5 Tips to Make Your Backyard Dog-Safe

pet-proof your yard

You like to think of your home as safe for everyone in it – your pets included. But if you have a backyard, the space that seems perfect for safely letting your dog run around outside can actually be full of risks.

A fence can lull you into a false sense of security, until the moment your pet finds (or creates) an opening big enough to slip through and get out. Around 10 million dogs are lost each year, many of them from escaping their home’s backyard. Once out of the yard, dogs are at risk of getting hit by vehicles or aggressive encounters with other dogs, cats, or area wildlife.

Both dogs and cats also face a serious risk of exposure to plants or other substances toxic to them in the yard. The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control center reports receiving over 167,000 calls a year about pets exposed to toxic substances.

In short, you can’t assume that a backyard – even one with a fence – is necessarily safe for your pet. You need to do some work.

5 Ways to Pet-Proof Your Yard  

1. Check the fence regularly.

If you haven’t in awhile, plan today to walk around the perimeter of your yard and examine the quality of the fence. Look for any openings that your dog may be able to squeeze through or broaden with digging and work to close them up ASAP.

This isn’t a job you do once and you’re done. You should repeat it once every couple of months and after every storm so you spot any new openings before your dog finds them.

That should be enough for most dogs, but if your pupper is a digger, then you have to take additional steps to keep your dog from escaping. A relatively low-cost solution is burying chicken wire or a product like Dig Defence around the fence to thwart their digging efforts.  If you own the home you live in and intend to stay a while, an invisible fence may be worth the investment to keep your dog close.

Prevention is preferable, but of course you’ll want to make it easy for your furry friend to come back home if they do get lost. Always keep a collar on them with your contact information and talk to your vet about getting them microchipped.

pet-proof your yard for dog

2. Rid your yard of toxic plants.

A number of plants that are popular for gardening and landscaping are toxic to pets. The ASPCA provides a thorough list of plants you should either avoid completely, or make sure to keep out of reach of your pets. The lengthy list includes plenty of plants you’ll never have heard of, but some common ones include:

  • Apples
  • Carnations
  • Daisies
  • Ivy
  • Geraniums
  • Hydrangea
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Mums
  • Peonies
  • Rhododendrons
  • Shamrocks
  • Tulips
  • Wisteria

…And that’s just for dogs and just a sampling. Yikes. Review the full list and search your yard for any of the plants on it.

3. Know your local predators.

Depending on the type of pet you have and the area you live in, the wildlife threats you should be aware of will vary.

Birds of prey like hawks, eagles, or even large barn owls may target small dogs and cats. However, they’re unlikely to do so if a larger animal (e.g. you) is nearby and in sight. If you’re worried about birds of prey, stay near your pet when outside, or consider using a shield-like coat on your pup.

Coyotes, mountain lions, and bears can also be a threat to any size of pet, but you can buy products meant to repel them like motion-sensor lights for nighttime protection.

Maintain your yard so you don’t attract wild animals:

  • Never leave food outside (human or pet food, bird seed, fallen fruits or nuts – nothing)
  • Secure trash cans or keep them in a garage, and keep compost in an enclosed area
  • Keep doors and gates closed and latched – some crafty dogs will slip out or bold animals will stroll right through!

4. Keep gardening materials out of reach.

If you keep a garden, many of the products you use to keep your garden thriving can be toxic to your pets. Compost, fertilizers, pesticides, and mulch can all make your pet sick if they get ahold of them. You should keep all of these items out of reach of your pets, but to be extra careful you can also keep an eye out when choosing which gardening products to buy for those that specifically advertise being safe for pets.

5. Pay attention to the weather.

As summers continue to get hotter, pet owners have to be especially careful about the amount of exposure to heat a pet encounters. If your pet will be spending much time in the backyard on a hot day, it’s crucial to make sure there are enough cool, shady spots and plenty of water for them to drink – that you don’t leave them out there too long.

If your pet spends a lot of time outside during the winter, it’s imperative that you keep an eye on temperatures and bring them in whenever it threatens to get close to or below freezing. You should also provide insulated outdoor pet housing that will keep your pet warm and dry on days they need a break from the elements.   

cat in yard in winter

Outdoor Cat? Tips for Cat Safety

The above tips generally speak more to dogs than cats, but they’re a good review if you happen to be the loving owner of an indoor-outdoor (or just outdoor) cat. A few differences:

While a well-constructed (and closed) fence is often enough to keep dogs in a yard, it will rarely do the same to keep cats from getting out. They’re climbers and jumpers, and can maneuver their way over most barriers. If you want to let your cat outside while protecting them from all the risks they’d encounter outside of your backyard, your best bet is investing in a cat enclosure like a Catio (wha!) or an Oscillot.

If you do choose to let your cat roam beyond the yard, then make sure you keep a collar on them with your contact information and talk to your vet about getting them microchipped.