Dog care

How to make your garden dog friendly

Ben the Terrier Cross from Dogs Trust West London trying out the tunnels at Dogs Trust's Gold medal winning garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2016. Credit Jeff Moore

The weather is warming up and spring flowers are blooming. Now’s a good time to ensure your garden is safe as well as beautiful for you and your furry friend.

Dog-friendly plants

Many herbs are good choices for a dog-friendly garden. You can grow them in containers as well as in beds, so they are great for smaller spaces as well as larger gardens. As for flowers, options include calendula, cornflower, and sunflower. If you have other pets, such as cats, it’s worth checking that your plants are also safe for them, as this can differ.

  • Lavender - This fragrant, purple-flowered evergreen is soothing for pooches and their people. 

  • Rosemary - A blue-flowered shrub with a distinctive smell. You can cook with it too.

  • Sage - Another scented herb for your dog to sniff. Flowers range from blue to magenta depending on the variety. 

  • Calendula - A cottage garden plant with yellow or orange flowers, calendula will brighten your borders without harming your furry friend.

  • Cornflower - Featuring vibrant blue blooms, this plant will add a pop of colour to containers and beds. 

  • Sunflower - These joyful giants are fun to grow, producing fiery, towering flowers. 

Plants that are toxic for dogs

Some plants often found in our gardens are toxic to dogs. It's best to avoid planting them or find a method to keep your dog away, such as putting in a secure, separating fence that your dog can’t get over or under.

These include:

  • chrysanthemums
  • daffodil bulbs
  • foxgloves
  • hydrangea
  • larkspur
  • tomato plants (green fruit, stems and leaves)
  • wisteria
  • yew. 

Find a fuller list of toxic plants and substances.

Some of these plants are so toxic that they could be fatal if your dog eats them. Symptoms vary, but can include vomiting, lethargy, hyperactivity and breathing difficulties. Be sure to store seeds, bulbs and plants (that are yet to be planted out) away from your dog’s reach.

Substances that are toxic for dogs

Substances we may use in our gardens and outdoor spaces can be toxic, and even fatal, for our dogs. You can find a full list on our toxic plants and substances page. If you can, avoid using these, or keep them locked up away from your pooch’s searching snout. Consider making a switch to organic gardening if you haven’t already done so.

What to do if you think your dog has eaten a toxic plant or substance

If you think your dog has eaten a toxic plant or substance, contact your vet straight away, as symptoms may not always be immediately obvious. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritations, depending on the plant or substance and how much your dog has eaten.

Your dog may also have an allergy or sensitivity to a plant or substance not listed on our webpage. It’s a good idea to check your dog’s coat, skin and ears regularly to look for redness and irritation. This can help you tell if they’re sensitive or allergic to any other plants or substances. It’s important to speak to your vet if you’re concerned.

Making your garden fun for your furry friend

Ryvah in the plants at ballymena As well as keeping your garden safe for your dog, there are things you can do to make it more fun for them. Offering them several activities in the garden encourages natural canine behaviours such as sniffing, foraging and exploring. It’s an easy way to enrich their life and improve their welfare. 

Dogs who can get overexcited may also feel calmer when they have access to garden activities. And for urban pooches whose walks are usually along city streets, this might be their only opportunity to experience plants and other natural elements.

Here are some ideas:

  • Plant a variety of herbs at different heights and positions for your dog to find and sniff.

  • Build features at different heights for your pooch to climb on. Dogs enjoy exploring objects at various levels, so this will add to their enjoyment of the garden. You could use railway sleepers, steps or small benches.

  • Create a mix of textures for extra sensory stimulation. Hide dog toys and treats in non-toxic sand, grass or wood chips for your furry friend to find.

  • Shallow water features, such as a paddling pool, are a fun cooling-off spot for scorching summer days, although not all dogs like water. Make sure you’re there to supervise. Ensure your dog can leave the pool easily, does not become overtired, and isn’t biting any parts of the pool or equipment. Drain the pool when it’s not in use.

  • Designate a quiet spot with shade, shelter and fresh drinking water for your pal to relax in. This will also keep them protected from the sun on especially hot days.

  • Exercise, train and play with your dog in the garden, when it’s not too hot.

Letting your dog dig – in a garden-friendly way

Digging is normal dog behaviour, but you won’t want your pet to dig up your carefully-planted shrubs.

Dogs dig for all kinds of reasons. They might be looking for the source of an enticing smell or spreading scent from the sweat glands in their paws. They could be roughing up the ground to prepare a cool and comfy resting spot or burying something they want to keep safe for later.

Digging is natural behaviour for dogs and something they can’t help wanting to do. Stopping them from digging altogether might frustrate or upset them. But you can help your dog dig in a way that’s still fun for them and protects your flowerbeds too.

How to make a digging pit

  • Choose an area of your garden that you're happy for your dog to dig in

  • Find a sturdy container (like a cat litter tray or a heavy-duty plastic box)

  • Dig a hole deep enough so the top of the container is flush with ground level

  • Fill the container with the earth you’ve dug out from the hole. Or you can use dog-friendly sand.

Time to get digging

Teach your dog to dig in this area by scattering or burying treats for them to find. You could also half-bury some of their outdoor toys for them to dig out.

If you start scrabbling in the dig box, you might find your dog comes to find out what you're doing and copies you. The more rewarding it is for your dog to dig in this area, the more they’ll return to it. 

If they begin to dig anywhere else in the garden, just walk over to the dig pit and start hiding their rewards in it so they come over to see what you’re doing. They'll learn they reap their reward by coming away from wherever they were about to dig.

Don’t have a garden or any earthy areas to make a digging pit? You can make an indoor or patio digging box using a cardboard box filled with shredded newspaper. Hide your dog’s toys and treats for them to dig out – they’ll love it.

Keeping safe in summer weather

When it's hot outside, make sure your dog always has access to water and shade. Our warm weather advice has top tips and emergency advice for summer days.

Quick garden safety tips

  • Always supervise your dog in the garden

  • Check your fences are secure and free of broken panels and gaps your pooch could wriggle though

  • Make sure your dog's flea, tick and worming treatments and their vaccinations are up to date

  • Look at your plants to make sure you don't have anything toxic for dogs. Don’t leave plant clippings or uprooted plants within their reach

  • Avoid using mulches made of cocoa. These are toxic for dogs, and they can be attracted by the smell

  • Consider the wildlife in your garden: if you have feeders for birds or other animals, your dog may get overexcited and chase them. Consider fencing off the area that has the feeders in to protect the wildlife

  • Don’t leave dangerous substances within reach of your dogs. Consider ditching chemicals and going organic

  • Keep sharp and other dangerous tools locked up – don’t leave them lying around

  • Ensure your furry friend can keep cool and hydrated in hot weather.

Get outdoors together

Gardens are lovely places for humans, but don't forget about your faithful friends. Make your green space a pooch-pleasing place with safe plants and fun things to do. Then you and your dog can enjoy the outdoors together for months to come.