As much as they seem to pair naturally, kids and dogs do sometimes need separate play spaces. Though your dog may love running around with rambunctious kids at play, it's ideal to provide him with a space that allows him to take a break from all the rough and tumble fun if he needs a rest. A separate dog area would also be handy should you host guests who may be allergic or fearful of dogs. Dividing your yard into outdoor areas that give all your family members (even your furry ones) the opportunity to enjoy their favorite activities helps keep everyone happy and healthy.
Location, Location, Location
The most important consideration for separating dog and play areas is creating convenient access to each. You don't want to go through the dog area to get to the kids or vice versa, so consider placing Rover's special area in a corner or to one side of a back door where you can enter it through a gate from the people part of the yard. Planning his area to partially abut the house gives you a place for a through-the-wall-style doggy door, and allows him direct access to his yard when he chooses. If you have a narrow side yard, incorporate it into his area as an additional long run for more active exercise. A run going the full length of the house lets him watch the goings-on in the front yard, and a gate on that end lets you take him for a walk without traipsing through the house.
All the Amenities
Your dog needs pretty much everything you do -- shelter from the elements, a clean, comfortable place to sleep, sanitary dining and bathroom areas and places for exercise and relaxation. Make sure you give him enough room so that these essential areas are distinct and large enough to be useable for their purpose. For example, keep food and water well away from his potty area to avoid contamination. Water should always be fresh, plentiful and clean. If your dog loves water, consider adding a recirculating pool or fountain in addition to his water bowl so that he can splash and play to keep cool. A nearby raised deck offers a convenient place to dry off before coming back inside.
Fences and Other Separators
Think of the yard as an outdoor version of an open floor plan and separate it into use areas by creating real barriers that do not disturb the visual flow between spaces. Just as a work island or bar separates the kitchen from a dining or living area, raised flower beds or hedges can divide play areas from the dog run while retaining a feeling of openness. If your dog jumps or digs his way to the other side, hide a wire fence behind shrubbery or tall clumps of ornamental grasses, or disguise an ugly fence with vines. A low picket fence atop a raised perennial bed adds needed height and security when placed all the way to the back on Rover's side, while looking charming on your side.
A vine-covered trellis or arbor over almost any gate adds sensory appeal and softens the utilitarian look of the usual kennel gate, but coupled with a rustic wooden fence it enhances your yard. Similarly, a flagstone path, with a cool, green ground cover between the stones, winding between play and dog areas, looks more inviting than a cement sidewalk or a tell-tale dirt track in the lawn.
When using plants to make barriers between dog areas and those of your children, always check your choices against the list of toxic and non-toxic plants provided by the ASPCA to ensure they are pet-safe. The Food and Drug Administration maintains a database of poisonous plants as well -- this is especially important to check if you have little ones who like to explore the world through their mouths.
By Deborah Stephenson
United States Department of Health and Human Services: FDA Poisonous Plants Database
Sunset: How to Create a Dog-Friendly Garden
Paw Rescue: Backyard Dog, Outdoor Dog: Facts, Guidance, Solutions
I LoveDogs: Dogscaping Your Back Yard is Easier Than You Think
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants
About the Author
Deborah Stephenson is a homesteader, lifelong organic gardener, former zookeeper, naturalist, artist and anthropologist who brings an eclectic range of experience to her writings. When not writing she can usually be found puttering in her extensive gardens or exploring the national forest next door with her dogs.