Create Sensory Spaces for Dogs

Cali’s favorite spot in her yard is under the cherry trees.

An article from Australian Dog Lover on how to create a “sensory garden” for dogs was a nice escape from the cold of a Montana winter. It’s filled with great tips for creating mental stimulation for dogs that you can adapt to any space.

The author describes watching how her dog used their outdoor space, and then designing around that dog’s preferences. But for those creating a sensory space for, say, a doggy day care or a training space or a dog park, it’s possible to generalize. It’s feasible to include elements that stimulate all five senses, as well as providing opportunities for movement — paths to run on, logs, rocks, or equipment to jump and climb on, and maybe a digging pit. For the senses:

  • The most important sense for dogs is, of course, smell. Ideally, plant several plants and flowers that will bloom and grow at different times of the year offering a variety of enticing scents.
  • For visual stimulation, the author of the article suggests rocks, logs, items of different heights to create variation.
  • To stimulate hearing, she suggests running water, wind chimes, or rustling plants, like a bamboo grove. An urban environment might not need additional aural stimulation, though.
  • Taste is a tough one, since we usually discourage dogs from tasting things. Obviously, avoid any plants that are toxic to dogs. To encourage smelling and tasting, the suggestions of verbena, thyme, valerian, and other safe and appealing plants are worth considering, depending also on what thrives in your climate.
  • Finally, tactile stimulation is essential. Consider adding a sand pit for digging. Another suggestion is using a variety of textures — grass, mulch, and paths made of stones or crushed granite, or even sand.

The garden can and should be designed to appeal to humans as well as to dogs. Include shady spots to sit for both dogs (under large plants, maybe) and humans, flowers that are attractive as well as dog-friendly, and features like fountains, bamboo groves, and paths that have cross-species appeal.

About Pam Hogle

Pam Hogle is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on dogs. Her Thinking Dog Blog (www.thinkingdogblog.com) looks at how dogs think and learn and encourages readers to challenge their dogs' minds as they improve their relationships with those dogs. Pam also teaches at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California, an accredited university that focuses on the human-canine partnership. She lives in Petaluma, California with two thinking golden retrievers, Jana and Cali.

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