Most dogs love the outdoors. Though a balance between outdoor adventures and indoor cuddles is desirable, dogs are animals who naturally thrive when in their natural habitat of the great outdoors. Whether it’s for exercise, playtime or just pacing the perimeter of their territory, dogs love having a safe space where they can roam outdoors that doesn’t venture too far from home.
My dog Arya had her third birthday August 31st, and to celebrate we took her to the beach for the very first time. Whilst she wasn’t keen on getting wet, she very much enjoyed playing an odd game of chase with the sea, and observing how happy and carefree she looked as she ran across the sand was heart-warming. She seemed free and uninhibited; we definitely made the right choice for her birthday.
Arya’s first trip to the beach was a success.
Arya exemplifies why dogs need a garden. She won’t play in the house, preferring snuggles on the sofa to a game of fetch or tug of war. However, as soon as we go outside into the backyard she becomes an almost different dog who likes to chase the ball (a lot) as well as loudly let passers by know of her presence. Dogs need gardens for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s for their physical health or mental stimulation, having that extra outdoor space for them to roam at their leisure makes all the difference with their happiness and behaviour.
Ideally dogs should be walked regularly in order to ensure they are fit and healthy and to prevent boredom, but having a sizable garden is a good alternative for days when owners may be a little too busy to take their dog for that second walk of the day. Especially if your dog is a smaller breed, gardens are a great place for them to run around and be healthy and happy.
Being cooped up indoors all day is not ideal, particularly for larger dogs such as Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds. The advantages of having a well-exercised dog include:
- A fit and healthy canine at the peak level of physicality
- Tiring your dog out enough to train them – a dog too full of energy will struggle to listen to commands as they are easily distracted
- Emotional well-being – just being outside in the sunlight stimulates serotonin and dopamine in humans and dogs
Gardens provide vital opportunities for dogs to exercise.
Like Arya, many dogs prefer to play outside where they have more room to run and move freely. Having a garden makes games of fetch more fun and easier. No more accidentally breaking pieces of furniture during cheeky games of fetch in the house!
There are also a number of different games to play with your dog outside that will not only be a fun exercise for them, but also a wonderful bonding session for dog and owner. Fetch is a classic choice as it is an activity that also teaches your dog recall and to let go of things when told. Frisbees also make excellent toys for dogs and make more of a challenge for them to catch. Blowing pet-friendly bubbles and games of hide-and-seek also make great additions to play time. During hotter weather it is also a good idea to incorporate water games such as paddling pools and playing with a slow-streaming hose pipe.
It isn’t fun for humans to remain indoors for too long without any positive social interaction with other people and the outdoors, and it isn’t fun for dogs either. In order to remain well-trained and socialised, a dog’s mental welfare must always be taken into consideration. Having access to a garden means your dogs will have more scents and sounds to decipher. Exposing them to the outdoor world regularly helps combat anxiety and will, in turn, lead to a happier and better trained dog.
A good idea for combining exercise and mental stimulation would be to build or purchase a makeshift obstacle course in your garden. Training your dog this way will keep them active and using their brain, as well as increasing the bond between the two of you and working towards your dog’s overall obedience training and agility.
Like most dogs, Arya loves being outdoors.
Physical Well-Being and Self-Medication
Caroline Ingraham, founder of Zoopharmacognosy, has introduced the theory that animals – being far more intune with nature and their needs – are able to self-medicate using plants and herbs. This idea proposes that animals, including domesticated pets such as dogs and cats, can correctly identify medicinal plants and recognise their helpful properties. Through this intuition, they can also correctly quantify their own dosage.
Ingraham’s Zoopharmacognosy involves offering plants extracts to captive and domesticated animals that they would have found in their natural habitat. For example, planting lavender in your garden may be a great way for an anxious dog to self-medicate using only natural products due to lavender’s calming effect. Zoopharmacognosy remains challenged, but it may be a viable option for some dog owners and another beneficiary factor of having a garden.
Safety – Gardens Are Safer Than Balconies!
There is nothing to suggest that dogs cannot live happily and healthily in flats and apartments. Dog owners – myself included – make the most of what space they have to ensure their dog has enough room… and a suitable place to use the toilet. However, there is an underlying sense of fear and anxiety for a lot of owners who allow their dogs access to balconies as their gateway to the outdoor world. What if they fall, or jump? As dogs can pick up on their owners’ anxieties, it is always better to be safe than sorry and take as many extra precautions as necessary.
Enclosed gardens with high walls and sturdy gates are a much safer alternative for dogs and their owners. You can leave your dog outside relatively unattended, depending on the security of the garden, without having to worry. In turn, your dog will be happier for the space and trust.
Gardens can be safer and provide more room for your dogs.
It is important for your dog to have a safe space, especially if they are a rescue or of general nervous disposition. A safe space for your dog entails somewhere that is reserved for them where they can go for comfort and reassurance whenever they feel particularly nervous or stressed. Gardens make great safe spaces for dogs, who will often build a den or nest of sorts somewhere to claim a piece of it as their own.
Arya was born in the garden, as her mother opted to give birth outdoors in a nest of her own making early in the morning. As such, gardens make great options for pregnant dogs as they offer space and security. Advantages of your dog having a safe space include:
- More trust built between the dog and their owner
- Dogs feel less vulnerable and will thus be less inclined to fear-provoked aggression or accidents
- A more relaxed and comfortable dog is a happier dog!
It goes without saying that your dog having access to a garden makes bathroom habits a lot easier. Relying on the small space of a balcony or coinciding designated toilet breaks with walk time can become a tiring chore, as well as restricting your dog’s general access to the bathroom.
Training your dog to let you know when they need to use the toilet by either pawing at the door or letting you know vocally can be an additional great way to train them whilst also keeping bathroom time easy and practical. With more space to go and a definite feeling of security stemming from it being their territory, your dog’s toilet habits will be taken care of a lot easier.
Gardens make bathroom breaks much easier.
Dogs are territorial animals. Descended from wolves, who live together in hierarchical packs who contest other packs for dominance of land, the domesticated canines we share our homes with have yet to shake this innate instinct. A territorial dog will:
- Mark their territory by urinating frequently in small amounts
- Growl and snap at intruders
- Bark and bite at persistent intruders
In the same vein as the garden being their safe space, dogs will also recognise their garden as an extension of their home and, as such, their territory. This can be great for owners who want their dogs to guard the property. A barking dog on its own can act as a deterrent to potential intruders – though this is definitely not always the case. It may also help with your dog’s confidence if they are particularly nervous to have a larger space they can recognise as theirs.
Playtime can be extra fun in the garden.
However, there are still important factors to consider when allowing your dog access to the garden…
Dogs thrive well when living in homes with gardens, though there are also a number of additional factors to take into consideration when allowing your four-legged family member access to the outside world at their leisure. Like children, dogs still require supervision.
Many dogs love to dig. Arya loves to dig. The evidence of her digging days are still very much on display in the back garden of my parents’ house, as the grass never quite recovered from such a brutal assault from excited paws. Not to mention the noises coming from the next door neighbour’s dog would often spur her on, leading to further landscape damage to the beloved family garden.
There are a number of measures owners can take to prevent dogs from digging in the garden without restricting their outdoor access. These include:
- Spend more time playing with and exercising your dog to ensure they are not bored
- Give them toys and chews to distract them
- Ensure there are no rodents in the garden – the scent of them may antagonise your pooch!
- If they persist, try implementing digging deterrents to stop them
Digging deterrents come in a variety of shapes and sizes that are effective in urging your dog to keep their paws away from your poor garden.
Rocks – partially bury flat rocks in the ground where your dog likes to dig. These may encourage them to leave the earth alone without harming them in any way.
Sprinklers – motion detector sprinkles are another great way of keeping your garden safe from digging dogs.
Scents – vinegar, citrus and cayenne are all good deterrent scents that will put your dog off from destroying the garden with their devious digging ways.
Plastic netting – as with rocks, partially burying material such as chicken wire or netting can be a good way to stop dogs from digging. Take care not to use metal netting or any other material that could hurt your dog’s paws.
Plants – thorny bushes planted as a border may also be a good deterrent for your dog.
Unfortunately for owners, lots of dogs like to dig.
Though it is true that dogs can adapt to the elements better than humans, that does not mean they are invincible. Dogs get cold the same way humans do and should never be left alone for extended periods of time outside during extreme temperatures.
Dogs are especially prone to heatstroke as they cannot regulate their body temperature as well as we can. Though they do sweat minimally through their paws, dogs mainly cool themselves down by panting as they cannot sweat in the same way humans do. When panting no longer does the trick, dogs are at dire risk of overheating which can be fatal if untreated.
Signs of heatstroke include:
- Excessive panting
- Red tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Lack of energy
- Uncoordinated movements
- Excessive drooling/salivating
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
This can be avoided by ensuring your garden has plenty of shady spots so as your dog does not spend too much time in direct sunlight. Ensure they have plenty of water available as well as laying down some damp towels for them to sit on, as well as ensuring they don’t spend too much time outdoors in the extreme heat or cold.
Be cautious when dogs are in the garden on hot days.
Dogs are pack animals who have been domesticated by humans. Having been integrated into our society, they thrive on our love and attention. This means that although they love the outdoors for its sense of freedom and calling of their natural habitat, they shouldn’t be kept outside indefinitely and segregated from the rest of the family.
Keeping your dog outside permanently and away from the family is a punishment to them. It tells them that they have done something wrong and, because of that, must be kept away from the rest of the family. A dog cannot understand or comprehend their owner’s reasoning. Depriving them of human contact can lead to them becoming unsocialised, aggressive and in extreme cases feral.
Dogs are social animals. They enjoy doing everything as a group and will show their family unconditional love, as any dog owner can testify.
How To Dog-Proof Your Garden
There are a number of factors to take into consideration when allowing your dog to roam in the garden.
- Make sure your garden has appropriate fencing. Large dogs especially can jump higher than you may think and small dogs can dig and wiggle under loose fencing.
- Fence off any sections of the garden you don’t want your dog fouling.
- Remove any ladders and cover any swimming pools or ponds efficiently.
- Remove any plants that could be toxic to dogs such as lilies, yew and azalea.
- Ensure any garden products you use henceforth are dog-friendly – no slug pellets!
- Make sure your dog does not ingest slugs either as this can lead to lungworm.
Gardens make for happy dogs.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.