Turning your garden into a safe doggie play area

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dog playing in garden

Dr. Anna Foreman, Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet, shares her tips to create a safe dog play area in the garden.

Dog play areas in the garden are a great idea to provide your dog with a safe space to exercise and play. Dogs should ideally be walked at least once daily, however there are many reasons dogs or their owners may not be able to get out and about – for example younger dogs may be reactive to other people or animals, or older ones may have physical disabilities such as arthritis which restrict their activity. A safe play area can act as a great alternative to a walk in such dogs, or as an add on for mental and physical stimulation in most.

A dog safe play area should be enclosed so that a dog can run around freely within it. This means that borders should be well fenced and secured – larger dogs need fences of at least 6 feet to prevent them from jumping over, be well bedded into the ground to prevent a dog from squeezing under or digging a hole, and boundaries should be regularly maintained to check for faults.

If an area cannot be enclosed then a dog should be kept on a lead, whether this be retractable or a long line, to allow for easy recall if they should escape. The area should be equipped with dog safe toys and equipment – if a dog tends to chew or scavenge things then this should be taken into consideration when building the area, especially if not on a lead. Dogs should always be watched and monitored when in a play area, particularly if with other dogs, as accidents can always occur.

How can dog owners keep their dogs safe around pools and ponds?

Regarding dog pools and ponds, care of these is very important and dogs should always be monitored when using them. Unlike with human pools, chlorine should not be used in water dogs swim in, as consumption can lead to toxicity and skin contact will cause irritation.

Dogs may urinate or defecate in the water without an owner knowing and then drink from the same water, leaving them open to bacterial and parasitic conditions – this water would also put human health at risk if accidently ingested too. Water should be changed regularly to prevent contaminant build up, and basins kept clean regularly with a dog safe disinfectant.

Water should be relatively shallow to prevent the risk of drowning, particularly with small, young, or disabled dogs. It is important to have ramps leading into and out of the water to allow dogs to enter and exit without a struggle, again particularly if dogs have reduced mobility.  Ramps also allow wildlife to enter and exit without an issue too.

Covers should be used with caution – many animals can ‘drown’ in swimming pools or other flexible water covers as they become enclosed and suffocated by the material due to its lack of rigidity.

What are the dangers of creating your own dog play area in the garden?

There are two main dangers of creating a dog safe play area in the garden. The first is physical dangers – the risk of injury (cuts, burns, wounds from playing with other dogs etc.) in a play area is high as dogs tend to become excited in an enclosed space with many toys and activities.

Many dogs are toy or ball obsessed, and so when playing with these they can easily injure themselves. Equally many dogs like to play-fight with other dogs, with injuries being common even if not intended. For this reason it is essential dogs are watched closely when in a play area so that incidents are noted and actioned before damage can occur. For example, if a dog knocks over a glass bottle, this can be cleaned up before they step in the shards and cause an injury!

The second risk is the danger of using a play area instead of taking a dog for a walk, as an ‘easy’ option. Although mentioned above, walks are not suitable for all dogs, there is the risk of a play area being used instead of taking an able dog for a walk. There are many benefits of a dog going for a walk over using a play area which are vital for developing, adult and senior dogs – walking/running for physical stimulation, and the mental stimulation of smells and new experiences.

puppy in garden

A young dog needs to encounter new places and things while they are developing to prevent behavioural issues later in life due to a lack of exposure – if they are not exposed to other dogs, humans, and phenomena such as traffic when out and about, then later in life it will be much harder for them to learn positively when experiencing these things. They are much more likely to react badly to such experiences, with these behaviours hard to combat once started.

Adult dogs need plenty of exercise to maintain muscle mass, stop obesity from developing, and to keep their brains active – many dogs develop behavioural issues from a lack of mental and physical stimulation, particularly working breeds. Senior dogs, although not at quite such a need for physical activity, still need to maintain muscle mass, and it is particularly at this age that they benefit from using brains sniffing and encountering new things when out and about.their

It is vital not to substitute walking a dog for ‘letting them out into the play area to exercise themselves’ as it is often tempting to do if such a facility is available. It should be used as an add on to daily walks, and as mentioned above only in extreme cases of behavioural or physical issues should it be used as a substitute, i.e.. if walking is not appropriate.

Play areas should equally not be used to leave a dog in while an owner is out of the house – there are too many dangers to leaving a dog outside for long periods of time, with the risk of escape or injury high. Dogs can also suffer with separation anxiety and be a nuisance to neighbours if left barking in the garden for a long period of time, leading to behavioural problems and complaints respectively.

What are some ideas that owners can add to their garden to create a fun play space for dogs?

Things that can be included in a play area:

  •   Agility equipment – tunnels, jumps, platforms etc. for an owner to interact with their dog and train them to use
  •   Toys – interactive toys such as tug ropes are great for owners to play with their dogs, or two dogs to play (supervised!) together with
  •   Puzzle games – if a dog is not living with another dog, or if they simply prefer their own company, then puzzle games are a great alternative to physical play with an owner or another dog and help keep the brain mentally stimulated. These often include treats to stimulate activity.
  •   Puzzle foods – such as puzzle or active feeders which dispense a meal as they are moved by an animal, or a Kong with wet food on the inside for a dog to lick out are great active ways of feeding a dog a meal instead of using a bowl
  •   Rest area
  •   Shaded/sheltered area
  •   Plenty of fresh drinking water

Is sand dangerous for dogs? What are the consequences of dogs ingesting sand?

Sand is dangerous if ingested by dogs as it can cause a physical foreign body obstruction in the stomach or intestines. If it doesn’t cause a blockage in these locations, there is the risk of it causing constipation in the large intestines/colon – especially if an animal is dehydrated.

Providing a sand pit to play in and dig is fine – keep it covered when not in use to discourage cats from using it as a litter tray, and keep clean and dry and replace regularly and when soiled as with a child’s sand pit.

Bark consumption may also lead to damage to the inside of a dog’s mouth, a gastrointestinal upset or even an obstruction of their guts, and so is not suitable to use in a play area if a dog likes to chew bark – not all dogs do, however!

This is a guest post by Dr. Anna Foreman. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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