Before you settle into your lawn chair, here are some professional-approved backyard protection pointers to keep everyone, and everything, happy and healthy.
Give them shade. Many dogs like sunbathing just as much as we do, but they aren’t equipped to handle it in the same way. Overheating is a real and potentially deadly risk for dogs (one reason so many states have adopted hot car laws in recent years). Keeping them indoors on hot days and making sure there’s a cool, shady spot with plenty of water in the yard on the days when they do play outside is vital.
Experts suggest creating a wood chip or gravel barrier separating patios and lawns and any wooded areas, keeping grass short and storing soft outdoor furniture cushionswhere it’s harder for the pests to hide in them.
See 5 tick safeguards for your yard
Beware of pesticides and poisons. Veterinarian Tina Wismer, medical director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center and a master gardener with the American Horticultural Society, says homeowners with pets should be particularly wary of insecticidal lawn treatments and herbicides, which have been linked to higher bladder cancer rates in dogs.
“Insecticidal treatments can work for both ticks and fleas, but make sure to follow the label directions,” Wismer says. “There will be instructions for how long to keep your pet off the treated areas.”
Natural insect-repelling alternatives, like cedar chips and some garden plants like pet-safe lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), shown here, or even catnip (Nepeta cataria), might deter dangerous bugs as well.
Keeping outdoor grills clean and storing dog food inside also gives intruders less reason to be sniffing around. If you live in a snake-prone region, areas where rodents might congregate also are areas the reptiles can rely on for a meal. Keep tall grasses trimmed and wood piles closer to the house.
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Lose the mushrooms.“Mushrooms are a big deal and you need to keep an eye out,” says Portland, Oregon-based landscape designer Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day. “They might be fine and they really might not be.”
Lindsay, who has designed many dog-friendly landscapes over the years, recommends removing and disposing of any mushrooms in the yard as soon as you spot them; use an inside-out baggie, as you would with dog waste. Though some mushrooms are technically safe, Lindsay and Wismer say it’s not worth the risk to have either variety sprouting up like the shiitake on the log shown here. “It can be difficult to tell the toxic from the nontoxic, so removing them is the best route,” Wismer says.
Minimize the mud. Working in Portland, Lindsay says heavy rainfall means backyard mud is the most common issue pet-owner clients want to address. In some cases, there’s not much to be done, she says. “If your dog is a larger dog or young and loves to pound around the backyard, give it up,” she says. “People don’t give it up. People don’t give it up, they work with these grasses, they fertilize it, they do all this stuff and they’re never, ever going to win.”
Otherwise, Lindsay recommends playground-grade cedar chips, a combination of water-permeable pavers and plants like those shown here, or a synthetic alternative. “Synthetic lawns are so much better than they were,” she says. You can also install a dog-washing station to keep the mud outdoors (or at least down the drain).
“I’m sure he’s going to tear it to smithereens, but we’re going to start him out with that and see if he uses it,” she says. Eventually she says she envisions they’ll use either a large round agricultural watering trough or an octagonal wood structure that comes up 20 to 24 inches “to try to catch some of the sand that he digs out.” Wismer also recommends trying a soft sand play area for digging dogs.
“Several times we have made something where they can either get on a boulder or get up on top of their doghouse so that they can look into the backyard of your neighbors,” Lindsay says. “And you don’t want this really close to the fence because that can be unnerving if there’s this dog looking at you right in your eye while you eat your dinner. It needs to be back a ways, but let them see. Because some dogs will bark less if they can see and some dogs will bark less if they cannot see.”
The same factors can help you decide whether to get a solid fence or one with openings for a pet to peek out, she says.
Once a thick enough carpet of grass has grown in, Lindsay says, your dog should be able to enjoy your yard as much as you do. Though you might want to switch up your go-to fetch trajectory to keep the blades looking their best: “When you throw the ball for the dog, throw it in different areas,” Lindsay says. “It’s so natural for you to go that 45-degree angle because it’s the longest your dog can run, and you’ll just wear a path right into that part of your lawn.”