be easy to clean up and is enriched with a biological system that will quickly break down odors and prevent potential health risks.

Marking posts

“Go here!” vertical posts help control where urination occurs, reducing the impact on plants in the garden. And they satisfy your dogs’ needs to mark their “territory”

Hound hill

A small meadow-like hill planted with variable height grasses and wild flowers for all to enjoy. Being on high ground observing the world around them is a natural place for animals to hang out.

Water purification system

A Reverse Osmosis water filtration system that eliminates all chemicals and contaminates from tap water. Water will be piped throughout the yard at various drinking locations providing your pets with an unlimited supply of fresh healthy water.

Enclosed cat garden

An outside garden complete with feline friendly trees, shrubs, vines, flowers and fountains specifically designed as a cat utopia. Cats can spend hours on their bleachers watching birds in the feeders outside the enclosure. The Garden is enclosed by a framed structure wrapped in a wire fabric to secure and protect your cat from the outside world.

Bird condominium

A tower of potential nesting sites for wild birds to make their home with you. This bird habitat also features a filtered water bird bath elevated out o reach of any danger.

Pet parlor

Inside rooms for animals and their caretakers heated and cooled as any room in the house but customized for the comfort and care of your four-legged companions.

Decomposed granite

A granite soil or rock dust compacted to produce a well-drained hard surface resilient to becoming muddy. Add a partially shaded area for rest or play.

Dog-friendly foliage


  • Cornus sp. (Flowering Dogwood) – butterfly host plant
  • Quercus sp. (Native Oak) – provides shade for all, acorns for birds and squirrels along with hosting moths.
  • Salix tortuosa (Cork Screw Willow) – butterfly host plant


  • Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry) – fruit for birds
  • Buddleia alternifolia (Fountain Butterfly Bush) – nectar for butterflies
  • Chaenomeles (Flowering Quince ‘Cameo’) – flower for birds
  • Ilex sp. (Holly) – fruit for birds
  • Ribes alpinum (Alpine Currant) – butterfly host plant
  • Syringa chinensis (Chinese Lilac) – fruit for birds
  • Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’ (Compact European Cranberry Bush) – fruit for birds


  • Alcea rosea (Hollyhock) – flower for birds
  • Aquilegia sp. (Columbine) – flower for birds
  • Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) – nectar for butterflies
  • Rudbeckia sp. (Black-eyed Susan) – nectar for birds and butterflies
  • Monarda didyma (Bee Balm) – nectar for birds and butterflies


  • Ampelopsis brevipedunculata (Boston Ivy) – fruit for birds
  • Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) – nectar for birds and butterfly host plant

Others to consider

  • Duchesnea indica (Indian Mock Strawberry) – fruit for birds
  • Kniphofia uvaria (Red Hot Poker) – flower for birds
  • Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower) – flower for birds
  • Nepeta cateria (Catnip) – herb for cats’ enjoyment
  • Chrysanthemum sp. (Mums) – nectar for birds and butterflies
  • Achillea sp. (Yarrow) – nectar and host plant for butterflies

Attracting butterflies

Butterflies are beautiful to watch and you can help attract them with the right mix of plants (host plants to lay their eggs and other plants for caterpillar food) and flowers (nectar for food). In addition, they also require water and shelter (for the chrysalis or pupa, which will often hang from twigs). If your garden is seasonal, include flower  that bloom at different times so there is a constant food source). Butterflies are most attracted to orange, red, yellow and purple flowers. If you want to attract a specific type of butterfly, do some research to find out which plants you require for the butterfly larvae. Remember, do not use pesticides or insecticides as these can kill butterflies.

Keys to the kingdom

As you landscape for your animal, make sure you factor in his health and well-being. This means using safe, non-toxic products that won’t harm him. Here are a few important pointers:

  • Use untreated lumber for structures such as the doggy deck or cat enclosure, and check that stones or gravel you put down for paths or walkways are comfortable enough for an animal to walk on.
  • Avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and buy non-toxic alternatives. Animals are closer to the ground than we are and absorb chemicals more quickly. As a repellent, try garlic-based products as the first line of defense. They can be sprayed on flowers and lawns to repel pests. You can also make your own pesticide with natural soap and water. To attack insect eggs and larvae in the soil, try beneficial nematodes, which you can find online or at your local nursery.
  • Many common garden plants, such as lilies, tulips, daffodils and clematis, are toxic. Keep these flowers out of your animal’s landscaping and replace them with his own “garden” plot of organic grass, oats or catnip.
  • Unlike dogs, most cats are able to find their way over even the highest fence, so an outdoor enclosure is the best solution. Make it as large as possible so your cat stays entertained. You can cover the enclosure or use a fencing product that has some flex, and that has canopy extenders that will turn the cat back into the enclosure if he gets too near the top. Just ensure the mesh openings are no larger than two inches, so he can’t get his head through.
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