One of my very first decking projects was for an owner with two border collies and one large old Newfoundland dog. Their old deck was wearing out from exposure to sun, snow, and rain, and was filled with splinters that were finding their way into the paws of the poor dogs, especially those hyperactive border collies.
While I’ve worked to keep plenty of decks safe from dogs, I’ve probably spent more time making sure that dogs were protected from the decks. Installing a deck that doesn’t splinter or cause injuries keeps the dogs happy and helps save on vet bills. But the presence of dogs also means that whatever decking material I choose needs to be able to stand up to dogs skittering around on it, and it should clean up easily so that the deck can be used for entertainment. So what materials make the best decking for dogs? We’ll look at some of the problems of traditional wooden decking and an alternative material that offers solutions.
How Splinters and Popped Screws Occur in Decks
On a standard wooden deck, splinters are mainly a product of water and UV rays working their weathering magic over time. Water works its way into the deck, saturating the wood fibers, and causing the board to expand. When heated by the sun, the moist deck dries and contracts. In part, the alternation of the expansion and contract strains the internal structures of the decking board, leading to cracks, fissures, and warping. It’s pretty common for splinters to form from these cracks, both immediately and over time due to the drying power of UV rays. Splinters are also commonly formed around the deck screws, as the deck is often more exposed to moisture at the joins. Keeping decks splinter-free often involves making sure the boards are well coated with sealer, in order to keep the wood fibers protected from the elements. To really do this well means regularly sanding and sealing a deck with a weather and UV-protectant substance.
Another issue I often come across that worries dog owners is screws and nails popping out of the deck’s surface. This happens to many decks at one time or another, and it can be dangerous, both to dogs and other pets, which can badly cut their legs or paws on them, and to humans too, who tend to trip over them. Popping usually happens, again, because of weathering. Wood that repeatedly swells and shrinks will eventually push nails or screws above the surface of the wood.
Finding Decking That Keeps Splinters and Nails out of Dog Paws
There are ways to avoid splinters on your deck, mostly by meticulous maintenance. But by far the easiest and surest way to avoid splinters is by using a decking material that effectively keeps moisture and UV rays from penetrating and damaging the boards. The newest generation of composite decking is highly effective at doing both of those things. Made out of plastic and fill material, and possessing a durable protective capping material around the whole board, high-quality composite decking is extremely resistant to moisture penetration and UV rays due to the fact that a durable resin capping (not all manufacturers use extra tough capping material, so look for a high-quality product) simply isn’t weathered as easily as wood. The material qualities of composite decking and its high resistance to weathering translate into a deck that is not prone to splintering, leaving us with one less thing to worry about.
In addition, composite decking produces an all-around safer and more comfortable deck to walk on. While they keep the splinters away, the fact that composite decking doesn’t weather means you don’t have screws and nails popping up out of decking surface. This is especially true when you use composite decks that work with hidden fasteners.
Decking for Dogs That’s Effective Against Wear and Tear
But enough about how dogs deal with decking–what about how your decking material deals with your dog? There is probably no decking material in existence that is completely impervious to the aggressive scratching of a big dog. Of all the typical decking materials, a hard rainforest wood like ipe might come the closest.
Early generations of composite decking would have fared about as well as the softer woods like cedar, pine, and pressure treated lumber. And while the newest generation of capped composite decking is scratchable, it is far less so than the most common wooden decking materials. This is especially true if you choose a good quality composite with a tough and well-engineered resin cap. You can even find composite decking that looks like ipe, with a beautiful deep red-brown color and a subtle grain pattern on the surface.
Choose Decking That’s Easy to Clean Up
If you have a yard that regularly turns into a muddy dog run, then you know the challenges of keeping the dogs and everything they touch even remotely clean. I’ve known plenty of people who decide to sacrifice the deck area to those muddy paws until the next big cleaning. Of course, not everyone wants to do that.
If you, like lots of my clients, want to use your deck for entertaining or anything that requires it to be clean, you might want a deck that doesn’t require a thorough pressure washing to get the “dog” off of it. Fully capped composite decking fills that role effortlessly. Since it has a much less porous surface than wood, any material deposited upon the surface can be cleaned off it with very little effort. Instead of getting the pressure washer out, all that you need is a mop and a bucket of water, or a quick rinse with any hose. And you know how your dog’s hairs get caught in the fibers and splinters of wooden deck boards? Without the snags and imperfections of wood, composite decking cleans up much easier.
While there are no decking materials that can withstand a dog’s aggressive clawing, there are some types of composite decking that can mitigate dog-produced wear and tear, while successfully fending off moisture and UV rays. One of the highest quality and most durable composite decking systems I’ve used is the Infinity decking produced by Fortress Deck. Fully protected by an advanced resin cap, it keeps the moisture out, the sun at bay, resists scratching far better than pressure treated wood and proves very easy to clean up. It’s unique in a lot of ways, including the fact that it uses ground bamboo instead of the usual sawdust in its boards. This makes it even more moisture resistant than most types of composites, and that, in turn, helps it stand up to wear and tear from dogs. And if Infinity Decking is the right choice for your deck, Fortress also produces a whole array of building products that are both tough and beautiful–like railings and fences–and might just be perfect for you and your dog.