By Dr. Becker
Believe it or not, you can have a dog and a beautiful yard. With a little planning and effort, your furry family member can peacefully co-exist in a lush outdoor space that makes both of you happy.
First Things First: Create Canine-Friendly Spaces in Your Yard
• Build a doggy play space. Frame it with wood or iron fencing, or cement or stone blocks. The goal isn't to confine your dog to the area, but just to delineate it. Put down soil and perhaps some sand, and cover with leaves, wood or bark chips, or some other type of mulch (but not cocoa bean mulch).
To encourage your dog to hang out in his new play area, make sure he's watching you while you bury a favorite toy or a few yummy snacks in a treat-release toy just beneath the surface and invite him to find it. Bury a few more toys right beneath the surface while he's watching and let him dig those up as well.
Next, bury a couple of toys while your dog isn't around, then take him to his play area and encourage him to find them. Repeat this routine as often as necessary until your dog learns the area is his. If he likes to dig, with any luck you've given him incentive to limit his digging to his own little yard.
• Add canine climate control. To help your dog stay comfortable on warm days and prevent her from digging in search of cool soil, create a cooling pit in your yard. 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 with about six inches of white playground sand. Keep the sand damp with water during the warmer months of the year and it's almost a guarantee your dog will know exactly where to go to cool off. As an added bonus, when she gets up from her spot, the sand will simply drop off her as it dries.
Another option for helping your dog stay cool outdoors is a kiddy pool. Select a pool made of sturdy, molded plastic. The sides of the pool should be low enough that your dog can step in and out easily. Alternatively, you can build a doggy in-ground pool by digging out an area to place the kiddy pool in so that only an inch or two at the top is exposed.
This can help protect the pool from damage and enhance the look of your outdoor space. The only downside to this design is the pool will be more difficult to empty. You'll have to bail it out, drain it with a siphon or allow the water to evaporate.
Next: Create Your Own Outdoor Spaces With Your Dog in Mind
• Anticipate perimeter patrol. Dogs routinely patrol the boundaries of their territory, so save yourself the hassle and don't plant anything around the perimeter of your yard. 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. If the pathway 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 to prevent her from creating a needlessly wide path that encroaches on the rest of your yard.
• Protect your plants. Use raised beds built with wood, decorative brick or stone for all your plants. This will prevent your dog from running through your vegetables, flowers and greenery, or plopping down in the middle of them for a nap. Alternatively, you can 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.
• Avoid toxic plants and chemicals. When choosing what to put in your garden, keep in mind that some plants are toxic to pets. Veggies you should 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.
The Espoma Company, which makes natural and organic products for the lawn and garden industry, has a Safe Paws lawn campaign to help spread awareness about natural gardening solutions that keep pets healthy and safe outside. The company wants homeowners to transition their lawns from "fast food" to "healthy food." The traditional method of lawn care spreads toxic pesticides over the entire lawn, posing considerable risk to pets, kids and the environment.
Synthetic fertilizers containing fast-acting chemicals and made with fossil fuels like natural gas and coal are another problem in conventional lawn care. These chemicals can burn the grass and kill earthworms and beneficial organisms in the soil. Excess fertilizer can leach into nearby waterways, causing pollution and harmful algae blooms.
The focus of organic lawn care is to produce a healthy lawn and soil using natural organic fertilizers. An organic lawn has grass roots grown deep into the soil, which makes them less vulnerable to drought, weeds, insects, disease and other stressors.
• Safe staking. 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, especially if your dog is male, protect them in wire enclosures for the first two or three years.
• Dealing with urine burns and pet waste. There are a couple of 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.
Mostly likely, the root of this problem is your dog's alkaline urine pH. Dog urine with a pH above 7 will kill the grass. Grains in pet food are often the cause of elevated urine pH, and eliminating them from your dog's diet can actually cause his urine to become a fertilizer instead of a grass killer.
Additionally, most dogs are consuming dry food, devoid of appropriate moisture, which leads to super concentrated, alkaline urine. If your dog already has a specific potty spot in your yard, you're way ahead of the game. If the whole yard is his bathroom, consider training him to use one area. Scoop your pet's poop as soon as you can after she eliminates.
Consider making your own pet waste composter to manage dog poop. This can be extremely helpful for people with large dogs or more than one dog.