The same-old, same-old can get boring, even for dogs. But add one or more of these elements and watch your dog have a blast.
dog playing on agility course in his backyard
Credit: Lisjatina / Shutterstock

Dogs and the outdoors are like peanut butter and jelly: They just go together. Most pups simply love getting out and about. But sprucing up your outdoor space with dog-friendly yard ideas makes hanging out in the backyard even better for your furry pal—it provides mental and physical stimulation, something many canines crave. Check out these tips to boost your backyard's dog appeal.

1. Make Sure Your Landscaping Is Dog-Safe

Many things commonly found in yards are toxic to dogs, says veterinarian Tina Wismer, senior director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Insecticides and fertilizers can make pets sick if ingested. Cocoa mulch is also a frequent offender. It has the same compound that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs and its scent attracts them to it, says Wismer. Dogs that eat cocoa mulch can experience rapid heart rate, tremors, and seizures, and it can even be fatal. Compost can also be a problem for dogs because it may contain molds that could cause severe illness. Avoid unsafe substances in areas of the yard that your dog has access to.

2. Get Some Fun Outdoor Toys

Let's be real: You can't play fetch all day. But if you provide yard toys dogs can play alone, your throwing arm can take a well-deserved break. Nicole Ellis, CBDT, and pet lifestyle expert with Rover, recommends tether toys that anchor into the ground and let tug-of-war addicts go at it for as long as they like.

3. Include Water Activities

Providing a variety of elements for your dog to explore is a great way to stimulate your pup's senses. In the summertime, that includes water. "Doggy pools or even just a sprinkler is super fun for a lot of dogs on hotter days," Ellis says. But don't push it if your dog is terrified of water—you want your yard to be a positive place for your pooch.

4. Add a Puppy Playground

Some dogs like to scale those plastic kiddie playgrounds people put in their backyards for children, says Ellis. "I know a lot of dogs that love crawling up the stairs and going down the slides." Check out pet versions or put together an agility course with a few obstacles like doggy hurdles and tunnels for your canine athlete.

5. Consider a Sandpit

Does your dog's digging drive you nuts? Then a sandpit might be exactly what you need. "Digging is a natural, innate desire for some dogs," Ellis says. "So when we give them an area to dig, they can fulfill that need without digging up other parts of the yard or couches, rugs, and carpets."

To encourage your dog to use the sandpit, she recommends demonstrating to your four-legged friend by using your hands to dig in the approved area. Canines usually catch on fast. You can also hide a tennis ball or other outdoor toy in the sand and encourage your pooch to dig for it.

6. Designate Special Areas for Your Dog to Play

Worried that your dog's poop or toys will get in the way of your enjoyment of the outdoors? You have two options: You can create a potty spot and leave the rest of the yard open for play or section off a portion of the yard specifically for your dog and his toys.

"If you don't want your dog peeing on the grass, consistently take your dog to a potty area on the side of your yard to relieve himself when he first goes outside," Ellis says. "Over time, dogs learn that's the spot for going potty, although accidents can still occur during play. But having a designated area that's big enough will cut down on accidents in other parts of your yard."

She cautions against setting up a kennel or a run that's fenced off from the rest of the yard. Oftentimes they get too hot or lead to dog boredom. But if you do go this route, be sure you provide plenty of space and enrichment to create a fun area.

7. Plant Pet-Friendly Greenery

Not only do dogs love sniffing, but it also helps their digestive system and builds up their appetite, says Ellis. So planting dog-safe plants with scents in your garden is a great way to entertain your pooch. Wismer agrees, "By allowing your dog to engage in natural behaviors like smelling and investigating, you provide experiences that are critical to their psychological well-being and happiness. Sniffing and exploring can even help stressed dogs decompress."

Consider planting pet-friendly mint, lavender, rosemary, sage, basil, or oregano. Before you bring home any other greenery make sure it's not a poisonous plant for dogs by checking the ASPCA's Poisonous Plants database.

8. Include Places to Mark

Your dog probably does a lot of sniffing and peeing on walks. It's like the "see and be seen" of the canine world. If your dog doesn't mark that mailbox, was he really there? Add this fun element to your backyard with a statue or a boulder, which will undoubtedly get spritzed, says Ellis.

9. Create a Cooldown Area

Summer sun can be unbearable, especially on AstroTurf and pavement, says Ellis. Make sure to give your pooch a place in the shade to relax, preferably on a cooler surface. You can use a raised cot or a cooling mat to create the ultimate spot to chill.

10. Give Your Dog a View

Yards with physical fences are great for dogs who get over-excited when they see another dog or person. The fence blocks those kinds of triggers. But for pups who aren't reactive, adding a window to your fence can provide endless entertainment. Your dog can peek through a clear bubble window at what's going on in the neighborhood.

Your pup is bound to notice if you implement one or more of these dog-friendly yard ideas. But don't feel like you have to deck the whole space out at once. In fact, Ellis suggests rotating dog-friendly elements like toys, pools, and agility courses to keep your four-legged friend interested in exploring the yard.