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Create a Dog-Friendly Landscape Plan

Dogscaping 101. Here's everything you need to know before you get started planning your yard

From digging to doing his business, your dog’s habits can wreak havoc on your yard. And your need for a weed-free tulip bed could literally make him sick. Forget landscaping—it’s time to dogscape.

Tougher turf Dog urine contains nitrogen, and as with fertilizer, too high a concentration can burn and even kill your lawn. To withstand the onslaught, seed with more-resilient grasses, such as fescue or rye. Better yet, create a mulched pet-relief area bordered by shrubs and marked with a boulder or lawn ornament. Take your dog there to squat, and reward him with treats. Repeat. Old dogs can, in fact, learn, but it may take as long as a few months.

Nontoxic plantings Dogs do not have an innate sense of what’s safe to eat, and many popular flowers and shrubs, including daffodils, ivy, and hydrangeas, are toxic to them. So before planting, go to aspca.org and search “poison” for a list of potentially harmful landscape plants. When picking a mulch, avoid cocoa hulls, which can contain theobromine, the chemical that makes chocolate toxic to dogs. Bark and chip mulches can also obstruct a pooch’s airway.

Ruff-housing In areas where dogs play, choose hardy plants that they can rough up and run through, advises Karin Ursula Edmondson, a landscaper in West Kill, New York. She likes ornamental grasses. “They have a massive root system that even tumbling or digging dogs will have a hard time harming,” she says. For groundcover, try perennials such as ‘Elfin’ thyme, wildflowers, or clovers. Avoid pea gravel, which can get stuck between paw pads. For edging, use smooth, round stones or low-to-the-ground dwarf shrubs. Stay away from metal edging and sharp gravel, which can cut paws.

Dog-safe fertilizers Don’t assume organic formulas are better. They often contain animal products such as bone, blood, or fish meal. Yuck—except that it’s delish to dogs, and can make them sick. When using synthetic fertilizers, water deeply after applying, and keep dogs off lawns or beds for a day or two. Tip: Don’t fertilize front and back yards at the same time, so there’s always a safe patch available. Safer yet, try compost or—seriously—vegan fertilizer.

Chem-free herbicides and pesticides Exposure to traditional pest and weed controls can cause tummy trouble—and over the long term, even cancer. The safest options are natural insecticidal soaps, biological pesticides, and herbicides made from certain essential oils (such as mint or clove, always diluted). Edmondson uses neem oil, an extract from a tropical evergreen tree. Her formula: “Mix a capful with a gallon of water, add a squirt of Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Soap, and you’ll have a terrific application to fight fungal diseases in ornamentals and fruit trees.” And forget about snail and slug baits. Both contain metaldehyde, which can be fatal to dogs. A safer, ASPCA-approved alternative? A bit of beer in a pie plate. Put it out at dusk, and leave it out just overnight.