Sharing Spaces with Feathered and Furry Friends

Dogs in flowers
Photo by ZDA, Inc.

Sharing your yard with man’s best friend requires both sacrifice and planning. Max, my large black lab, loved to cool herself in soft earthen beds excavated in my garden. Fisher, a golden retriever, beat a patrol path around his yard. Zeppelin the cat loves a perch to hunt from, and chickens need to scratch and peck. It may be easier for us to be trained than for us to train our pets. By observing their habits, you can incorporate them into a yard that is pleasing and beautiful for all.


When it comes to designing for dogs, it is important to consider their hunting, herding, and protection instincts. A mulched, looped path suits dogs who need to patrol—a feature that is also beneficial to homeowners who want easy access to their gardens and young children that want a place to run.

Rather than searching for urine tolerant plants that don’t exist, leave an open area with mulch or pea gravel and train your dog to eliminate only in this space. Consider installing a post or upright log for dogs to mark their territory. We trained our dog to eliminate in the same location by always taking him to the spot when he was a puppy after eating, drinking, or when he awoke from sleeping.

Virtually synonymous with dog ownership is the need for fencing. The limitless possibilities of fencing materials allow for flexibility in design beyond standard chain link. With any fencing, consider how you might utilize plants, including vines, to soften its appearance.

Photo by ZDA, Inc.


Although not necessarily considered pets, chickens are delightful animal additions to the backyard. In addition to providing fresh eggs, they are an incredible tool for pest control because they eat up bugs and even common weeds. Furthermore, their manure can be used to fertilize gardens and they’re able to eat many leftover table scraps. The first step to incorporating chickens is to study permitting regulations in your area. The City of Madison allows chickens in most cases, but there are further guidelines for flock size, rooster ownership, and siting of the coop.

With a bit of creativity, the sky is the limit for chicken coop design. From recycled materials to at-home construction to an elaborate chicken paradise, a coop can become a beautiful garden feature. Basic principles to keep in mind are to ensure there is adequate space for each chicken, proper ventilation and temperature control, careful protection from predators, and ease of access for cleaning, collecting eggs, and feeding. When a coop is not properly sited and chickens are free to roam, they can be destructive by eating tender, young vegetable plants.

Remember that chicken wire is an excellent tool to keep chickens in a run and out of the garden, but it is not made to keep predators, such as weasels, out. I know I am not alone in learning this lesson the hard way. Siting a coop and other enclosures for chickens allows you to control where they are foraging. I have my coop near raspberries and strawberries, where they provide excellent natural pest control for asparagus and munch on Japanese beatles. Chickens are a prominent example of urban agriculture and a way to teach your family about where their food comes from.

Photo by ZDA, Inc.


Cats do not abide by property boundaries and often roam the neighborhood regardless of whether or not they are welcome. Keeping cats entertained in your own backyard can be a difficult task, but artful use of screening and landscape structures provides opportunities to scratch, climb, perch, and hide. Planting in dense groups and planting pollinator species not only gives owners something to appreciate, but also attracts a variety of insects for cats to chase. If you chose to let your cat outdoors, providing them a safe, secure place to explore is essential.

Accommodating the needs of your pets does not require relinquishing the beauty of your landscape. Rather than banish pets to remote edges of your property, provide spaces to accommodate their inherent needs. Dog houses, chicken coops, and fences can all become design features that highlight your own aesthetic preferences. Often our backyards are no-digging, no-wandering zones, but perhaps those are things our domesticated counterparts need most.

Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist and garden designer and winner of the 2015 Perennial Plant Association Merit Award for Residential Landscape Design for ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit .