Creating a Garden for Your Dog

dog in planter

Pets are People Too and They Love Gardens

Dogs and cats love gardens, but our four-legged friends don't always respect your well-tended People Garden; that is, unless it is designed for pets as well as humans. Here are some time-tested methods for designing the ideal dog-friendly garden.

Friendly Boundaries

A garden that is dog-friendly includes a special place where your dog is free to be a dog. Of course, you can always share your space with your pooch, but he should learn that it's okay to run, dig and play within his own doggie play pen boundaries. It doesn't have be “penned in” either; in fact, a big dog who can jump 8-10 inches, defeats the whole purpose of a fence.

Separate your dog's play garden from the rest of the garden with a border of shrubs, ground cover plants or decorative stones or bricks. Just remember not to block the view completely, as dogs tend to be more comfortable when they can see you.

Garden Design for the Perfect Dog Garden

Your dog’s garden play area doesn’t have to look like a garden that's gone to the dogs. On the contrary, if you incorporate good plant design into your dog’s play area, your whole garden will stay harmonious and beautiful.


courtyard garden with gate

Courtyard garden with gate

Here are some ideas:

  • Paths are a beautiful way to enhance anyone's garden, including your dog's play area. Although the garden featured in the photo uses bricks, a simple pebble or cedar mulch pathway will add structure and encourage both people and pets to stay off the grass.
  • Install a wooden or metal arbor at the entrance to your dog's play area, or if you prefer, add a small gate to divide your garden from your dog's play garden.
  • Punctuate and divide areas with large plant specimens. Large plants are a lot less likely to incur damaged by your dog, especially if they are contained in large planters.


Plants That are Dog Pee Resistance

Trying to train Fido NOT to mark his territory is darn near impossible without using commercial spray deterrents. Urine contains ammonia salts and nitrogen that burns both plants and turf, but the good news is that many plants are more tolerant against “dog watering”.

Here are some recommended low ground cover plants and shrubs. I have also noted the climate zone range for each plant. Don't know your zone? Check out The U.S. hardiness zone finder, or Gardenweb Europe's zone finder .

Ground Cover Plants that are Dog Friendly




CandytuftIberis sempervirens – Evergreen- Does well in all regions of the US. Plant this in the sun in well-drained soil and it will grow quickly. Please note, this plant can be toxic to dogs if eaten.

Spring Heath, Erica spp. – Evergreen – Does well in zone 5. This low growing heather plant is a bit tricky to grow. Plant in bright light to full sun.

Shrubby Cinquefoil, Potentill a – Deciduous – Does well in zones 3-7. It's a bit scraggly as a border, however, there's an added bonus!. The dried leaves can be used as a tea. Steep them for 5-10 minutes

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus – Evergreen -Does well in zones 3-7 Full sun to partial shade.

Hardy Hedges That Will Tolerate Doggie Pee

Rugosa Rose Hips

Rugosa Rose Hips


Rugosa Rose bush, rosa rugosa – Evergreen – Does well in zones 5-6 – A compact shrub that produces roses in summer and rose hips in late summer/early autumn. A variety of colors is available.

American Holly, Ilex opaca – Evergreen – Grows in zones 5-9 – Likes sun and shade. The spiky leaves will keep your dog at bay.

Augusta Gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides – Evergreen – Grows in zones 7-10
– Sun to partial shade; acidic, moist, well-drained soil. Lovely fragrant white flowers in summer.

Rose-of-Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus – Deciduous – Grows in zones 5-9
Perfect for both southern and northern climates; Even a small plant gives you lots of colorful blooms, which vary by cultivar. Please note, that this hibiscus variety can be toxic to dogs if eaten.

Other attractive large plants that will stand up to the occasional dog-watering are…

Mophead Hydrangea

Mophead Hydrangea


House hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla – Deciduous – Grows in Zones – 6-9 but some varieties do well in zones 4 and 5. Loves morning sun and afternoon shade. Both the “Mophead” and “Lacecap” varieties are hardy. While urine resistant, teach your dog NOT to eat hydrangeas, as they can be toxic.

Lady Banks Rose, Rosa banksiae – Deciduous -Grow in Zoness – 7-9 This thornless rose is a speedy climber that is great for arbors, trellises and fences. Tiny yellow roses bloom in abundance in early Spring.

Japanese Spirea, Spiraea japonica – Deciduous – Grows in Zones 3-8 – This sun-loving shrub is low growing and has a rounded form. The Japanese Whites are effective as low borders and for separating areas of your garden. They flower off and on throughout the summer months.

If your dog does dog-water a plant, a good hosing will prevent a lot of damage. Some gardeners suggest raking an inch of compost onto grass that has been peed upon. The organisms in the compost helps to neutralize the soil's chemistry. Of course, you'll still need to re-seed.

If you choose to use a dog repellant, remember that it needs to be reapplied several times over the course of the growing season.

Good Plants that Work for You and Your Dog

There are many wonderful plants that actually repel fleas from your yard… and subsequently, from your dog. Herbs like lavender, rosemary and lemongrass not only keep fleas (and mosquitoes) at bay, their scents are delightful.

Protect Your Pet From Fleas and Ticks!

One of the best ways to protect your pet from garden pests, is to use a flea color, or give them pills specifically for this kind of protection.

What Not to Plant

Take caution…..not all plants are safe for pets! Many can be harmful if your dog decides to chew a few leaves instead of his toy bone. The most common plants toxic to animals can be found on the ASPCA Web site .

Favorite Dog Garden Pastimes

West Highland Terrier dog digging dirt

Let 'em Dig – To deny your dog the pleasure of digging would be unthinkable in a dog garden. The key is to built your dog his very own sandbox filled with a mixture of play sand and soil, and encourage digging in this convenient spot rather than elsewhere in the garden. You can even bury a new toy for him to discover and praise him for using his dig space. The “box” can simply be a contained area bordered with stones, cedar blocks or bricks. You can still protect your most precious plants or those he and his feline friends can’t resist, by laying chicken wire over the soil around the plants. Cover the chicken wire with cedar bark or small gravel mulch.

Chewing is Only Natural – Everyone knows that dogs, especially puppies, love to chew things, so make sure there are lots of chew toys in your dog friendly garden. Many chew toys on the market are owner/pooch interactive toys. Those are great for having fun with Fifi, but make sure your dog has plenty of “solo” toys as well.

Pooch on Patrol – Dogs love to patrol their territory, and your pet will soon begin to make the rounds to guard his new doggie garden. One activity is running along the fence line. If you have grass growing along the fence, it won't withstand the paw traffic, so you might as well switch it out for something soft, such pine needles.

To discourage this kind of activity in your own part of the garden, plant shrubs against the fence.

Another way to prevent him from trampling your most precious plants is to stake them. Use a sturdy plastic supporter. Wrap the stems to the stake with a colorful piece of cloth to warn off unwary canines.

Sunning/Sleeping – Many dog breeds like to sun or sleep outdoors in an elevated area. Prepare a special place just for Snoopy. You can shorten the legs of an old table, or you can put a soft, weather resistant cushion inside a decorative planter. Choose a planter that is a good fit for your pet's proportions.

When your dog needs to cool down, why not offer him his own wading pool or garden sprinkler? If that's not an option, make sure he has a shady area that will prevent him from digging one of his own or walking over plants to find shade.

A Little Training Goes a Long Way

Train your dog to enjoy his own space in the garden. The idea is that if you give Fifi a place to dig, she won’t dig up your prized perennial bed; if you give her a place to sleep, she won’t make herself at home in the hostas; if you give her a place to run, she won’t trample down your tulips or your new grass. As in all good design, you'll both learn that form follows function, making for a more harmonious environment.

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    • Cindra on August 28, 2021 at 10:26 am
    • Reply

    While they may tolerate dog urine, Candytuft and hydrangeas -among others listed in this article, are toxic to dogs if ingested. I know you reference the APSCA site for more information, but please remove these from your list. Also, not all hibiscus are toxic, but the rose of sharon variety is. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for this added information, Cindra. They have been noted in the post 🙂

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