Creating a dog-friendly yard

  • Article by: RHONDA HAYES , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2014 - 3:11 PM

Don't fight your dog for control of the garden. Follow its lead in creating paths, planting beds and potty areas.


Consider creating a “digging zone” for your dog, and avoid toxic plants.

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.

Here’s how:

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.

Seeing spots

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.

Dig it

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.

Hidden dangers

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.

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