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Domestic Dispatches: 11 Tips for a Dog Friendly Garden


Domestic Dispatches: 11 Tips for a Dog Friendly Garden

Michelle Slatalla April 07, 2015

You can tell a lot about a dog’s personality by the way he digs in your garden.

My dog Larry is like Peter Rabbit, shooting naughty glances over his shoulder as he uproots pansies. My other dog Sticky, on the hand, digs because she can’t help it, as full of guilt and self loathing as a character on Girls.

I don’t know about your dogs. But mine need to be distracted in the garden to prevent them from engaging in destructive behavior. Like toddlers. As surely as you can baby-proof a home to keep a child from sticking a finger in a light socket, you can dog-proof a garden. Here are 11 tips:

Photography by Michelle Slatalla.

Pay Attention

Above: Larry aka Peter Rabbit in the garden.

 “Your dog needs attention,” warned the Humane Society’s “Dig This” webpage. “Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you on a daily basis.”

Dogs are pack animals, and want to be with you in the garden. Spend some time watching them watch you. Do they start digging when they think no one is noticing what they are up to? Engage their attention. Tell them to sit or lie by your side while you work; it gives them a purpose.

Make Surfaces Pet Friendly

Above: If you want them to walk on paths instead of through the garden beds, make the pavers comfortable for them. My garden paths are pea gravel; no sharp edges and the surface never gets too hot.

Give Your Dog a Job

Above: Sticky in the garden. (What’s with the tongue?)

We all like to feel as if we have a purpose in life. For dogs, patrolling the yard is a priority. Larry and Sticky believe their calling is to patrol the perimeter, is to keep the property safe from squirrels, bumblebees, and the occasional stray leaf that wafts to the ground without permission.

To give the dogs a hint about where we wanted them to patrol, we laid a path at the edge of the garden, near the fence (aka squirrel territory).

Encourage Playdates

Above: My dogs are obsessed with one particular squirrel. We’ll call him The Enemy. He taunts them from the fence, where he sits quietly and waits for them to notice. When they start barking, he runs back and forth across the fence and they run back and forth underneath. Everyone gets some exercise.

Other playmates: butterflies, crows, and bees. I have a lot of plants that attract pollinators and that keeps the dogs busy.

Create Comfort Zones

Above: Dogs get hot fast when they run around; make sure there’s a cool shady spot under a tree or an awning where they can lie down and recover from all that squirrel work.

Water Bowls

Above: Put out a bowl of water. Preferably in or near the shady spot.

Make a Mini Dog Park

Above: Designate a play area for fetch and chase games.  We have a grassy backyard where Larry and Sticky run figure eights around each other.

Harmless Missiles

Above: Play fetch with a small, harmless object that won’t destroy your prize peonies. Tiny tennis balls good for this purpose (if you have a small dog). If your dog is too big for tiny tennis balls, consider regular size tennis balls; they’re not too destructive. A two-pack of small, Larry-size Beyond Tough Tennis Balls is $5.19 from PetCareRx.

Plant a Sturdy Garden

Above: Photograph via Scott Lewis.

Face it; there will be wrestling and rough housing; you don’t want your dogs careening into your foxgloves because that will be the end of the foxgloves. Plant sturdy perennial grasses or dense edging plants like boxwood or low, resilient creepers–like, say, thyme–as a buffer zone between the dogs’ play area and fragile flowers.

Mind the Mulch

Above: Mulch with mini chips that have soft edges and won’t irritate paw pads.

Fence Them In

Above: Keep dogs safe by fencing the garden; they’ll have room to roam and you won’t have to worry they’ll end up in the street or the neighbors’ yards.

Resign Yourself

Above: Dogs mark their territory. It’s a thing they do. If you see your dog marking on plants or grass, use a hose to flood the area and dissipate the effects before plants turn brown or wilt. If you miss a spot, well, grass grows back.

For more of our favorite strategies for living happily with pets, see:

For more of Michelle’s columns, see our archive of Domestic Dispatches.

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