The dog, we are told, is man’s best friend… but that’s not always true in the garden. Grass ripped out, huge holes dug in a flower bed, broken and chewed branches: dogs certainly can do quite a bit of damage. Fortunately, there are ways to create an outdoor environment that is more conducive to your dog’s needs … and to train your dog respect your needs more completely as well.
Safe Dogs Play Behind Fences
First, if you plan to allow your mutt free time in your yard, you have to fence it in. Securely. With a robust gate, too, ideally one that closes automatically. Dogs that roam freely are not dogs that live long!
Any fence must exceed the dog’s capacity to jump. A 4-foot (1.2 m) fence will stop most small and medium dogs, while a 6-foot (1.8 m) one may be needed for larger ones. Chain link is fine if your dog is not given to climbing (most aren’t), but if it is, you’ll need some sort of slippery paneling with nothing it can sink its claws into on the inside. As for dogs that dig, you may need to underpin the fence with some sort of underground barrier as well: possibly large stones too big for it to move.
Dogs need room to play, so make sure your landscape offers a play area, even room to run. This can be a hard surface or a lawn. Teach Fido to use it by playing there with him regularly … and avoiding other parts of the yard during play time. When throwing a ball, for example, never throw it beyond the play area. Make sure his favorite toys remain nearby. You can even set up special play installations: a raised observation platform, a racetrack, an obstacle course and more.
Your dog will quickly learn to associate this specific area with play and will be more likely to leave the rest of the yard alone.
You’d be amazed at the damage you can avoid when you install a potty corner, which you’ll probably want to do in an inconspicuous place! This would be a space without vegetation, covered with river stones, rock dust or mulch. You’ll have to train the dog to use it … but if you already potty trained your dog indoors, it won’t be difficult doing it outdoors as well.
Both Sun and Shade
Dogs sleep much of the day … and like to bask in the sun in the morning, then move to a shady spot when the heat sets in. In fact, in hot climates, a shady corner is an absolute must, vital for your dog’s very survival. You therefore have to offer both possibilities: perhaps part of your deck, a bench or an old basket in full sun and a spot in the shade of a tree or shrub, under the porch or on the north side of the building (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is; it should be on the south side in the Southern Hemisphere) where there is plenty of shade. Or a dog house he can sit inside of or in front of (or on top of!), depending on the conditions.
Never ever leave a dog without water. You can put out a bowl or bowls, of course, but it can be very convenient to install an automatic water dispenser, available from dog suppliers. Any water feature, like a fountain or water garden, will also do: dogs are certainly not picky about where they get their water!
Lawns are designed to withstand the passage of feet … but not always for dogs that constantly repeat the same movement. Consider replacing lawn in spots where it simply becomes too worn over time, using paving stones, mulch, gravel, etc. to fill in. You can also sow a lawn seed mixture designed for sports fields, naturally more resistant to disturbance.
Putting in new sod? It’s best to ban your dog from the area for at least two weeks; four if you sow grass seed. You’ll need to take Pooch to play elsewhere for a while: maybe to a dog park.
If possible, too, give your lawn a holiday from dogs in early spring when the ground thaws and the grass is a soaking mess. Wait until the soil has dried up and the grass has started to green up before letting them play there again.
Finally, remember that well-maintained turf will be more resistant to dog damage than a neglected lawn. Fertilize gently but regularly and when you water, do so thoroughly. Superficial watering produces weak-rooted turf, more prone to damage.
The Case of the Digging Dog
Some dog races are genetically predisposed to dig, including terriers and dachshunds, but a “digger” can show up in any race. At first, try gentle reprimands and encouragements to play elsewhere. Also, many dogs only dig when they’re bored, so offer them an abundance of toys and activities that will keep them occupied enough they forget to dig.
That said, you may inherit at dog whose digging is so innate it’s essentially unstoppable. If so, provide a place where digging is acceptable. This could be a pile of dirt in a corner with no vegetation, or maybe a sandbox. To get them interested in this part of your lot, partly bury some toys or odoriferous objects there, then encourage Rex to dig them up. This should reinforce the concept.
Protect Your Assets
You can often keep a dog out of areas you want for your own use, like a flower bed or vegetable garden, by edging in big, immovable plants, extra-dense plantings, a hedge or a low fence … and using a bit of gentle persuasion. If you say “no” often enough, Max will eventually get it. Also, dogs tend to prefer to stick to the “ground floor” and often pay no attention to raised beds just inches away. Most dogs don’t seem to find container gardens of any interest either … all ways of separating the dog area from the “people only” area. If push comes to shove, cover the ground at the foot of plants you want to protect with chicken wire: dogs just don’t seem to like the touch of it.
Avoid Toxic Products and Plants
Don’t use toxic products in a dog-friendly environment … and, just as importantly, don’t leave them lying around, even for a few minutes. The no-nos include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, slug baits, paints, solvents, etc. Cocoa mulch, too, is toxic to dogs. True enough, few dogs will touch it … but why take a chance?
In general, dogs seem to recognize poisonous plants and avoid them, but still, why take a chance, especially with puppies, more intrepid and curious than adults? Here are some poisonous plants that may be best avoided in a doggie environment:
- Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)
- Castor Bean Plant (Ricinus communis)
- Colchicum or fall crocus (Colchicum spp.)
- Holly (Ilex spp.)
- Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)
- Oleander (Nerium oleander)
- Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)
- Yew (Taxus spp.)
There you go! With a little planning and a bit of doggie training, you can create a yard that meets the needs of both your dog and your family!