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Dog Tip: Garden Tips for Dog People

By Robin Tierney

NOTE: The content on this website cannot be used in connection with any profit-seeking activity due to agreements with the writers, editors and sources contributing to the content. These articles may NOT be reproduced in any form without author permission. To contact the author, email Robin at Tierneydog@yahoo.com.

Create a yard within a yard. To keep dogs out of garden beds and other special parts of your yard, create a separate place for dogs to play. Pick a shaded area. Delineate it with a decorative or plain fence of wood, iron or retaining blocks, cinder blocks or stone. If you use lumber, make sure it does not contain preservatives and is not treated with CCA, which has been linked with disease. See the fence Dog Tipsheet listed at the end for details about fence selection, construction and repair.

For the surface, use wood chips, bark chips, leaves, ground rubber tires or other type of mulch. You can fill it with a mix of sand of some soil. Digging dogs especially like sand. Beware of putting too much sand in the mix or it will not provide the feel of cool dirt that the dog likes. When dry, the mixture will not cling to fur, but when the mixture gets damp, your dog will be wearing some.

  • If dog urine is leaving burn marks on your grass, douse the area with a hose to dilute the effect of the urine soon after the dog urinates. Urine is alkaline and contains salt that slightly alters the soil pH. Another strategy is to rake an inch of compost onto the area. The compost contains soil organisms that help balance the soil biology and chemistry. Depending on the grass species, new growth may come into the renovated area, but you can sow a little seed to get it going again.
  • Move compost piles out of the dog's reach.
  • If you need to stake plants or have young trees installed, don't use thin, invisible wires that dogs might run into. Tying plants to stakes with thin strips of cloth works with small plants. Rubber wire-guards (if your dog doesn't chew rubber) or multiple flags on the wires often work well with tree-staking.
  • Leave a gap between your fence and garden plots to allow for dogs who like to run alongside fences.
  • Build raised beds for vegetables, ornamentals and other garden plants using timbers, bricks or stone, and/or spread pea gravel or similar material on the ground for interest. This way, you would restrict the dog's access and your plantings would not be disturbed.
  • Container gardens can be a good solution for pet people, and they are easier to maintain than sprawling garden beds.
  • Since dirt, leaf, mulch and other types of paths can lead to muddy messes for pet guardians, consider creating paths from rocks, heavy gravel, concrete, bricks or pavers.
  • If your dog's fence running or yard crisscrossing is wearing unwelcome paths in your yard, be resourceful. Turn your dog's favorite route into a decorative pathway and landscape around it. To keep dogs on track, line the path with raised beds or ornamental fencing.

Line pathways with soft materials (pine needles or leaves) that dogs will like. An uncomfortable paving will send dogs on new routes. In a fenced-off and shaded area, add a sand pile for digging and safe toys. You might build an elevated platform since most dogs enjoy surveying the scene from a higher vantage point.

  • To reduce the amount of mud, grass and moisture tracked in by pets and people, install a hard surface right outside the door. Or use a large mat.
  • Try not to let your dog see you weed or plant ... you don't want to give her ideas for misbehavior. Diggers will be attracted to the freshly turned dirt. Chewers will want to try out the new plant's branches or leaves, and runners may add the new plants as a destination. Start with the biggest plants you can.
  • When you plant a small tree, surround it by a protective wire enclosure for the first few years to give it ample opportunity to grow.
  • A fence will keep most dogs out of vegetable gardens and flower beds. One style is a simple wire mesh fence fastened to steel posts. Aim for four feet tall. Bury the mesh up to a foot beneath the ground.
  • Do not punish a dog for making a mess in the yard. Stop or correct the dog only when you catch him in the act. Use positive training methods and teach your dog good behavior. Focus more on helping him learn what you would like him to do, rather than what not to do. When a dog engages in an undesirable activity, redirect him to a permissible activity. In most cases, a dog makes a mess only because he has nothing else to do with his time. Play with him in the yard, give him a sandbox of his own, provide him with safe and engaging toys outdoors. And do not just leave dogs outside unattended.
  • Teach your dog to potty in one area. Do not let fecal matter sit in your yard; try always to pick it up soon after the dog eliminates.
  • Older decks may need resanding to keep dogs from getting spinters in their feet. Many of us don't go barefoot on our decks and might not notice.
Dog-Proof Plant Choices:

It is not uncommon for dogs to investigate and trot around plants. But there are things you can do to minimize potential damage. Start by planting sturdy plants that can withstand most doggie play.

* Some attractive, vigorous plants include peony, creeping phlox, verbena, coneflower, black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisy, Liriope, Russian sage, Mexican primrose. Other plants that resist breakage include serviceberry, ninebark, mock orange, dogwood, lilac, pine, butterfly bush and quince.

* Tough shrubs include escallonia, laurel, Pieris, evergreen huckleberry and viburnum.

* Salt-tolerant groundcovers that thrive near the ocean or in alkaline deserts and do well in full sun.

* Thorned and prickly bushes such as barberry and hollies will discourage some dogs. But for safety's safe, do not plant varieties with long, sharp thorns or points, such as yucca, because they might injure a dog's eyes.

* A mulch that's uncomfortable or uneasy to walk on can discourage pet traffic. One good choice is a thick carpet of pine cones.

Discouraging Digging:

It's canine nature to dig. Why?

Digging...
** feels good
** releases interesting smells from the earth
** provides exercise and an outlet for energy
** gives the solitary dog something to do that feels constructive and rewarding
** consoles the dog who is lonely and in need of companionship
** preoccupies the dog who is not given any other environmental enrichment, such as playing games or interactive toys
** creates a cool hole to rest in on a warm day, or a haven from wind and chill when it's cold
** gives hope of escape at the fenceline to the more interesting "outside world ... or to find a mate for the unneutered dog
** results from the instinct to tunnel after some prey animal they smell in the ground or beyond the yard
** for some breeds, arises from the job they were bred to do

Dogs do not dig out of spite; spite is not a canine emotion.

Since we don't want a yard full of craters, or have our pooches escape under a fence, here are some humane and effective solutions. Remember, it is ineffective and unkind to punish a dog for digging.

* First, do not leave your dog unsupervised in the yard. Many unacceptable behaviors stem from boredom. After all, dogs are pack animals and prefer to be with their people, plus they like to be entertained. When you go out in the yard with your dog, you can exercise him, occupy his mind, and strengthen your bond. You can take the opportunity to teach him obedience exercises, which will immensely benefit both of you. And you can stop him from digging before he makes a mess - and before it turns into a habit.

* Second, try to figure out the cause of the digging. It could be out of boredom or loneliness, or a need to exercise, or anxiety. For intact (unneutered/unspayed) dogs, it could be spurred by hormones and the desire to find a mate. Some dogs dig to warm or cool themselves, to bury or uncover things, to pursue small critters. Some digging behavior is related to breed; beagles, for example, instinctively feel digging is part of their life's work. Tactics such as shaking peppers in a hole, spray dog digging repellants, spritzing the digging dog with water and blocking holes with boards or wire may occasionally work, but usually the dog will just dig in another spot. It is essential to figure out and address the underlying cause. Figure out why the dog is doing it. Pinpoint the underlying reasons and tailor an appropriate solution.

* Give your dog her own sandbox or other acceptable digging area. See the tip at the top.

* Walk your dog vigorously at least twice daily. Exercise has mental as well as physical benefits.

* Engage your dog's mind. Teach your dog commands in 2 sessions daily, 10 to 15 minutes each. This will expand your dog's repertoire of talents, and provide your dog a way to earn praise and treats. Take obedience training classes with your dog and practice every day. Participate in agility training, which is fun for owner and dog alike.

* Get interactive toys such as Kongs, in which you can smear peanut butter or fill with treats. Rotate toys so that they will retain a special appeal. (As mentioned elsewhere, do not leave your dog in the yard when you're not home. Bring your dog inside and teach the dog how to stay calmly in a dog-proofed room. You can start out using a crate. If you're away long hours, consider getting a midday dog walker or doggie daycare. Your dog may also have separation anxiety. There is a wealth of free information about separation anxiety on the web. In any case, please help your dog adjust. You're the only one he can count on.

* Teach your dog to fetch a ball or other toy - and play with him daily.

* If your dog is digging in pursuit of prey, use humane, ecologically friendly ways to discourage other animals from entering your yard. You can find guidance on the internet and from some local agricultural extension department.

* If your dog is digging to find stuff to chew on or eat, she may have a dietary deficiency you need to address. You can try switching food and adding nutritious supplements and veggies.

* If your dog is digging to seek comfort, you are probably leaving her outside too long. Do not banish your dog outside. The safe and humane place for dogs to stay is indoors.

* If the dog is digging out of loneliness, give her more social interaction. Expand your dog's world. Spend more time with her. Take her with you more often if you're frequently away from the house. When you're ready and have the resources, you might also adopt another dog to keep her company. However, another pet is not a substitute for the interaction and leadership that a dog needs from her person.

* Unneutered dogs may be trying to escape to seek out mates. This is one of many good reasons to neuter and spay dogs without delay.

* Is the digging a behavior that recently emerged? Have you noticed other behavioral changes? There may be a physical cause underlying the behavior change, so see your vet. More frequently, behavior changes are triggered by stressful changes in the household. For example, a new person or pet moving into the house ... someone possibly bothering the dog ... a neighbor possibly taunting the dog through the fence ... a change in the family resulting in the dog receiving less attention, leaving him craving companionship. Address the issue; your dog needs your attention and leadership.

* When you see your dog starting to dig in an unapproved area of the yard, clap your hands loudly to interrupt the dog in action. Then immediately take him to his approved digging area, and praise him for digging or resting there. Do the same thing if you catch the dog digging in the house. You can pair the loud noise with a verbal "Nah-ah-ah!", but some behavior specialist recommend not saying anything. Indoors you can make a startling noise by smacking a wall. Keep in mind that the noise should be startling, but not terrifying. Right after the dog turns his attention to you, redirect him to his approved toy and play area. Your goals are to link the startle sound with the digging and to discourage the digging behavior, rather than motivate him to find a new out of sight place to dig.

* Have you let the digging become a habit? Get the help of a canine behavior expert, such as a trainer who uses positive methods. You can also put some highly coveted little treats in your pocket, put a leash on your dog, and walk him over to one of his self-made holes. When he attempts to dig, state an emphatic "NO" or "Nah-ah-ah!" When he obeys and stops, immediately praise him and give him a tasty treat. Try this interruption/reward approach several times. Some people pair the verbal command with a sharp leash correction, but that kind of force-based approach has fallen out of favor because it is not as effective or humane as positive reinforcement-based methods.

* Do not punish the dog. Punishment does not address the cause of the behavioral problem. Instead, it will aggravate digging and other undesired behaviors springing from anxiety, fear or loneliness ... and cause anxiety in otherwise stable dogs. And never tether the dog outside; it is debilitating emotionally and can lead to aggression.

About those craters and barren spots:

* Add bricks and dirt to fill doggie holes. After scraping nails on the bricks, most dogs will get discouraged.

* If your dog likes to scrape up sections of your lawn, lay chicken wire, burying the edges deep so they cannot pull the wire out. Over this, lay thick, sturdy sod. Wire discourages digging in gardens as well.

* If your dog repeatedly digs in the same spot, he may be trying to reach some decaying underground. Cover those spots with brick squares or pavers topped by decorative planters.

* Get a bag of decorative gravel with sharp edges, then place the gravel in the hole. Unlike nice, giving, cool earth, the gravel will feel unpleasant on the dog's paws, so she will be less inclined to dig.

* Put a pile of poop in the hole. This has stopped many a dog from digging.

Keep a positive attitude. Remember, digging comes natural to dogs, and your dog might think her behavior is normal and that it is her person who is confused.

Warnings:

* Use only nontoxic plants in your garden. See the poisonous plants websites listed below.

* Chewing on garden hoses can do more than damage your hose. It can lead to internal obstructions requiring immediate medical help.

* Water gardens can be a hazard for pets.

* A dog can get hurt playing on concrete or spiky rocks. Instead, make sure he has a grassy area for playing and relaxing in your yard.

* Many lawn chemicals can harm or kill pets.

Consider some of the nontoxic and less toxic alternatives to using lawn chemicals. For details, see the lawn care-related sections of http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_WarmWeatherSafetyTips.php

More resources:

Gardening expertís tips for dog-proofing gardens and yards and pet safety in yards

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/21/AR2008032101735_pf.html

Dog Friendly Gardens - Garden Friendly Dogs
This book by Cheryl Smith will prove extremely helpful by giving you specific advice for training your dog to behave in your yard. The author presents solutions for digging, chewing and barking in the yard, as well as directions for creating dog-friendly play areas away from your gardens.

Warm Weather, Lawn Care and Outdoor Safety Guide
http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_WarmWeatherSafetyTips.php

Decks and Balconies - Avoiding Hazards from Falling to Arsenic Poisoning
http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Decks.php

Safer Alternatives to Household and Yard Products
http://www.rainyday.net/cbc/products.shtml
http://www.care2.com/channels/solutions/outdoors/188
http://www.beyondpesticides.org
http://www.petfriendlyfertilizer.com

Plants Poisonous to Pets
http://www.aspca.org/site/FrameSet?style=User&url=http://www.aspca.org/toxicplants/M01947.htm
http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/index.html
http://www.uexplore.com/health/poisonplants.htm

Poison Emergency 24-Hour Hotlines
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
1-888-4-ANI-HELP or 1-888-426-4435
National Animal Poison Control Center
1-800-548-2423

Choosing and Erecting a Secure Fence
http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_FenceJumping.php


Garden tips adapted from sources including "Gardens and Dogs" by Jean M. Fogle in the May 2004 issue of Dog Fancy, HGTV, Better Homes and Gardens, and Dog Friendly Gardens - Garden Friendly Dogs by Cheryl Smith
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For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:  www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php

Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

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Last Updated: July 24, 2014 (LET) PawSupport