Dog Run Ideas: How To Build A Backyard Dog Run

What Is a Dog Run?

A dog run is an outdoor structure designed for dogs to run, lounge and play freely. Dog runs are typically located in a back or side yard and can be open or enclosed spaces. 

Benefits of Having A Dog Run 

Even if you have a well-fenced backyard where your pets can run, play and explore, you may still need a dog run. This is particularly true if you have an at-home daycare, do a lot of outdoor entertaining, or have a dog that is a fence jumper, digger or otherwise-creative escape artist. Here are some benefits to adding a dog run to your yard: 

  • Creates a safe space for dogs to play, sleep and relax outdoors 
  • Gives dogs the ability to run freely without supervision
  • Separates dogs from areas like gardens, pools, and other backyard attractions
  • Keeps your natural grass from browning due to dog urine

Whatever the reasons for needing a dog run, most homeowners would prefer an enclosure that complements their landscape design and does not take away from the overall look of their yard.

7 Dog Run Ideas 

Simple strip dog run

simple strip dog run

Great for side yards and limited space, strip dog runs typically range from __ to __ ft and are much longer than they are wide. The long strip of yard allows dogs plenty of space to run, without taking up too much space width-wise.  

Large, unrestricted dog run 

large unrestricted dog run

Many pet owners want a dog run to give their furry friend the space they need to get their energy out and play to their heart’s content. A large, unenclosed dog run allows just that. Use your entire backyard or section of a large portion of it to give high energy dogs a place to play freely.

Small patio dog run 

small patio dog run

Sometimes large dog runs aren’t needed – especially for smaller, low-energy furry friends. A small dog run equipped with a dog-house, a fence and artificial turf ground cover is great for small backyards and even apartment patio areas.

Enclosed dog run 

enclosed dog run

Enclosed areas are great peace of mind for pet-owners with rather curious pups that like to run off. They’re also versatile in the fact that they can be placed anywhere in the yard – including front and side yards! Enclosed dog runs can be made with virtually any type of material. Some popular choices are: 

  • Wood 
  • Vinyl 
  • Metal
  • Chain-link

Aerial dog run

Not interested in installing any fencing? An aerial dog run is a line that connects two points of your yard that your dog can run on via a leash. These are relatively inexpensive and are great for dogs with lots of energy. 

Note: It’s possible for your dog to get entangled in the leash, so it’s important to keep an eye on your pup with this type of dog run.

Stimulating dog run 

stimulating dog run

Some pups have more energy than others. A dog run with sensory-stimulating elements such as tires, rocks, ramps and other climbing features can help your active pup stay active and occupied throughout the day. 

Elegant Dog Run 

elegant dog run

Want your doggie area to match the aesthetics of your already beautiful yard? Design a custom dog run that matches your landscape by adding stepping stones, plants, artificial grass, water features, retaining walls and more.

How To Build The Perfect Backyard Dog Run

choosing where to put your dog run

1. Pick the Right Spot for Your Dog Run 

The first step in building an enclosure for your dogs is to pick a spot that will work well for you and them. It should be out of the way enough to not interfere with outdoor entertaining or activities, but still close enough to the house for you to be able to check on your dog periodically. If you want your dog to be able to go in and out of the house while you are not home without needing to leave a door open, you may want to consider placing your outdoor kennel adjacent to a side door with a doggie door installed.

Or, if you have an appropriately sized side yard that you are not using for storage or as a vegetable garden, you may want to place your enclosure there, which will ensure that it is out of the way and allow you to use less fencing, since you will only need to close off each end of the space.

Consider Shaded Areas

The spot you choose should be in partial shade to allow your dog to get out of the hot San Diego sun and should be close to a water source to make rinsing down the run and filling up water bowls more convenient. If it is not possible to build a dog run in the shade, you can also add shade to the area with a dog house, cover or patio umbrella.

2. Choose the Right Size

dog run sizing

You should also pick the largest spot possible, particularly if your dog will be spending a lot of time in the enclosure, to make sure that he or she has plenty of room to run, play and explore without feeling cramped in a small space. At minimum, the space should be at least twice as wide and about five times as long as the length of your dog.

You should also choose a spot with good drainage to ensure that your dog will not be standing in mud or water if it happens to rain.

3. Select a Design 

dog run design types

Portable vs. Built-In

While portable runs are generally more affordable, and are easy to remove or relocate, they may not be sturdy enough for a determined escape artist and likely will not complement your landscape design as well as a custom-built enclosure. For those who are not overly concerned with the look of their kennel, portable options are available for less than $100 and can be easily setup in an afternoon, but this type of structure is not going to work for homeowners who care about the visual appeal of their outdoor living spaces.

After all, chain link fencing – which is what most portable, pre-made dog runs are made of – does not go well with a beautiful paving stone patio, manicured flower beds or perfectly placed water features.So, it’s a good thing that there are plenty of other options for building an attractive dog run that both you and your furry friends will love!

Open vs. Enclosed 

Open dog runs give your pup the sense that they have their very own yard. For open dog runs, be sure that your fence or perimeter is high enough where your dog can’t jump over it.

An enclosed area may be great for pets that are undergoing puppy training, or have . For enclosed dog runs, it’s best to make sure the roof is high enough for your pet to jump and move around. Any dog run should be at least twice as wide and five times as long as the length of your dog. This is especially important for an enclosed play area.

Things to Consider When Selecting a Design

  • Permits: You may need to obtain a permit prior to constructing your dog run depending on its height and size. Check with your local governing body to see if a permit is required for your design.
  • Bigger, stronger dogs require studier fencing options.
  • Height: You will need to build a taller dog run with a top on the enclosure for dogs that jump or climb.
  • Covered vs. Uncovered: You may want to put a roof on your dog run if part of its purpose is to protect your pets from wild animals like mountain lions or coyotes living in your area.
  • Doggie Door: If you plan on placing the enclosure adjacent to an exterior door that has a doggie door, make sure you design the run to be tall enough for you to conveniently use the door to access the area.
  • Built-in vs. Portable: Finally, you will need to decide if you want to purchase a pre-made, portable dog run or construct a permanent enclosure.


4. Selecting Dog Run Fencing 

select dog run fencing

Chain Link Fencing

Chain link fencing is the most common type of enclosure, most likely for its many beneficial qualities, including affordability, sturdiness and availability. It also allows your dog to see out through the fence with ease and for you to see in to conveniently check on your dog. However, this is definitely not the best-looking option available and likely will not appeal to homeowners who have invested their time and money in creating an attractive backyard.

Of course, there is an easy, affordable way to make this inexpensive dog run fencing option a viable option for higher-end backyards: You can paint it. Painting chain link fencing dark green will make it blend in better with a lush lawn or landscaped yard, while painting it dark brown will allow it to blend in better with wooden fences or wood chip ground covers. If you do plan to paint your fence, make sure you use a non-toxic product that is intended for outdoor use.

Metal Fencing 

You can also use wood or ornate metal fencing to give your dog run a higher-end look, just make sure the spaces between the wood or metal are large enough for your dogs to see out – and you to see in – but narrow enough that they cannot get their head through the fence.

Wood Fencing

Easy to maintain and inexpensive to install, wood fencing is a great option for pet-owners looking for a natural look. However, wood may not be a great option if your pet likes to chew or jump on the material, as it isn’t as sturdy as metal or plastic materials. When opting for a wood fence dog run fence, be sure to choose a non-toxic stain or paint.

Plastic-Coated Wire Fencing

The option that most perfectly balances affordability and visual appeal is usually plastic-coated wire fencing with wood posts. This attractive option provides the sturdiness you need for most dog breeds, looks considerably better than chain link fencing and is more affordable than wood. All of these options are available at home and garden centers, so you can easily compare sturdiness and price before making your final decision.

When looking for wood posts for your run, naturally durable options – such as redwood and cedar – offer a higher-end look; however, treated lumber is a more affordable option and will also do the job.

4. Choose A Ground Cover 

choosing a dog run ground cover

You may be able to build a dog run on existing groundcover if it is safe for your pet and allows for proper drainage. Here are eight dog run ground cover options to consider:

  1. Natural Grass
  2. Wood Chips
  3. Gravel
  4. Concrete
  5. Paving Stones
  6. Dirt
  7. Artificial Grass
  8. Rubber Padding

Natural Grass

Natural grass provides a soft ground cover that most dogs enjoy. While this is a popular option that many homeowners use, there are some factors to take into consideration before placing your run over conventional grass.

For example, you will need to care for this grass just like you would a lawn, which means regular mowing, watering and weeding.You will also need to be sure to use only non-toxic insecticides and herbicides, will have to contend with brown spots in areas often used as a pet restroom and will need to pay attention to the strong potential for bacterial buildup in the soil. If your dogs are active, you may also have to deal with bare spots left by clumps of grass being pulled up during play.

Wood Chips

Some dog owners prefer the look of wood chips placed over landscaping fabric, which is another popular option. This ground cover will definitely make your dog run more visually appealing; however, wood chips provide a good breeding ground for bacteria – particularly because you cannot simply rinse urine out of the run, and you will need to regularly add more wood chips to replace those lost when picking up solid waste and to keep this option looking fresh.


Gravel is a rather popular option for dog runs and can be a good choice. If you want to go with gravel, make sure you choose pea gravel, which is usually rounder and does not have quite as many sharp edges as other types of gravel. Gravel can be hard on your dog’s feet, so it is not a good option for dogs with sensitive paws. It is also not a good option for dogs who like to chew on rocks, as it can cause significant dental damage.


A concrete pad is easy and inexpensive to pour, making this an option that many homeowners choose. A concrete dog run can simply be rinsed down to remove liquid waste, and solid waste is very easy to remove. Dogs with sensitive paws may find this option to be a bit abrasive, and make sure there is plenty of shade if you plan to use this option in sunny Southern California where concrete can become quite hot quite quickly.

Paving Stones

Creating a paving stone floor for your dog run is more expensive than pouring concrete, but it is also far more visually appealing. This option provides a slip-resistant surface that allows for easy solid waste removal and easy cleaning by simply rinsing it off with a garden hose. Paving stones can also become warm in direct sunlight, so shade should be a priority if you choose to use pavers for the entire floor of your enclosure.


Building your dog run on existing dirt is the cheapest option; although, it does not offer much in the way of visual appeal. If graded properly, this is a viable option that will help you stay within budget, but you may have the added headache of cleaning up muddy or dirty paw prints when you let your dog back in the house. This option will also likely increase dust in your yard, which may mean more frequent cleaning for patios and patio furniture.

Artificial Grass

Synthetic turf provides the look and feel of natural grass without the concerns about brown spots, bare spots, mowing, watering, weeding, or needing herbicides and insecticides. Solid waste is easy to remove, urine can be rinsed away with a garden house, and you can keep a spray bottle of one part water, one part vinegar on hand to spray down areas that are frequently used for urination. To completely remove the urine smell, you will want to use a turf odor eliminator.

Fake grass can also limit digging and is a non-toxic, pet-friendly option that requires very little maintenance.

Rubber Padding

While this is significantly more expensive than other options, rubber padding is easy to clean and provides a safe, attractive surface for a dog run. To make it even easier to clean any of these dog run ground cover options, you may want to consider the addition of a pheromone-treated urine stick, which will encourage your pets to use just that area to relieve themselves.

5. Create Shade 

shaded dog run

Shade is a dog run feature of particular importance in the San Diego area, where nearly every day is a sunny day, and temperatures can soar in warmer months. It may be possible to take advantage of existing shade in your yard from trees, fences, covered patios or your house, but you may have to create shade to ensure the safety and comfort of your dog.

Here are five easy ways to create shade:

1. Add a Dog House

You can either make an access point in the fence to attach a dog house to the outside of your enclosure, or place a dog house inside the dog run. A dog house will provide protection from the sun, as well as unexpected wind or rain that may occur while you are away from home. If you put a dog house inside the run, make sure your dog cannot use it as a way to jump over the fence. This can be accomplished with strategic placement or by adding a roof to your run.

2. Add a Pergola over the Entrance

Installing a pergola at the entrance to your enclosure will immediately increase visual appeal while also adding some shade to the area. Small, pre-made pergolas are available at most home and garden centers, or you can construct your own.

3. Install Shade Structures

Shade structures are an inexpensive way to add shade anywhere in your yard, but you will need to choose carefully to ensure that this feature adds to the look of your yard, rather than taking away from it.

4. Repurpose a Patio Umbrella

You can repurpose an extra patio umbrella you have in your garage or purchase one at a patio furniture store to add a stylish shade option to protect your dog from the sun.

5. Build a Solid Roof

If you plan to put a roof on your dog run, you can simply make part of it a solid cover that will block the sun and provide shade.

How to Build a Dog Run: Final Considerations

The purpose of a dog run is to provide your dog with a safe, comfortable, enjoyable place to be when he or she is not inside with you or enjoying your full backyard.

In order to make your dog run an inviting hangout and keep it from becoming a cage, choose a comfortable ground cover, provide plenty of shade, always have clean drinking water readily available, and be sure to include some of your dog’s favorite toys and a cozy place to lie down for a nap.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Which ground material cover is best for dog runs? 

There are all types of ground covers that can be used for your dog run: 

  • Natural Grass
  • Wood Chips
  • Gravel
  • Concrete
  • Paving Stones
  • Dirt
  • Artificial Grass
  • Rubber Padding

To choose the best ground cover for your dog run area, consider the look you’re going for, how active your pet is, whether or not they dig, whether or not the area will be shaded, etc. View a full breakdown of how to choose the right ground cover for your pup here. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of dog run is best for dogs that like to dig?

If you have a digger, you will need to take special precautions when constructing your run, such as burying the fence below ground, adding chicken wire under the ground cover around the edges or installing a paving stone border to prevent digging.

Are dog runs good for dogs? 

Dog runs are a great way to let your pooch out into the yard without having to worry about them running off or getting into something they shouldn’t. That being said, it’s important that your dog run is a good match with your dog’s personality and playing habits. For larger, more rambunctious dogs, a long and wide dog run might be best to give them the space to run and let out their energy. Conversely, a small dog may only need a small space on your patio or yard for relaxed play. Decide what’s best for your dog and design your dog run to fit their needs.

What can I use instead of grass for my dog run? 

There are a multitude of ground covers that are both safe and low-maintenance for dogs. A few of the most popular ground cover options include artificial grass, wood chips, gravel and rubber padding.