Petscaping Serves As New Opportunity for Landscape Designers


While a third of homeowners will make updates to their yards to accommodate their kids and grandkids, pets are now getting even more attention. Knowing that more than two-fifths of homeowners will make pet-related upgrades to their outdoor spaces, there’s no denying that dogscaping is a new trend in landscape design requiring designers to plan their clients’ backyards based on their dog’s habits.

“The best way to go about setting up a pet-friendly landscaping plan with your customer is to first lay down the fundamentals, get paid for that on first installment and, later, add the gravy, which would be plant material, special hardscapes such as boulders and other decor,” says Elizabeth Bublitz, Paw Friendly Landscaping, Denver. The cost for her services ranges from $1,000 for smaller projects to more than $50,000 for high-end landscape makeovers.

Whenever pet-friendly landscaping advice comes from Bublitz, landscapers should cock their heads and stand at attention. For years, Bublitz was the leading landscape voice for pet-friendly landscaping, not only through her company, Paw Friendly Landscaping, but also through the writing of a leading book on the subject, teaching seminars at community colleges and professionals conferences, penning regular columns for national publications and appearing frequently on regional news programs on behalf of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. She also partnered with several veterinarians who referred business to her whenever they identified their own four-legged patients and their owners in need of her services.

Bublitz began working in landscaping in the early ’90s, starting her own landscaping business in 1998. First, it was focused on child-friendly landscaping. Then as she found animals became more important than kids, she shifted to pet-friendly landscaping. In 2013, she took a diversion by securing a criminology degree and now works primarily in cybersecurity. Her heart, however, remains with helping pet owners with their landscapes. She still consults on pet-friendly landscapes.

Over the years, several landscapers have joined Paw Friendly in this specialized niche, including Lazar Landscape Design and Construction in Oakland, California; Landscape Design in a Day in Portland, Oregon; and Sublime Garden Design in Snohomish, Washington.

When it comes to the top considerations for designing pet-friendly landscapes for clients, Bublitz identifies the following: placing paths, structures and barriers for animals’ running, patrolling and observing habits; providing the right items and places for nature’s call to be answered; adding proper shading and sheltering; using safe and practical hardscape, mulch and planting materials; and including high-functioning, low-maintenance lawns.

Sniffing out your client with a pet-friendly presentation

Bublitz only sees the upsides of presenting her landscaping business as pet-friendly. “It sets you apart,” she says. “You can work with so many good-hearted people because so many either own rescue dogs or are crazy about their pedigreed pooches. They are fun, happy people who have their priorities straight. They look at their yards as also belonging to their dogs and are open to solutions that involve compromise. Another great thing about landscaping for dogs is that your designs will be more organic and natural in shape as opposed to the typical symmetric and geometric style.”

When Bublitz meets with clients, she focuses on the dog’s habits first. “They’re all habitual, so you can identify solutions to such things as their eliminations (aka, urinating and defecating) and habitual movements. Some are escape artists. Others are diggers. Some are active, constantly running around and chasing squirrels. There’s design variations to accommodate all types.”

Pam Cosce, owner and design director, Lazar Landscape Design and Construction, emphasizes that when designing a pet-friendly yard you need to know as much about your client’s dogs as your clients themselves. “The first thing I say to a client who asks me to design a dog-friendly yard is: ‘Tell me about your dog and how will he use the garden?’ If clients truly want their furry family members to be part of the family landscape, then my next question is: ‘Can you live with imperfection?’ Even the mellowest canine will invariably cause damage to a garden either with elimination, a fondness for laying on clients’ favorite bedding plants or some other undiscovered behavior. If you can’t live with imperfection and you have the space, then just designing a comfortable dog run for Fido might be the best bet.”

Carol Lindsay, owner and landscape designer of Landscape Design in a Day, believes any dog-friendly landscape designer needs to convey that they are well-rounded. “You want to go in as a landscaper who sees the whole picture, and dog-friendly just happens to be an integral part of it certainly,” she says. “You also have to let customers know that they will have to compromise. You want to present cold, hard facts about what it takes to accommodate their dogs.”

When going in for a first meeting with clients to check out their landscapes, Bublitz requests they not clean or pick up anything from their yard so she can study the pet’s elimination behaviors before designing any new landscapes. “Instead of removing the urination area, you need to accentuate it,” she says. “If the dog lifts his leg on a shrub killing it, as a designer I would opt to leave it there but place a really beautiful statuary bird bath or boulder next to it.” When the dog identifies a favorite spot to eliminate waste, Bublitz will tear out the sod there and replace it with safe, decorative rock and possibly a major hardscape accent feature.

Headquartered in Denver, Bublitz advocates for Dog Tuff Turf, a specially developed variety of a drought- and dog-spot-resistant African grass developed by a collaboration between Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens.

Lindsay says that in some lawn areas where dogs eliminate, clients must know that grass just will not grow. “In cases like this, I tell my clients to get real and accommodate synthetic. There’s a manufacturer of synthetic lawn in Portland called Syn. You can easily wash it down if it gets soiled.”

dog by inground pool

Moving & munching design considerations for mutts

Bublitz observes that when dogs run around yards, they typically like to do figure eights. “To accommodate this habit, designers should design paths with this pattern in mind,” she says. The great thing about this is that you have a built-in interesting design feature that is also practical.”

According to Heidi Skievaski, owner and landscape designer of Sublime Garden Design, a pebbled walkway may look great, but with those rounded edges, pebbles will fly into garden beds as dogs race down the paths. “I opt for crushed gravel, concrete, pavers or brick instead,” she says. “I also don’t choose materials that will get too hot and potentially burn the pads of dog’s feet. Lighter surfaces are better than dark surfaces for this.”

Bublitz places stepping stones in gardens to keep pets off plants. “I use large cobblestones versus pea gravel that has shards that could injure dogs’ paws,” she says. “And dogs love wood, so they like to play with sticks and bark, and sometimes will even eat it. So, I shy away from wood mulch altogether.”

“For all dogs, never use cocoa mulch even though it’s in high demand as it has proven fatally toxic to some dogs,” adds Cosce. “When identifying plant materials, try to plant larger-sized container plants in masses, ensuring they are sturdy.” Cosce selects ornamental grasses and phormiums especially along borders for her pet-friendly landscapes.

Skievaski tells her clients that instead of trying to stop their dogs from chewing plants, it’s critical that the pet-friendly landscapes she designs should not only protects plants but also be toxin-free if consumed. There are many plants, some so popular and unexpected, that can be harmful to dogs if ingested, she says, including azaleas, foxgloves, hemlocks, poinsettias, yews, lilies, mums and daffodils.

A healthy & happy outlook on fencing and fountains

When it comes to fencing, which nearly all pet-friendly designers agree is one of the single most critical elements in design, Bublitz advocates for roll-top edging for those dogs who jump over fences. While a roller is great for the top of a fence, she uses chicken wire at the base. “Particularly when installing new plants or fences, I place chicken wire a few inches under the surface of the ground, so Buster can’t dig very far,” she says. “When the chicken wire texture hits his paws, it discourages him from digging.”

Skievaski adds Pet Peek to her fences. “For privacy fences, these smart, sci-fi-looking, plastic bubble windows allow Fido to watch the world go by and satisfies his curiosity about what is on the other side,” she says.

Lindsay finds that some dogs like to be up high to see who is coming or going. “We added a couple of boulders to a pet-friendly landscape complete with plantings to creep between the boulders to add beauty,” she says. “The dog used the boulders to clamber up and down on his very large doghouse roof that he often jumped on. The connected boulders provided a gradual climb up and down for the dog, knowing it’s not only dangerous, but unhealthy for dogs’ joints to repeatedly be subjected to the ups and downs of jumping from a high place.”

Cosce often installs extra drainage to her pet-friendly landscapes and considers odor-reducer add-ons. “If you have a male dog fond of marking, I consider a marking post,” she says. “When I add a marking post, I advocate for placing a water source close by to keep smells from building up. It also helps if you have good drainage underneath.”

Keeping pooches cool in summer is also a key design element for most climates. “I provide shade through strategically planted trees and shrubs or use shade cloth that stretches over a designated area if plant material just won’t work,” says Skievaski. She also likes to add water features to pet-friendly landscapes. “A fountain for drinking or a stream for wading is ideal. If you decide to add a pond or pool to your designs, make sure it’s shallow enough for the dog, especially a small dog, to readily get out of it.”

Share photos of your pets on the job and invite you clients to share some, too using #petslovelawns!