Dogs see the garden differently than we do.
I find the new water feature in my garden soothing. Henry, my shaggy doodle dog, thinks it's the world's greatest water dish. The soft blades of the newly sodded front lawn are a sign of spring to me. To him, it's the perfect potty.
I'm of the opinion that dogs don't mean to be destructive. But in the course of being dogs, the garden — and gardener — may suffer. Yet there are ways to defend your precious plants and redirect your dog's behavior so that the back yard is a safe and peaceable kingdom for the both of you.
Go with the flow
If your Labrador is blundering through your flower beds, try erecting attractive barriers that steer it away from the petunias.
You also can strategically design your garden to minimize damage: Place large containers, garden art or driftwood near more delicate plantings or plant a border of sturdy grasses or short woody shrubs to protect annuals and perennials. And raised beds send a signal to Ruff to stay out of the veggies.
Another wise idea: Follow your pup's lead and use the paths it regularly patrols to redefine your garden. Fill the paths with smooth steppingstones or pea gravel, or mulch them with small wood chips that are easy on your feet as well as its paws. Smaller wood chips won't get tangled in long or curly coats as easily as larger chips do.
The nitrogen and salts in dog urine over-fertilize lawn grass, making dark green patches or completely burning the grass, resulting in those ugly brown spots. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. You can re-seed or re-sod, but that is time-consuming and expensive. You can try pouring a gallon of water on the spot immediately after your dog urinates, but that's difficult to keep up with.
Dietary supplements, like tomato juice, that promise to eliminate the problem simply make dogs thirsty, and the extra water they drink dilutes the urine concentration reducing the spots. Be warned, however, that these supplements can cause health problems for some dogs.
One possible solution is to create a doggy potty area: Mulch a section of the yard (usually one out of the main traffic area) and train your pooch — with praise and rewards — to go there. For male dogs, provide a marking post or sacrificial bush to save the rest of the shrubs.
Dogs dig. For lots of reasons: entertainment, escape, burying treasure, looking for a comfy spot. Certain breeds, like terriers, that were bred to burrow after prey are more prone to digging. It's even been suggested that dogs see humans playing in the dirt and mimic our actions.
If, despite getting lots of exercise, your dog still digs, it may be looking for a cool place to lie down or even seeking water. Make sure to provide shade and fresh water for warm days. After all, you don't usually garden in a fur coat, but your dog has no choice.
Consider creating a "digging zone," suggested Dr. Teresa Hershey, a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic in Minneapolis. "You can bury some little treats or toys to train [your dog] to use a specific part of the yard," she said. A kiddie pool filled with sand also works.
Be careful what you plant. Some common flowers — including lilies, azaleas, chrysanthemums, tulips, English ivy and yews — can be toxic for dogs. If your dog likes to sample the greenery, avoid these plants altogether. But even non-toxic plants can cause problems for dogs when ingested in large quantities. The most common symptoms of a toxic reaction are vomiting and diarrhea.
Mulch made from cocoa bean hulls smells delicious to humans — and dogs. Unfortunately, the caffeine and theobromine, a chemical found in cocoa and chocolate, is dangerous to eat. While these toxins vary in amount from brand to brand, it's best to opt for a wood-based mulch instead.
If you use fertilizers or pesticides in your yard, be sure to follow directions for pet safety. Dogs may eat these products off the ground or walk through them and then lick them off their paws. Pesticides, such as slug or snail bait, can be fatal to dogs. Even organic fertilizers, such as blood and bone meal, can cause life-threatening reactions.
For more information, go to www.petpoisonhelpline.com (1-800-213-6680) or www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control (1-888-426-4435).
If you plan to install a fence to corral your dog, make sure it's too tall to jump over. If your dog is a digger, reinforce the base of the fence with buried mesh material or chicken wire to prevent escapes. One dog-wise landscape designer suggests cutting small "dog windows" into the fence so your dog can see out.
Invisible fences can make for seamless landscapes, but they aren't foolproof. Sometimes a squirrel proves too tempting. Signals can fail to penetrate through deep snow. And while it may keep your dog within the boundary, it doesn't keep other animals and people out.
Rhonda Hayes is a Minneapolis-based garden writer. She blogs at www.thegardenbuzz.com.