You, Pooch, And The Garden… Can't You All Just Get Along?

by Judy Macomber

Are you becoming a new pet owner or planning for a new garden? Here are some tips that may help you, your pet and the garden happily coexist.

You need to consider first what sort of plants you can have in an area with your pet. In a landscape be sure to eliminate plants that may be toxic to your pet, especially if you have a new puppy or a dedicated "chewer." These can include azaleas, foxglove, bleeding heart, lily-of-the-valley, oleander, philodendron, mistletoe, iris below ground stems, and bulbs of hyacinth, narcissus and daffodil. You can call the Poison Control Center at (619) 543-6000 for a list of toxic plants.It might be wise to give up on tender shrubs like camillias with roots close to the soil surface as well as sharp leaf plants like yucca which can be blinding. 

Area natives are often the hardiest choices. In a shady area try such plants as begonia, lobelia, ground orchids, pentas and turks cap. If these are not making it, moving to hardy ivies and ground covers like ardina or wedelia could work better. In sunny areas Lantana, Daylillies, Salvias, Shasta Daisies, and Black Eyed Susans could be a good choice. 

Before you do any buying or planting however...WATCH YOUR DOG. Spend a few days of careful observation to see how he uses the area. Find out:

  • Where does he sleep during the day?
  • How and where does he react when someone drives up or approaches the area?
  • Is he tearing up the whole yard or just certain spots?
  • Is he beating a regular path through the area?
  • Does he dig? If so where?

Let's talk a bit about "the digger." Digging is an ancient instinct going back to hunting days. For your dog it may be related to comfort, hormonal urges or maybe just fun. Compulsive digging often occurs when a dog is left alone too much. He may be speaking of his loneliness in a very physical way and daily leash walks with a chance to do some territorial "marking" can help.

Perhaps the problems are not severe or you wish to landscape around your dog. Now that you've made your observations of his behavior, planning where everything will go can start. Most dogs that spend any time in the yard alone will wear a path along a fenceline. Plant vines here if it starts to be an eyesore. Then line a 2 to 3 foot path along it with soft material like leaves, hay, etc. Stones and pebbles are hard on paws and may incite your dog to make a more comfortable route you may not like. Gardens on the path's inside border will hide the dog's path and chicken wire around the plants may discourage digging until he adjusts. Also try bordering some paths with rock garden as an added incentive.

If you have a true digger or area terrorizer, there are options: 

You can divide the yard into two parts--one landscaped area for you and one for the dog. Decide where you wish your area to be and fence off the other part for him, keeping in mind his area needs to have some shade all day long. Also remember dogs like to be close to us and, if possible, arrange it so he can perhaps even see in the house windows. In his special area it will be ok to dig and enjoy doggie fun and you can allow him in your part only when you are there to supervise his activities. Make his yard inviting to him. You can include play sand for digging, platforms for sunning (not too close to the fence for jumpers, please), chew toys like Booda Bones, and shallow plastic swimming pools for those water loving breeds.

If digging behavior is severe and the dog has decided to excavate his way into the "new world".....outside your fenced area, hot wire and other electronic pet enclosure devices are available at feed or pet supply stores. If using hot wire, BE CAREFUL! Installed too close to the ground or fence these can be ineffective or possibly kill small wildlife touching them. Read the directions carefully. 

One successful way to eliminate repeated hole digging in an area is to refill the holes with the dog's own waste. If you're able to catch him "in the act", hold his head to the hole and correct him in a low warning voice accompanied by what I call the "evil eye." Then guide him over to his "ok" area and praise him soothingly. Remember dogs speak tone of voice and body language, not English. 

Article excerpts by Judy Macomber from "Planting With Your Pooch".

  copyright 2006 Unleashed!