By Dr. Becker
You love to garden and beautify your yard when spring arrives. And you also have a dog in the family.
You may be wondering how the two can peacefully co-exist – a lush outdoor space and a dog who can spend time out there safely … and without destroying all your hard work.
You actually can have both with a little planning and effort.
First … Create Dog-Friendly Spaces
- Build a doggy play area.
Mark it off with wood or iron fencing, or cement or stone blocks.
The idea isn’t to confine your dog in the area, but just to delineate it.
Lay down soil and perhaps some sand, and cover the area with leaves, wood or bark chips, or some other type of mulch (but not cocoa bean mulch).
To encourage your dog to use his play area, while he’s watching bury a favorite toy -- maybe a treat-release puzzle filled with snacks -- just beneath the surface. Encourage him to find it.
Bury a few more toys right beneath the surface while he’s watching and then let him dig them up.
Next bury a couple of toys while he isn’t looking, then take him to his play area and encourage him to find them.
With repeated exposure and a little luck, your dog will learn the area is his. If he’s a digger, hopefully you’ve given him incentive to limit his digging to his own ‘yard.’
- To help your dog stay comfortable during the warm days of summer, and to prevent her from digging in soil looking for a cool place to rest, consider creating a cooling pit in your yard for your overheated canine companion.
Dig out a shallow area that’s big enough for your dog to lie comfortably in. Spread a thin layer of wet concrete in the depression as a liner. Before the concrete dries, drive a few screwdriver-size holes in the bottom to allow drainage.
Once the concrete is dry, cover it in about six inches of white playground sand. Keep the sand damp with water all summer long and your dog will love you for it. When she gets up from her spot, the sand will simply drop off as it dries.
- Another option for a way to keep your dog cool outdoors is a kiddy pool.
You want one that is made of sturdy, molded plastic rather than one you have to inflate. The sides of the pool should be low enough that your dog can get in and out of it easily.
You can also turn that kiddy pool into an in-ground pool by digging out an area to sit the pool in so that only an inch or two at the top is exposed. This protects the pool from damage, keeps it from becoming a chew toy or Frisbee when empty, and can enhance the look of your outdoor space.
The only drawback to the ‘in-ground’ pool is it’s more difficult to empty. You can bail it out, drain it with a siphon, or depending on where you live, let the water evaporate.
- Dogs routinely patrol the boundaries of their perceived territory, so do yourself a favor and don’t plant anything around the perimeter of your yard. Your dog will be free to patrol to her heart’s content and no plants will be sacrificed in the process.
Consider lining her pathway with greenery that feels good to puppy paws and also disguises worn areas right next to the fence or edge of your yard. You can use pine needles, leaves or other soft natural materials. Keep in mind that while stone, rocks or other hard surfaces are fine for human walkways, your dog prefers a softer surface.
Then … Create Your Outdoor Space with Your Dog in Mind
- If the pathway at the edge of your yard seems to be widening thanks to your dog’s patrolling activity, consider placing ornamental fencing or some other barrier along the inside edge of the pathway. This will prevent your dog from creating an unnecessarily wide path that encroaches on the rest of your yard.
- Do all your planting in raised beds built with wood, decorative brick or stone. This will prevent your dog from running through your vegetables, flowers and greenery -- or plopping down in the middle of them for a nap. Another option is to use container gardens.
A third option is to build a simple fence around your garden. You can use wire mesh with steel posts. The fence should be approximately 4 feet tall. Make sure to bury the mesh and posts deep enough so they remain secure.
- When choosing what to include in your garden, keep in mind that some plants are toxic to pets. Veggies to either avoid altogether or keep safely away from your dog include eggplant, tomato, potato, onions and rhubarb. Plants that are potentially toxic include Foxglove, Deadly Nightshade and Larkspur.
Trees to avoid include almond and walnut trees, cherry trees, and trees that grow fruit that contains pits.
- The insecticides, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers many people apply in the spring to bring their lawns and gardens back to life are full of chemicals that are dangerous for pets. Make sure to use only pet-safe products in your outdoor space.
- If you need to stabilize plants or young trees with stakes, avoid using thin wires that your dog might not see as he’s moving around your yard. Use strips of cloth instead, flags or ribbons tied to the wires, or rubber wire guards. Also, if you’re planting young trees – and especially if your dog is male – protect them in wire enclosures for the first two or three years.
- There are a couple ways to deal with burn marks on your grass from dog urine. One way is to hose down the patch of grass as soon as your pet urinates. Alternatively, you can cover the area with about an inch of compost. Either method will help rebalance the soil pH and reduce urine burning.
I also recommend you address the root of the ‘urine scald’ issue, which is your dog’s alkaline urine pH. Dog urine with a pH above seven will kill the grass. By eliminating the grains in your pet’s diet that cause elevated urine pH, your dog’s urine becomes a fertilizer (and dark, lush grass will grow where he potties).
- If your dog already has a specific potty spot in your yard, you’re way ahead of the game. If the whole yard is her bathroom, consider training her to use one area. Scoop your pet’s poop as soon as you can after she eliminates. Consider making your own pet waste digester to manage dog feces. This can be an especially good idea for people with large dogs or more than one dog.