Dogs are by far the most popular pet for homeowners — almost 1.2 million households have at least one canine companion — but dogs and backyard lawns often have a troublesome relationship.
A dog’s instincts for digging, peeing anywhere and boisterous play are well-known but not always appreciated by homeowners who prize their backyard lawns.
What’s the solution?
A dog run is one of several great dog-friendly backyard ideas that can help your pooch and your lawn to live harmoniously side by side. A well-designed dog run is an exercise space, dog potty area and playpen all rolled into one.
Let’s explore a few dog run ideas for your backyard — both for homeowners prepared to do a little landscaping and those who are on a tighter budget.
Why do you need a dog run?
A dog run is an outdoor space or extended dog kennel/potty area, usually in the backyard. It is dedicated to your dog for time outside and off the leash running, playing, rolling and doing all the things that dogs love to do.
Dog runs are usually larger than kennels because they are designed not only as safe places for sleep and rest but as temporary areas to play and exercise. They can be utilized even when the owners cannot be there to supervise and without worrying about safety or damage to lawns.
Installing or building a dog run will require an investment of time, money or both but the benefits are numerous:
- A safe play and exercise area: an enclosed area is especially useful if you have a backyard with little perimeter fencing or fencing that won’t keep your dog from escaping onto the road or the neighbor’s property.
- No digging up your lawn: the digging instinct is strong in dogs and you don’t want that on your lawn. Confining it to the dog run could be an acceptable trade-off if you choose real grass or, with artificial grass, the issue could be eliminated entirely
- No chewing your flower beds: dogs get their paws, noses and teeth into everything, including prized flower beds. That’s not only infuriating for keen gardeners but it can also harm your dog (many plants are toxic to dogs)
- No yellow spots from dog pee on your lawn: dog pee contains nitrogen that can discolor and kill real grass. High-quality artificial grass dog runs solve this problem and don’t fade or discolor, while also allowing your real grass lawn to flourish.
- Easy to contain dog poop: another benefit of a dog run is that you won’t have to go hunting far and wide to clean up dog poop — it will be contained in one area and it can be easier for “potty training”.
- No muddy paws: if you choose pet turf for your dog run, muddy paws trailing through the house after your dog’s been outside will be history.
- Safety for guests and children: if you have small children or guests who don’t care for dogs, a contained area like a dog run allows you to keep your dog happy (without being cooped up indoors) as well as your guests. This is especially important if you have an overly boisterous or “problem” pet.
It’s worth noting that even if you have a backyard with a perimeter fence all around it, you may still need a dog run to protect guests, small children and your prized lawn.
Factors to consider before designing your dog run
Before you decide on a particular dog run design, there are a few basic factors to take into account. These are the main ones:
- The space available: how much dedicated space can you allocate to your dog in your yard?
- The number of dogs: if you have more than one dog, it stands to reason that you’ll need a larger dog run, all else being equal.
- The age, size and exercise needs of your dog(s): a young Labrador needs more exercise than an old Pug, so you need to allocate space for a dog run accordingly.
- The location: is your dog run going to be front and center in your yard or tucked away down the side? Shaded areas are ideal as the Texan sun gets hot for your dog as well as humans. Also, beware of spots where plants/fungi that are toxic to dogs have been growing and where any buried power, gas, or plumbing lines are.
- Your yard’s features: if your backyard has steep slopes, shaded areas, existing landscaped features and so on, this can influence the size, location and layout of your dog run.
- The design: beyond its size, the design of dog runs varies greatly according to the required shape, roof/no roof, height, security, type of fencing, type of groundcover, how your dog accesses the area (adjoining the house or separate) and other elements you need to consider.
- The regulations: you may need a permit to build a dog run according to town regulations or HOA rules (often, this depends on the height and size of your dog run). You can check current regulations for building in the area with Dallas City Hall or your local by-law services. Currently, no permit is required for fences of four feet or under in height in a front yard and six feet or under elsewhere.
Now the planning is out of the way, let’s get creative with a few dog run ideas that your pooch will love…
7 backyard dog run ideas for dog owners
Backyard dog runs come in so many shapes and sizes that you won’t have a problem installing one that perfectly matches what you (and your dog) need.
Build the simplest and most practical dog run
The simplest type of dog run for homes usually has a small, chicken wire or mesh-fenced area on four sides for your dog to exercise and go to the toilet.
With this design, you and your dog still have visibility of each other when in the yard together
The dog run should have a roof for shade and be proportionate to the size, age and exercise needs of your dog. Ground cover may be a patch of real grass, smooth gravel, artificial grass, wood chip, mulch or clover (see later).
You can even add a few rocks and pet-friendly plants to add some interest and beautify the area a little. A doghouse could round things off at the end of the dog run. If you have the space, some hoops or tires can also add some intrigue for your dog.
A last point: make sure that your dog run is long/large enough for your dog to turn around in and run at least a few paces.
Generally, a simple dog run is affordable. You can buy a prefabricated dog run or even a portable one that can be moved from one place to another if you prefer (though these are not generally suitable for larger dogs).
Go big for large athletic dogs if you have a large backyard
Large, athletic dogs like Great Danes, Labradors, German Shepherds, Boxers, Huskies and hunting breeds need to expend large amounts of energy and will need off-leash time beyond your yard.
Even many smaller hunting dogs and other breeds love to roam freely and have bundles of energy.
A large backyard dog run can help with exercise and prevent fence-jumping. Turning a sizable backyard space into an unrestricted, extra-long/large dog-run area will allow your dog to really stretch his/her legs.
And getting all that energy out of their system in the yard usually means that they will be less boisterous inside the home.
Bear in mind that any dog run should be tall enough for you to enter as well as your dog. That dog poop won’t clean itself up. Try to make the dog run tall enough so you don’t have to stoop too much.
Lay artificial grass for an evergreen dog-run area
You might love tending your grass lawn — but dogs make it extra hard work.
If you create a designated dog run area with artificial grass designed for dogs, the rest of your lawn will be a little easier to tend and your dog run area won’t become bald from the constant wear and tear of dog paws. No muddy paws, hole-digging or dog allergies either. It’s one of the best dog-run landscaping ideas.
With virtually no maintenance, pet turf in your dog run will stay green and pristine all year round…
As well as its evergreen appearance, artificial turf like Pet Select is safe, low-maintenance, conserves water and pays for itself within five years (when compared with real grass, which requires constant maintenance).
High-quality pet turf is made to last many years (12-15 years is normal). It is specifically designed for dogs and can easily handle significant wear and tear and dog pee with its superior drainage and antimicrobial qualities.
And, of course, once you find the perfect blade length for the grass you lay in your dog run, it stays that length. The main downside (besides the higher upfront cost of artificial grass) is that it gets hotter than natural grass, but provided you create enough shaded areas, this won’t be a problem. Besides, the pet systems installed by DFW Solutions have been successfully installed in dog parks and on dog owners’ lawns around the Dallas-Fort Worth area for many years with no issues.
Build your dog run around an existing structure
Dog runs don’t need to be standalone structures built from scratch. With a little thought and planning, you can create a dog run around an existing structure in your yard and integrate it into the overall aesthetics.
Good examples include dog runs that join the house or shed. This can provide the all-important shade that your dog will need.
All you may need is some fence panels to build a sturdy structure that can last years.
Another excellent idea is to use an existing backyard privacy fence as one side of the dog run with chain link fencing or mesh on the other side. This will be far more appreciated by your dog than a row of flower beds by the fence!
Create an artificial grass dog run for an apartment or patio
Tiny yards and apartments can have dog runs too. These only really work for smaller dogs but you can potentially install an artificial pet turf dog run in a small corner of your yard or on a patio or balcony if you have no lawn.
Usually, when artificial turf is installed in place of real grass, the ground is prepared so that dog pee drains away effectively. If you decide on a balcony dog run or patio, you’ll need professional advice on how to keep your area odor-free if you intend for your dog to “do its business” there.
With the right advice, a small dog run with a doghouse, fence and artificial grass can be a fun area for your dog to play even when space is restricted.
Add a doghouse, shaded areas, a sandpit and obstacles
Shade is a key component of a dog run, especially if your dog spends any length of time out there during the hottest parts of the day.
Existing fences, covered patios, house walls, trees and shrubs can offer shade but a roofed doghouse may be the best idea. This will provide a cool, safe haven for your dog to retreat to during the hottest times of the day if necessary and can even beautify your yard. Don’t forget another important practical concern: some kind of water station for your dog.If you have the space, a sandpit is another great addition. This should make your dog run more dig-resistant. You can’t stop that digging instinct — but a sandpit is a great way to manage it.
Other great additions to dog runs are hoops, tires, ramps and other playful obstacles. These can liven up a dull dog run and stimulate your dog when you’re not there.
Install a “strip” dog run down the side yard
If your property has a long, narrow side yard between the house walls and the next property, it could be the ideal space for a few side yard dog run ideas to take shape.
Often, these strips of land are practically redundant. Some homeowners put a pathway or flower beds there.
Turning the long stretch of space into a dog run could be a blessing for your pet dog. The house wall and the boundary fence can act as the sides of the dog run (also offering shade) so all you might need to do is add a gate at the entrance and seal the other end.
Can I build a dog run myself?
It depends on which type of dog run you want to build. The simplest dog run is a tethered or “aerial” dog run (allowing your dog to run between two points in the yard on a leash) but most of the structures described above will usually require professional experience to construct.
Dog runs can be quite tricky and you’ll need specialist tools and equipment. Many require new ground cover and if you choose artificial grass, it should be installed professionally.
What’s the best fencing for a dog run?
Choosing the right fencing material is key to designing a suitable dog run for your best friend — but it’s not an easy question to answer quickly. The fencing (along with ground covering) is an important element that will decide how comfortable your dog will be and how robust your dog run will be.
Most fencing is made from wood, vinyl or metal but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are different styles for security, privacy, beauty and practicality.
With a dog run, the priorities are usually security and practicality but aesthetics may be a factor too for homeowners.
Your dog is likely to put the fencing through a rigorous trial of gnawing, chewing, pawing, climbing and jump attempts so it needs to be sturdy. The fence must also penetrate the ground far enough or have a concrete foundation to prevent escapes.
With all this in mind, the best fencing for a dog run is usually one of the following:
- Chain link fencing: this allows your dog an almost unimpeded view of the surroundings and is also one of the most affordable and durable options. You can paint the fence to enhance its appearance if you prefer or install plastic-coated wire fencing as another option. Otherwise, it’s extremely low maintenance.
- Wood fencing: wooden panels are a popular choice for Texas yards, offering a fully enclosed area and excellent privacy but usually obstructing the view for you and your dog. Wood is affordable but may need some maintenance to keep it in good condition as it will be exposed to the sun and rain.
- Wrought iron metal fencing: wrought iron is one of the most robust fencing options, allowing a clear and relatively unimpeded view but it tends to be on the pricier side for dog runs. Some dog owners are prepared to pay a premium for the ornamental beauty of wrought iron but bear in mind that these fences may require re-painting from time to time.
What’s the best ground cover for a dog run?
The ground cover is the second essential element of your dog run. Your dog’s normal habits can be tough on any surface — as any lawn keeper with a dog knows.
If you want your dog run area to look immaculate but without any effort from you to maintain it, real grass is not the best option. It gets muddy, develops bald patches from wear and tear and is easy to dig up. It may also turn yellow in places from dog pee and is almost impossible to keep the right length.
The following dog run ground cover ideas will suit you better and all are dog-friendly:
Artificial pet turf: pet turf like All Play is designed for dogs and, when professionally installed, has the drainage capabilities to handle dog pee. It’s also virtually maintenance-free, dig-resistant and stays the perfect length all year round. Just spray it once a week for hygiene. The main downside is the higher upfront cost.
Wood chips or mulch: wood chips and mulch look the part in a dog run, are easy to maintain and very affordable but may trap dog pee odors and bacteria.
Pea gravel: small rounded stones or gravel are generally quite easy on your dog’s paws, very durable and easy to maintain but you will need adequate shade to ensure that the stones don’t heat up and burn paws.
Decking: a raised deck means your dog will never get muddy or dig up the lawn in the dog run.
Concrete or paving: concrete and paving stones are highly durable, easy to clean and affordable. However, they can heat up in the sunshine and become overly hot for your dog’s paws. Installing grass or synthetic grass between the pavers may be a good compromise.
Each of the above materials can be mixed and matched with another ground coverage material for a “hybrid” dog run.
Artificial grass dog runs installed for you…
You now have enough dog run ideas to make dog runs for a whole pack of dogs!
If you (and your dog) have your hearts set on an artificial grass dog run, you’re making a smart choice: the finished product will allow your dog to do all the things it loves (apart from digging) without impacting your time or your prized lawn.
Given the complex design and installation process, it’s generally best to get your dog run professionally installed. The team at DFW Turf Solutions has been installing high-end dog runs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a decade.