Photo courtesy Scott Cohen

Homeowners in general are placing greater importance on pet-friendly design — and it looks as if that trend will continue.

A recent study for the real-estate website Zillow showed that 60% of Generation Z considers pet-friendly features to be essential in a home they would buy. Conducted online by The Harris Poll, the study also indicated that consumers between the ages of 18 and 26 place more importance on pet-friendly design than kid-friendly design, with 55% placing the priority on a pet-friendly home and 45% on a child-friendly home.

Additionally, Zillow’s Consuming Housing Trends Report showed a significant climb in ownership since the COVID pandemic: Currently, 73% of home buyers have at least one pet, compared with 64% in 2020.

Hands down, dogs are the most likely to interact with a swimming pool. By taking certain measures, you can create pools that can be safely enjoyed by dogs — or securely isolated from them, if that’s what the homeowner wants.

Off to the right start

In many cases, homeowners will initiate a conversation about their pets during the design discussion. Still, builders and designers should be ready to bring up the topic, especially if they see dogs in the yard.

“Usually if I see pets, I’ll ask,” says Paolo Benedetti, CEO and principal with Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa in Morgan Hill, Calif., and an instructor for Watershape University. “If I’m designing a pool without going to the job site, that’s one of the things I have on my interview questions: Are there any animals that will be in the pool? Do they have any concerns about the dogs being in the pool when they’re not there? Are they in the pool when the kids are? Some dogs only go in the pool when there are family members in there.”

Each breed — and even each individual dog — is unique. Some are drawn to the water, while others would rather stay away. So while more homeowners may have dogs, they will have different concerns when they discuss the design of their pools. Some will want ways to allow their dogs to use their pools safely and enjoyably, while others want to keep their dogs out. Still others hope to control access, so their dogs can only swim when they’re present.

While certain breeds are more likely to enjoy the water, always ask to find out what is best for that particular dog and family.

“Don’t ever make assumptions,” says Randy Angell, CEO of Randy Angell Designs in Plano, Texas. “I’ve seen breeds that are supposed to be water dogs, and the client will tell me, ‘No, he hates it, doesn’t go anywhere near it.’ Then you see another dog that you really wouldn’t expect to be much of a water dog, but they love it. Like mine — it’s his life; he would be in that pool 24 hours a day if he could.”

Safe access/escape route

Whether or not a particular dog is expected to enjoy the pool, it helps to include some form of easy access and exit.

This way, those that like to swim can easily enter and exit, while dogs that accidentally fall in the pool have an escape route.

Benedetti likes to place some type of step or shelf at each end of the pool, often in a corner. For his own pool, these shelves are only 12 inches deep, rather than Benedetti’s standard 18 inches.

When Angell knows dogs will be present around a vanishing-edge pool, he will add the same ledges — ideally, one on either end — to the catch basin. He does this whether or not the human owners plan to ever go in the basin.

Often, he likes to include an interim step between the deck and sunshelf elevations. This especially makes sense for smaller dogs, older canines or those with mobility issues.

“We’re adding that extra step between the coping level and the tanning ledge level so that the dog can get in and out easier,” he says.

If space allows, he will make these first steps 18 inches wide rather than the typical 12 inches, “just to give them a little bit more leeway when they’re coming down off the coping.”

Explain to your clients that they will need to train their dogs where to find these ledges and how to use them, advises Scott Cohen, president of The Green Scene, an outdoor design/build firm in Chatsworth, Calif., and co-author with pet trainer Carolyn Doherty of the book Petscaping: Training and Landscaping With Your Pet in Mind.

“That’s a two-person project,” he explains. “One person is in the pool, and one person is at the steps. “So you get the dog into the pool, and then you call them over to where that exit is, so that they know how to get out.”

Canine fun

A couple of Angell’s clients wanted a separate section of the pool just for the dogs, so he designed a sunshelf area, about 8 inches deep. But this was separated from the rest of the pool by floating stepper pads.

“It looks like any wet deck area, just separated from the main body of the pool,” Angell says. “We did it to keep the dog off to that one area and not into the deeper area of the pool.”

Designers have noticed that dogs seem to particularly like bubblers placed on the sunshelves.

“My dog goes crazy over the bubblers on my wet deck,” Angell says. “Anytime I turn those on, he’s jumping all over them and trying to make the water stop. Just that water movement for some dogs really attracts them, and they play in it like a kid would.”

He typically favors the telescoping bubblers, which are recessed in the ground. So do the dogs, he adds.

“My dog likes to play with that and push it up and down,” Angell says. “He figured out when he pushes down on it, it forces more water out and it sprays him in the face. So he really likes that interactive play.”

Be aware of the dogs’ nails, which are smaller than human fingers. Try to make sure openings are too small for nails to get caught.

Keeping safe

Pets may need to be isolated from the pool or certain features.

If the installation will include fire, for instance, you may want to elevate it out of reach. In one case, Angell had planned a fire feature at pool level until the homeowners worried the dog would interact with it. So he placed the fire on a raised wall.

More likely you’ll have homeowners who want the ability to limit when their dogs can use the pool, or isolate it from it altogether.

Of course, fences and covers work for this, just as they would for children. If the client wants to allow their dogs to go outside without accessing the pools, devise a plan.

Cohen did this for his own pets. One day, after coming home from work, he found so much water in the house, he thought a main line had burst. Instead, he realized his dog had spent the day alternately taking dips in the pool, then going back inside to take a soaking-wet nap.

“Now we let the dogs have access to the side yard; or the backyard; or the house and sideyard — but never the backyard pool area and the house at the same time,” he says.

Maintenance and water quality

Just as one dog year equals seven human years, a single canine will compare to multiple human bathers when it comes to their impact on the circulation system and water quality.

In one case, Benedetti designed a pool knowing the homeowners’ seven golden retrievers would be swimming. And that breed sheds. With this amount of hair anticipated, he doubled up on the filtration and skimmers that would have been sufficient without the pets. The homeowner also devised a way to keep the pet hair in the skimmer and prevent it from traveling to the pump or filter. She took a bag made of netting material, the kind used on some in-floor cleaners, and cut it to fit the skimmer. She then added a drawstring. This way, the hair would be trapped and could be easily removed manually as often as necessary.

While this is a drastic case, builders should consider boosting filtration and skimmers when introducing a pet to the pool.

To keep humans safe when sharing a pool with their dogs, also plan on extra sanitation measures.

“I’ve always treated dogs like the equivalent of 15 people, as far as water chemistry goes,” Cohen says. “So the bather load of one dog equals 15 people. So your sanitation has to be in place to counter that.”

On his own pool, he included ozonation and a UV light system in addition to the chemistry. He seeks to do this whenever dogs will factor into a project.