Monday, July 27, 2009

Dogs in the Garden

I love animals and I have a lot of them. So I've learned the hard way how to garden with them. I consider my pets to be part of my family and I garden with them in mind, just as I garden with the people in my family in mind. Although a well-trained dog may stay out of areas where you don't want him, I find that giving in can go a long way when arguing with a mutt about a hole or a path. A garden is for the enjoyment of all. Even the pets. Although I'd like to cover all pets, today is for the dogs. Enjoy.

The best advice I have ever received for gardening with dogs is to let the dogs choose their paths and then garden around them. This is especially practical considering that different types of dogs will use a garden differantly. Terriers like to dig. Border collies and other herd dogs may want a circuit to run, and a guard dog will want to see what’s going on. Planting shrubs and trees a few feet inside a fenceline can give your dog a place to run each day without much noticable damage. One pet owner I talked to had a dog that would regularly jump their 6 foot fence until they cut a small window in it and screened it in with chickenwire. Now the dog can see what is going on outside and he no longer jumps the fence.
If you are designing a new garden, let the dog specify a route around the garden first, and then design around it. If the garden is already established, see which shrubs get regularly damaged and then consider moving them. It is easier to move the shrub than to train the dog, but if shrub relocation is not an option, then you can try different tactics such as temporary fencing to break up a dog trail, hoping that he’ll create one in a different area.
Digging can be a real pain to a gardener since dogs seldom dig where we actually want a hole. Try to understand why the dog is digging. Some dogs have it bred into them. They were vermin hunters that would dig out the rats or moles. These will be the toughest to work with. Chicken wire layed out under the mulch will deter this habit, but it is not particularly fun for the gardener either. I would try small pieces in areas where the digging is the worst before I would do any bigger areas.
Our big Mastif-mutt digs a huge hole each spring, but it is because he wants a cool place to lie in. Therefore, once he has dug his hole, he may dig on it more now and then to get to the cooler dirt, but he won’t dig any other holes in the garden. In the spirit of peace, I let him have his one, big hole each year and then fill it back in come autumn. I do try to persuade him to dig it in an out-of-the-way place though by digging a small hole over on the side of the yard. He is usually more than happy to expand my hole than to start a new one.
If you have a water dog who is getting into your fish pond, try netting over the pond for a few weeks along with setting up a rigid wading pool for the dog. If you play with him in the water, throwing his ball in, splashing him, etc, he may learn that this is his pool and leave yours alone.
For the problem of urine burns in the lawn, train your dog to use a specific area of the garden that is mulched or graveled for his toilet. You can usually train them easily by taking them out on a leash for a week or two to the spot where you want them to go and giving them praise after they do their business.

There are a few safety precautions to take into accord if you have pets in your garden. Many people are concerned about poisonous plants, and if you have a pet that chews on plants often, it would be wise to consult a poisonous plant list and choose your landscape accordingly, however, in 50 years of gardening and pet owning, I have never had a poisoned pet, even though I grew some highly poisonous plants. The bigger danger is from chemicals used on the plants. Poisoning from slug bait is a common and ghastly death in pets. If you must use slug bait, invest in one that is not poisonous to pets, such as Sluggo.
Pets can also be harmed by weed and feed applied to lawns (especially if they walk through it soon after application) or from pesticides applied to plants. A common problem is spray that drifts into a pet’s water bowl. If you truly love your pet and want to co-exist with them in your garden, consider going organic. HOWEVER – be aware that just because something is organic does not mean it isn’t poisonous. Organic only means that that product was once living. Nicotine, although perfectly organic, can be much more lethal than many chemical pesticides.
Some rather mundane products may be dangerous as well. If you have dogs, you should not use cocoa mulch. It smells like chocolate and dogs sometimes will eat lethal amounts of it.
Tools and toys can be dangerous to pets as well. Older pets can fall into swimming pools and not be able to escape. Barbeques should always be supervised around pets and gardening tools should be picked up and stored.

To make your garden a paradise for your pets, provide clean drinking water, shade on sunny days, a little entertainment (toys, trails, holes, etc) and a relaxed attitude about your landscape.

Quaint, custom doghouses can become garden art.
If you have a comfy dog bed in the shade on the patio, you probably won’t have your dog laying in your flower bed.
Never leave an animal in a greenhouse. If the sun comes out unexpectedly, the temperature can reach killing range quickly.

Do not feed your pets outside. Food can be infested with fly eggs quickly and bee stings are more likey from pets competing with hornets and wasps for food. Feeding outside is also likely to bring in wild animals like raccoons and possoms.


bryn said...

I love my Red!

Moonstone Gardens said...

Yes, Bryn, we all love Red. How can you not love a dog with a helicopter tail? For those of you scratching your heads, Red is the dog in the picture.