The Outdoors: Designing for Your Dog

Words: Megan Rajner


Words: Megan Rajner
Photos: Megan Rajner, contrastaddict

When you take your dog outside of the house, what is it like? Is it to “do their business” and then go back inside? Do they get to adventure outdoors on their own?

Do they ever sit near a window and daze at the falling leaves (or the usual - bark at critters)? Are they protected in an outdoor enclosure with space to run? Is the enclosure a fence, an underground wire, a cable between trees? Maybe there aren’t any trees at all? Is there a dog house outside? Are there toys? Snacks? Water? Shade? 

There is a vast range of elements your pet will be exposed to outside, and often is dictated by nature. This doesn’t mean only the weather! When your pup goes outside, they will most likely be attracted to things that make loud noises, things that smell strong, and things that move quickly. Can we blame them? All of these qualities are super distracting even for humans! But nonetheless, this makes them vulnerable to many things we should be protecting them from as pet owners, to make their playtime as enjoyable – and as safe - as possible.

Limits are so important. “I don’t want my dog to feel confined,” some pet owners will say. Well, we should be taking precautions the same way we would for a baby or small child, in order to keep them safe. Dogs allowed to roam outside without an enclosure have the potential to be harmed in a variety of ways including traffic (noisy), edible toxins (tasty), and diseases from wild animals (moving quickly!). 

While the size of your pup’s outdoor play area may be limited by available yard space, there are still many different types of materials to choose from to create it! If visibility is a key factor, you may choose a metal mesh or chicken wire with stakes as a cheaper option. Or, upgrade to a metal mesh/wood post combination for something with a little more character and sturdiness. 

Keep in mind wood posts should always be set in concrete as deep as at least 1/3 of the post height for optimal strength and longevity of your fence. Board fences, or privacy fences, can be built with different style variations (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) and are great at minimizing the number of distractions your pup might have with a less private metal mesh fence. If your goal is to create a space where you both can enjoy your time outside together with fewer interferences, the next step should be deciding the best pet amenities in your outdoor design.  

Movement. Running is extremely important for your dog to stay healthy and burn energy, but it’s not the only aerobic activity they will enjoy! Think about adding obstacles or “parkour” elements that will allow them to jump and climb in ways that encourage mental stimulation as well as physical. Ways to do this could be placing old tires with stone infill, and make sure to use stones that are large enough to not be ingested, but small enough to not create pockets their legs can get caught in. Alternatives to this could be large tree limbs or wooden ramps. 

Navigation. A thoughtful addition to a dog enclosure is pathways. If your dog has a visual target to follow, that’s another form of mental stimulation (not to say your pup will always follow it!) on its own. If this is a desirable option, consider the material it’s made out of. Pavement typically gets too hot in the sun for the pads on our fur babies’ paws and will burn them if exposed for too long. 

Concrete, brick, and flagstone are all acceptable options that will stay much cooler even in the hot sun. For non-path areas, naturally growing grass may become high maintenance – either weed whacking around your dog’s playtime obstacles each week or letting it start to look a little unkempt is not always ideal. Some individuals may prefer to use a synthetic turf that requires less water usage and has no pesticides or weed killers. 

Do you ever think about what your dog thinks about?

If humans had the science to actually know a dog’s thoughts, the world may be an entirely different place, but while we still have to assume based on actions it’s safe to claim that they’re probably thinking about 1. Food. 2. Water. 3. Temperature. 

It may be the case that your pup is given their kibble meals in the house, so why do we need to think about food outside? Well, because dogs think anything that can fit in their mouth is food. What we consider typical outdoor objects such as pinecones, flowers, and mulch can be harmful either from toxins or simply being composed of indigestible elements. For this reason, it may be worth designing your pet enclosure specifically to restrict your pet’s access to these objects. 

If you’re designing your pets enclosed area with a frequently human-occupied area and flowers must be included, such as a garden or patio, it’s recommended that you consult a combination of landscape architect, the local nursery, and your veterinarian to figure out what plants will not be a threat – and perhaps a rock planting bed can be a non-toxic alternative to mulch. If you must use mulch, try utilizing raised garden beds that are taller than where your dog can reach. Lastly, throw in a couple of your pooch’s favorite toys to play fetch with, and preferably weather resistant ones in case they get forgotten when everyone goes back inside!

Make sure to replenish a water dish for your pet’s hydration during hot seasons. For a more luxurious watering hole, consider incorporating a splash fountain or pond that circulates fresh water at a level that your pup can access. This will not only be an aesthetic upgrade for your yard but provides a soothing sound that may cancel out other audible distractions – adding to a calmer, pet-friendly environment. While your enclosed area should absolutely provide some form of shade to escape the heat, it would be even better if the access to hydration was out of the sun as well. Placing water under large existing trees is one way to plan your designed enclosure from the very beginning. But if that isn’t an option, consider a covered pergola or even a large patio umbrella for protection from the heat. 

An assortment of enclosed outdoor amenities will not only encourage a safer environment for your fur baby – it also gives you the opportunity to interact in a more thoughtful way. You can enjoy your own time you spend outside (because let’s face it – you deserve it!) with a pup that will grow to love you more and more each day – if it’s even possible for them to care for you more than they already do!

Any worthy dog owner wants their pup to have it all, right? We all want to provide that overly hydrated green grass that’s perfectly mowed down to precisely 1 ½” high, the kind of backyard swimming oasis that we see on HGTV’s Ultimate Pools, and of course, some sort of bacon-flavored treat fountain… if that ever becomes a thing. 

This dream of being able to give everything we can to our dogs only makes sense. A dog is the only thing on Earth that will love you more than he loves himself, after all. We all want a way to return the favor, and here’s the key: simply love your pup with everything in you. When you treat your dog with kindness, stick with training, and make them feel safe – that’s when your pup has it all.

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