So you want to have a garden and a dog, but think both of your passions can't coexist within the confines of your backyard? With a bit of planning and dog whispering, you can grow a dog-friendly garden — and a garden-friendly dog.
Get on all fours in the yard you want to convert into a garden and ask yourself, "What do I, as a dog, want from this space?" The breed, personality and age of your dog may dictate just how much you can convert to garden, and what kind of garden you can grow.
"Yes, breed can matter. Sighthounds, as long as they are given space to run, are really couch potatoes in between their spurts of activity. They generally love to sun bathe," says Cheryl S. Smith, dog behavior expert and author of "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs". "Some of the small breeds specifically meant to be companions, such as Tibetan spaniels or Maltese, can have low or no impact on the gardens. On the other hand, terriers are quite literally 'earth dogs,' and inclined to dig and chase vermin. Dachshunds go right along with them."
In 15 handy online tools for gardeners, I recommended a couple of DIY garden design tools you can use to layout a garden. Look at your property and make note of the paths the dog has already created to survey its domain. Plan your garden around these well-worn paths and convert them into garden paths by laying stepping stones or mulch.
If a dog run happens to cut through the ideal location for your new vegetable garden, you'll have to protect it. The American Kennel Club recommends creating boundaries for Fido out of a low picket fence and using vocal commands and treats to teach your pooch where it can and cannot go.
Similarly, densely planted areas, raised beds and mounds can reroute a dog through a space. If you've ever planted a new bed with seedlings and small starts, you know that people will try to gingerly step between the plants and cut through the bed, rather than moving two feet and walking around it. Don't expect your dog to do much better. Protect newly planted areas with fencing until plants are established, or start with larger plants in three-gallon containers or larger that can bounce back from some abuse.
Smith advises dog owners to build a raised bed filled with sand in which the dog can be trained to dig and play by using verbal commands and praise. "Bury a toy or some treats, run to the pit with your dog, dig something up and play with the dog with it," she says. "Any time you see the dog dig anywhere else, encourage the dog to accompany you to the digging pit, and praise. It's all good."
Leave a sunny patch of the yard undisturbed so your pooch has somewhere to bask in the sun. Designate an area away from the garden where your dog can play, dig, eat and drink. A tree stump, large piece of driftwood, or large boulder can serve as a lookout perch and marking area.
Dog-friendly garden tips from the Oregon Garden
The Oregon Garden maintains a beautiful demonstration garden that teaches visitors about how a garden can co-exist with dogs. Among some of their helpful advice is a suggestion to plant edibles like apples that you and your dog can enjoy together.
When we garden for wildlife, we create areas where fauna can hide and seek shelter. Think about a protected area, like a doghouse, where your dog can escape the scary sounds of your battery-powered trimmer, the rotating blades of your push mower, and just generally feel safe.
As a responsible dog owner, you want to ensure that your garden is safe for your four-legged friends.
The ASPCA maintains a list and photo gallery of plants that may be poisonous to pets. The group includes common garden plants like azaleas, lily of the valley, oleander, and foxglove among others. Over the years I've gardened with dogs and cats without a problem, but it would be prudent to garden on the side of caution.
Fertilize and compost responsibly. Avoid using insecticides at all, but if you have to use them, make sure you follow the directions on the packaging. Build a storage shed for anything you need to apply in your garden, and keep tools like rakes, tillers, and hoes that could cause trauma and pose a tetanus risk away from your dogs.
No matter how well you plan and train your dog to stay out of the garden, remember to keep things in perspective.
"Training can also keep the dog from interfering with the garden, but training takes time and patience, and sometimes both of these are in short supply," says the author. "Understanding that the dog is just doing what dogs do — not a demon out to destroy your beautification efforts — helps."