Designing a safe and welcoming dog yard

2012-07-08T00:00:00Z Designing a safe and welcoming dog yardGabrielle Fimbres Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

With 78 million pet dogs in the United States, chances are there is at least one adorable pup in your backyard right now.

We turned to a couple of local experts for their top tips on creating a dog-friendly backyard in the Sonoran Desert.

Teresa Truelsen, marketing manager at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, and Jason Isenberg, owner and principal designer at Realm Environments, share their ideas on creating a patch of paradise for your four-legged friend.

Have a plan

When creating an outdoor extension of your home, have a plan. Whether you are starting from scratch or making changes to an existing yard, set your priorities and envision what you would like for you and your pets. It doesn't have to be elaborate. "It can even be sketched out on the back of a napkin," said Isenberg, who creates outdoor dog environments through a subdivision of his business called Petscapes.

"We're not suggesting it's necessary to build Disneyland for your dogs, but the idea is to create an appealing place for you and your pet," said Isenberg, whose canine companions are rescues Zora, 13, and Buddy, 4.

Keep it safe

Keep your dogs' safety in mind when selecting and caring for flora.

Isenberg said his company uses only certified organic pesticides and herbicides. "It's important to eliminate toxicity," he said. "That doesn't mean you have to have a yard full of weeds. We use only certified organic products. We want to make sure your dog isn't rolling around on chemical fertilizers."

Some plants can be hazardous to your dog's health. Avoid pyracantha, oleander, some lantana, eucalyptus and sago palms, among others, and be cautious with placement of cactus and rosebushes.

Even something as seemingly benign as mesquite bean pods can cause tummy troubles.

"Dogs find them very tasty, and they will eat and eat and eat, and they won't stop," Truelsen said.

Make sure water features are not serving as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can carry heartworm. Dump standing water - such as a kiddie pool - daily.

Keep you dog water-safe, as well. "Dogs need to be treated just like kids when it comes to a pool," Truelsen said. "If they like to swim, make sure you are there watching."

Otherwise, make sure they have no access to the pool. They might not be able to get out and can drown. Consider taking your dog to swim lessons. Make sure to rinse your dog off with fresh water after a swim to remove chlorine, which can irritate skin and eyes.

Remove woodpiles and shrubbery that can serve as breeding grounds for black widow spiders and scorpions. Beware of coyotes that can jump fences and predators from the sky, which can be fatal to smaller dogs. Consider rattlesnake- and Colorado-River-toad-avoidance training.

Lastly, make sure your pet cannot get out of your yard. "We always want to look at how to escape-proof your yard using vegetation or barriers," Isenberg said.

Keep it smelling sweet

Isenberg suggests a leach-style pet waste composter that breaks the waste down and allows it to filter through the soil. The composter called Doggie Dooley can cost $200 to $400 to install.

Go on poop patrol daily, Truelsen said. It will keep your backyard smelling pleasant and your neighbors happy.

Bring on the fun

Making the yard fun for your dogs will keep them entertained. For diggers, Isenberg suggests a dog dig pit, placed in a shady section of yard and filled with soft sand.

"Most dogs aren't digging because they have a behavior problem. Most are digging to get down to cool earth," he said.

Older dogs, like his Zora, use the pit to lie in and keep cool.

Truelsen suggested making doggie popsicles by filling a child's small sand pail with chicken or beef broth and hiding treats or toys inside. Freeze it and give it to you dog on a hot day.

Her best advice?

"Go out and play with your dog. Dogs are social animals. They like to be with people. You are their favorite toy so spend time with them."

Keep it cool

With searing summer heat and potentially terrifying thunderstorms, make sure your dog has access to the indoors, said Truelsen, whose four-legged family includes Felicia, 15, and Princess Mathilda Pepperdoodle Von YumYum , better known as Tillie, 2.

Water features and well-placed shade are important for dogs in the desert. Water features such as fountains can be visually appealing and cooling for pups and humans alike.

One of Isenberg's top suggestions is installing a self-filling water dish set on a timer. "You can be at work and you know at exactly 3 p.m., your dog's water dish is being filled up," he said. A self-filling water dish on a timer costs $200 to $400, and prices on fountains and other dog-friendly water features vary.

Make sure any water dish cannot be tipped over.

Keep it comfortable

Nothing brings more joy to a dog than a roll in the grass. But does it need to be the real deal?

"I don't think so," Isenberg said. While some owners prefer a patch of real grass, canine-specific synthetic lawn is growing in popularity.

"There are great-looking synthetic lawns and dogs seem to like it more," he said. "It offers more of a back scratch." Plus there is no watering or mowing involved.

When using synthetic grass, make sure it is shaded, Isenberg said.

Consider using decking material that holds less heat for tender paws, like cantera stone.

All gravel is not considered equal. While it is good in keeping down the dust, look for small, rounded stones. "The smaller the stone, the better," Isenberg said. "Large stones are difficult to walk on, and it's harder to clean up pet waste."

Dog owner Michael Allen recently tried out a product called PolyPavement to keep the dust down in his yard. "We have a huge yard, and the dogs were kicking up lots of dust," he said.

The product is mixed with water and sprayed on dirt, creating a hard surface. The product's website says it is safe for animals and costs 30 cents per square foot or less.

"It has made a big difference," Allen said.

New generation dog run

The traditional dog run of the 1960s and '70s was a concrete jungle surrounded by chain-link fence. If you need a place to keep your dog separate, create an area that might include a dog dig pit, synthetic lawns, a water feature and possibly a doggy obstacle course, all with plenty of shade, Isenberg said. "It's almost like a spa day for your dog."

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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