High-end homeowners often want a landscape that equals their architectural investment. Many are also requesting that their designers pay attention to a specific member of the family when creating outdoor rooms— the family pet or pets. Can you blame a pet owner for wanting to ensure Fido and Fluffy are just as comfy outdoors as the rest of the household?

Add a different dimension to your design practice by incorporating petscaping as one of your services. While no landscape designer or contractor can guarantee that any landscape is 100% invulnerable to a dog or cat’s curiosity or natural instincts to dig and chase, with proper planning, risks can be minimized and amenities enhanced. Here are tips to please pets as well as your clients.

Just make sure you tell your prospective clients that you specialize in creating environments that are ideal for pets and people — it’ll make them feel more comfortable, and might even get them to open up and ask questions about engaging you to build more elaborate amenities for their pets.

Safety First

Before you can begin building out special “pet-centric” areas of the landscape, start by reviewing overall safety considerations when a pet will be playing in and among the landscape you build.

Picking plants for petscaping

While some plants will simply irritate a dog’s or cat’s mouth and throat, others can cause irreparable organ damage, severe vomiting, or even death. (Not to be macabre, but the plant selection is a hugely important part of petscaping.)

And, while some animals never seem to chew on plants, others appear to make it their job. Ask your client about their pets’ chewing habits and plan your planting plan accordingly.

Plants to avoid
The Humane Society has a complete list of plants known to be poisonous to plants, but these are the more common ones to avoid planting where pets will hang out, unsupervised

English Ivy            
Lily of the Valley    
Morning Glory      
Sago Palm

Plants to include
However, many plants including these ornamental grasses, some annuals, select perennials like hibiscus, many ferns, a number of broadleaf evergreens, and shrubs are perfectly safe to plant with pets in mind.

Plants as functional barriers
As important as is plant selection, so is plant placement. Protect flower beds with low hedges. While the hedges are not 100% pet-proof barriers, they will discourage most dogs from digging where they’re not welcome. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to (or even want to) use thorny hedges such as barberries as screening plants because if pets do decide to push their way through, they’ll get scratched.

Reviewing hardscape materials for petscaping

Some hardscaping materials can injure an active pet, while others simply invite a “busy” pet to wreak havoc — here’s a rundown on ideal hardscaping options for pets.

Steel edging can, in theory, cut dog’s tender paws, and the risk is even higher when the steel is cut and left raw during installation. The safest edging choices for pets include wood, poured concrete edging, recycled bender board, trench edging, brick pavers, or a product like Natural Stone Edging.

From dry creek beds to decorative rock top dressings in landscape beds, aggregate is a popular and useful landscape material. However, for the digging dog, small rocks like pea gravel are an invitation for an afternoon of shenanigans. Even decomposed granite, unless it is compacted (think hike-and-bike trail level of hardness), is a bit iffy when there’s a determined animal in the picture. For a better chance of keeping rock in place, opt for a larger aggregate — 1” in diameter or larger like Mexican Pebbles or Stone Cobble, or use a mixed-size aggregate blend to discourage digging.

There may be nothing more irritating — and aggravating — than a dog that digs up and chews irrigation lines and heads. We’re mostly talking about drip systems here, and there are ways to minimize damage or avert it altogether. Set the timer to go off when the dog is inside by consulting with your client — when they know their irrigation system runs at 7:00 every morning, they can plan to keep their pup inside so he won’t be tempted to go after the water source. Make sure all exposed ¼” drip tubing lines are buried — in many cases, if a dog can’t see the lines, she won’t bother them.

Shade dens
Plant shrubs or small weeping trees that can be pruned to allow dogs to nap underneath them. If that’s not feasible, building a dog-sized lean-to (sized appropriately for the owner’s dog) in a shady area will allow them to escape the sun. Use rocks as a surface rather than mulch (which can get suck in their fur). Rocks in a shady space will also remain cooler.

Bells and Whistles

Now that the basics are covered, how about a few extras to really make the yard pet-friendly? There are all sorts of upscale add-ons for clients who really want the landscape to be an accessible, fun, and safe place for their pet. Take a look at well-designed dog parks for inspiration, then scale down to fit the residential space.

Perimeter walk and peepholes

A dog that spends a lot of time outdoors will walk the perimeter every day, Create a gravel walkway out of mixed aggregate that can take the foot traffic so that you don’t have to constantly re-sod.

For a fun addition, incorporate a “window” at dog height into the fence or wall. When building a stone wall you can leave spaces. Fences can be cut out with a “fishbowl” type of plexiglass window installed.

Attractive and functional dog runs

If it’s necessary for a dog to be outside in the landscape unsupervised, a designated dog run may be the way to go. The Humane Society recommends a 3’ wide x 10’ long x 6’ high space for most dogs, with larger dogs requiring an additional foot in width. However, dog runs can be as long as you want them to be, particularly if the dog in question is a “runner.” Dog runs provide safety not only for the landscape but for the dog itself, especially when the owner is not around to keep an eye out.

Tip: Locate the dog run where it will have plenty of shady space for the dog to relax, imperative particularly in the hot summer months.

We also recommend siting the dog run somewhere the dog can see his or her humans when everyone is out in the yard. If they know people are outside and they can’t see them, they are likely to bark and whine. You can do some selective camouflaging with plants along the outside of part of the run.

Automatic waterers
These auto-filling dog bowls are great options for dog runs and patio areas so they never run out of fresh, clean water.

Dog fountains
Want a place where the dog can play in water safely (and possibly distract from playing with the irrigation system)? Consider a dog fountain, which is a step up from the automatic dog waterer. Dog fountains have a number of designs including paw-activated fountains, standard water fountains for both people and pets, and high-ticket water pads for the H20-loving pooches.

Waste receptacles
Sure, the client can bring out a plastic bag, but if they have a large property, several dogs, or forgetful tendencies, a simple dog waste receptacle with bags is a pretty cushy amenity.

Chances are good that, even if you haven’t encountered a homeowner ready to put Fido first, you will soon because this trend is only growing.