Home and yard features that appeal to dogs and their owners
The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is Colorado’s official state animal, but most people who live here know the unofficial state animal is the dog.
A 2019 study by the city of Denver estimates the city’s dog population at about 158,000 across 99,000 households. That means the city has more dogs than kids: Census data estimates about 140,000 children live in Denver.
And it’s not just Denver. A recent analysis by LawnStarter deemed three Colorado cities as among the top dog-friendly spots in the country. Fort Collins ranked ninth overall, and Colorado Springs and Denver were 11th and 12th, respectively. Overall, Colorado rated highly for its community, care and services metrics.
Builders and landscape designers have taken note. Homes and yards are increasingly being customized to better suit the lifestyle of the household’s dogs—and their owners. Here, we talk to a few experts about dog-friendly features that are appealing to homeowners today.
In the dog house
One of the most popular features dog owners are adding to their homes is a wash station, says Julieta Marner, a project manager with Fort Collins-based NoCO Custom Homes. Wash stations are usually added in the garage or a mud room, and they can be customized to fit the size of the dog. “Homeowners can pick the height depending on if it’s a bigger or smaller dog,” she says. “They can have hot and cold hoses and add tile and glass. We try and tailor it to each dog.”
Feeding stations are also a common request. These can be simple nooks to house food and water bowls or they can be fully customized areas with built-in water bowl fillers. “It’s like a pot filler, but it’s in a designated spot to fill the water bowl,” says Matt VanCleave, a superintendent with NoCO Custom Homes. Homeowners can also add cabinetry to the feeding stations to make the bowls less noticeable and create more usable space.
Dog doors, maybe the oldest home feature for dogs, can get complicated. “We only do them by request because they can be quite drafty, and you can get critters that come in through them,” VanCleave says. High-tech dog doors can help with some of those drawbacks. VanCleave likes electronic dog doors, which are activated by an RFID tag on the dog, so the door opens and closes only when the dog is near. “It’s not the old plastic flap that you’re used to seeing, and it can really help with draftiness,” he says.
Storage areas are important to dog owners as well, so gear like crates and kennels can be stowed or at least better blend in with the home’s décor. NoCO recently built a kennel into a mud bench, for example. “So then you don’t have a wire crate sitting in the middle of your beautiful home,” Marner says.
NoCO has added custom removable dog gates to stairs, ramps for aging pups, and designated sleeping areas in living rooms, bedrooms and studies. “Everything we do, we make it look intentional,” VanCleave says. “Like it’s part of the home.”
Outside of special features, Marner and VanCleave say it’s important to consider the pet in the overall design of the home too. For example, when working with a homeowner who wanted to add a dog run to a portion of the backyard, NoCO made sure the air conditioner was placed outside of that area and no dryer vents would be nearby. In another home, they planned spacing throughout the home so the family’s yorkies wouldn’t fall through or sneak into small spaces.
Flooring is also a consideration. “If we know that homeowners have dogs, we’ll recommend flooring that doesn’t scratch as easily and will have a longer life,” Marner says. NoCO also provides care and maintenance manuals for everything when they turn over the home. “A lot of that is important especially if you have a new puppy or any dog inside,” VanCleave says. “We just want to make sure homeowners can care for the home well once they’re living in it.”
Let the dogs out
The yard is another area where dog-friendly features are popular with homeowners. Kristin Heggem, a Colorado Springs-based landscape architect, has designed several yards with dogs in mind and says she usually starts by thinking about surface materials. “What the dog’s paws are going to be walking on will be important,” she says. “Dogs are always barefoot.”
Grass is ideal for dog paws. While many people opt for blue grass and hybrid lawns, Heggem herself has Dog Tuff Bermudagrass, which she says is durable and more resistant to dog urine. The main drawback of the grass, however, is that it has a shorter green season. “It’s the last to green up in the spring and it goes dormant faster in the fall, so there’s a trade-off there,” she says. “But I personally love it.”
Native grasses are better for saving water, but Heggem says they’re not always great for dog areas. “Those types of grasses don’t withstand a lot of heavy paw traffic,” she says.
Artificial turf is more durable but not always pleasant for dogs. “Some types of artificial turf tend to heat up, and you would never want to walk on them barefoot,” she says. However, Heggem says some newer types of turf have been engineered to stay cooler for dogs. If using turf, proper installation is key to keeping it clean and odor-free. Heggem says there should always be a base layer of drainage rock before the turf goes down.
Mulches can be good for attracting dogs as well as keeping them away. Wood mulch is paw-friendly and can be placed in areas where dogs are welcome, while rock mulch is good to use in areas owners would like their dogs to avoid. Heggem warns to never use ground tire mulch, though, which is toxic to dogs.
Paying attention to what’s planted and where is also important in a dog-friendly yard. Dogs like to patrol property lines, Heggem says, so it’s smart to leave room for that. “You just want to leave some clear space between the fence and your nearest planting,” she says. “If you plant things in that zone, they’re going to trample it.” Consider the size of the dog when leaving room between plantings and the fence: Heggem says medium-size dogs need about three feet.
Lists of plants that are toxic for dogs are available online, and it’s best to consult them before adding anything to make sure all plants in the yard are safe. Heggem stays away from all yews. “Every part of that plant is poisonous for dogs,” she says.
Beyond plants and mulches, there are endless ways to customize a yard for a dog’s enjoyment. Homeowners Heggem has worked with have added dog agility areas, heated patios for the winter and puppy portal windows in the fence—mounted at the perfect height for the family’s dogs—so they could look out at people. Heggem says nothing’s required to be fancy though. “Anything that provides some sort of entertainment value for the dog is great – it’s just something for them to crawl up on or get into,” she says. “My dog likes to just sit on my patio furniture.”