Monday, March 1, 2010

Gardening WITH Dogs

From In the Garden
The way I see it gardens and dogs do not go together no matter how you slice it. People and dogs do go together however. So what happens if the people happen to be gardeners or if not gardeners, maybe just someone who happens to love dogs and appreciate good landscaping? There is the crux of the matter and we need to figure out some solutions. I have four dogs, three are very large and have caused some serious damage in my gardens. While gardens will heal and can be repaired the frustration of dealing with the damage is more the problem for me. I've had to figure out ways to reduce the stress of having these wonderful dogs in my backyard or continually be frustrated so here are some of my solutions. I hope they can help you if you garden with dogs..

The way I see it there are a few main issues when it comes to dogs in the garden and I will address each of them based on my experiences with my wonderful mutts-uh dogs. Those issues in simple terms are:

1. Running through gardens
2. Chewing
3. Relieving themselves
4. Digging
5. Drinking and bathing in water features

Running through gardens is probably the biggest complaint dog owners have when addressing dogs in the garden-next to digging. Dogs are just made to run. They don't care what they run into, over, or under, they just want to run. Let's hope there are no neighbor dogs your dogs are running after but most likely there may be another dog or two in the neighborhood; which will make the problem three times as bad. Trust me, I know. Here is the way to solve that problem. If you are able to, put in a privacy fence so your dogs can't see the other dogs and the problem will be somewhat alleviated. If this is not a workable solution for you then plant groundcovers and shrubs along the runway along your property line. In the picture above my dogs run along that fence fairly frequently. There are a few dogs that live on the other side of the fence and even with the privacy fence the dogs still occasionally run along the fence but not as bad as they would if the fence were not there. Next to the fence I planted a really strong groundcover that is low maintenance and is not fazed at all by a pack of dogs. The groundcover is Liriope spicata, aka creeping lilyturf. This liriope is also called monkey grass in some circles but this type of monkey grass should not be confused with Liriope muscari, aka lilyturf or monkey grass. Liriope muscari will also work as a great groundcover but it is a clumping grass versus the creeping grass like the spicata. Clumpers (muscari) work well but do not hold onto the soil as well as runners (spicata). Spicata cannot be bothered by anything. Tree roots, shade, weeds, and dogs are all laughed at by the spicata which grows and grows and grows and looks good pretty much all year long. As a bonus it is low maintenance. All I do to mine is weedwhack it or mow it at a high length in February of each year and that is it. You don't have to mow it but I choose to for aesthetics. Other groundcovers would probably work but there are none I would recommend planting in your garden due to the invasiveness of them so stick with spicata for a groundcover to protect your ground from dog paws.

The above picture shows my privacy fence with the spicata growing along side it. Bella still loves this area and has made a path through the spicata but the ground itself is safe and not prone to erosion due to the dense roots of the spicata. Spicata is great to stop erosion, weeds, and to cover a difficult area such as this area under a silver maple tree. Note: Spicata WILL run too but is much easier to get rid of if you decide it is not for you. If you do plant spicata choose your location wisely and be prepared for it to spread in shade or sun, dry or wet soil-it's quite adaptable.

I have also planted shrubs and trees along this and other fence lines in my garden. They help out but when a dog gets going even thorny shrubs are not likely to stop a dog's run to getting where they wish to go so you still need to protect the ground. Mulch is also a good ground protector but requires more maintenance.

Okay, when a dog is doing its business and not intent on playing with another dog or chasing a squirrel they are more sedate and more manageable in the garden. I have found that borders such as the stone edging along trenched garden beds as in the above picture work great to guide a dog's path. Rarely will my dogs venture into this garden even though they like running along the fence at the back of the garden. Once the dogs are done playing they will naturally gravitate toward the paths in this garden out to the turfgrass where they will follow the edge of the garden around to the next new spot they wish to explore. The rock borders and trenched gardens work like a charm and are attractive as well for directing a dog's run.

I do sometimes have to take tougher measures to control the dogs though. When it comes to chewing and breaking habits sometimes the only thing that will work are fences. I know most folks don't like fences in the garden but I am more of a functional gardener than an aesthetic gardener so I use fences when necessary. The first picture on this post shows one of my fences as well as a pathway. The dogs tend to stick to the paths through the turfgrass and don't usually venture into the fenced gardens. This garden really needed protection because it apparently had some nice and juicy trees and shrubs planted in it. One very expensive and desirable tree that was eaten by one of my goldens was a weeping Japanese maple. I was not a happy camper. Now whenever I plant a new tree or shrub I usually circle it with 24-36" wire until it is big enough to fend for itself. Sometimes this takes years but is worth it to protect the plant and the dogs. Shrubs like camellias and rhododendrons are supposed to be poisonous to dogs and for some reason my dogs have a taste for these shrubs. Fences are necessary in these circumstances.

Now we get to the last few issues. Relieving themselves is a big yuck for gardens but oh so necessary for the dogs. The best solution to deal with wastes from a dog is to select an out of the way spot in the garden and train your dog early to go only in that area. Training puppies is the best method but even older
dogs can be trained to relieve themselves in a certain spot-far away from living areas. You will have to walk your dog to the designated spot (most likely on a leash) and build a habit for that dog to relieve itself in only that spot so it will take time and training but will be worth it in the long run. Once the habit is in place it should stick with the dog for its entire lifetime. I find that generally dogs tend to find an out of the way spot anyhow but in case they regress or like to use pathways you can gently retrain them not to do their business in such a spot by catching them in the act and redirecting them. They don't forget such indignities I can assure you. Cleaning up after your dog is an important part of maintenance chores in the garden as well.

One note on urinating. Many people complain the dogs leave a yellowed spot in areas of their lawn when they urinate. In the eight years I've lived here I have had only one yellow spot and that was during a drought in 2007. If you have a problem with urine concentrating and building up in your garden rinse the area with a hose daily. This should help. Otherwise I don't stress about urine unless it is on me!
Another issue we have to deal with when gardening with dogs is digging. This is a frustrating trait. My little dachshund was the worst when it came to digging when he was a puppy. He would dig and dig and dig and no matter how quickly I tried to fill the hole I never could find enough dirt to fill the hole up and still he would dig. I still wonder what happens to all the dirt! My solution to digging is multi faceted like my other solutions. No one trick will solve all issues with dogs and gardens. Being proactive I would try to catch a dog in the act of digging and severely scold them for it. This helps. I also try to limit the dogs freedom outside when I am not around. I know bored dogs tend to dig. This helps a bit too but it will not completely eliminate the problem. Here is the good news, as dogs age they seem to dig less frequently. My dachshund never digs and neither do my goldens, though they all had their moments when they were younger. Enter Bella, my daughter's rottweiler mix mutt, she digs. She is young. She is persistent and most irritating. I can always tell when she has been digging because her dirty nose gives her away. Bella's favorite spots to dig are near the house and wherever newly planted plants have been put in. Grrrrrrr! We've had a real issue with her this past year. I try to catch her in the act but even that is not enough to give her the message digging is not acceptable. In her situation I usually wind up placing a barrier over the hole. I usually use mesh wire like chicken wire, heavy rocks, or even the above pictured trellis to block off her current holes. This just sends Bella somewhere else to find easier pickings but at least the hole doesn't get any larger and I can fill it in. Sometimes I leave the barrier in place because the problem is ongoing, sometimes I remove the barrier. I do like to cover the wire with mulch when I leave it in place so no one can even tell there is a wire on top of the ground-but Bella! Barriers help but digging is one of those things I think dogs may always do, especially young dogs.

Another area of concern might be with water features. My goldfish in my little bathtub pond may have received a few shocks when a 100 pound plus dog jumps in and takes a bath. Perhaps BJ reasons it is a bathtub after all? At any rate this is not desirable and could wreak havoc with not only the fish, but the plants and the pump. When BJ is not dunking himself in the pond Bella is drinking from the pond. Sigh. My solution is to provide the dogs a pool of their own. I purchased a small hard plastic pool for them. The pool is less than four feet round and easily dumped and refilled as necessary. The dogs will always use this pool over the pond provided it has clean and fresh water in it. They also drink from it fairly frequently on hot days.

These are pretty much the major problems I find when trying to work with dogs and gardens. What are your issues with dogs and do you all have any tricks that help you when dealing with dogs?

in the garden....

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team,

In the Garden


  1. Little dachshund breeds were trained to ferret out the badgers on the property, they LOVE to dig, along with being tenacious (would have to be to drag something that's bigger than yourself!).
    All good advise especially about the running. Tartarus not only ran through the veggies he took most of the tomatoes cages with him!

  2. Tina,
    Yesterday while working in the garden Dot the cute fluffy white Jack Russel Terrier discovered the mole trails. I was digging and did not notice she dug every last mole track open. She made a mess but luckily no plants were harms. She is nor orange and white.

    Enjoyed this article and can see 4 large dogs being worrisome in the garden.

  3. You made good points, Tina. If the dog's needs are accomodated, life is easier for the gardener.

    You failed to mention Play. Play, play, play, play. My dog calls it 'helping' with everything I do. "Oh, you're digging. Let me help." Dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, as dirt flies. "Oh, you're carrying the shovel. Let me carry one end." "Oh, you're placing expensive plants. Let me help." Maybe she needs a companion, so they can both help.

  4. Excellent advice, Tina, but I had to stop and laugh at the image of BJ jumping into the bathtub water feature--the fish must have thought a tsunami had arrived:)

    You have some great ideas for any dog-owner, but particularly for anyone with a new dog. When I was training Sophie last spring to be housebroken, I kept taking her over to an area near a shed, thinking more of the grandkids than my garden at the time--I didn't want them to come over and step in something! To this day, that is where she usually goes to do her business. Last year she was pretty good about staying out of the flowerbeds, but she was still a puppy then. I'm wondering what she'll do this year, especially with my new flowerbed when I encouraged her to help me dig it up. I may not be such a happy gardener this year.

    Not everyone would understand these problems, but I know you're like me--I'm not giving up either my garden or my dog!

  5. Our neighbor's cat would come around and ease itself on containers with newly placed potting soil. Of course after a while I did some precaution by putting wire mesh when new veggie is growing. Then the cat turn to grass... Oh well, garden is cat's natural habitat.


  6. Okay so maybe I don't want a dog right now...I am going to get a garden cat for the snakes though!

  7. Great post Tina! I don't have dogs but strangely I've been finding their poo in our yard. Playing dodge the poo is not a fun game when you don't know its there, of course its not really a fun game to begin with!

  8. No dogs and no dog poo to dodge here Dave and Tina. Except when son's dog visits. I am still finding little presents from Priscilla Peahen's time here. I would love a cat to deal with the voles and chipmunks, but the street is dangerous and so are coyotes. Gail

  9. Dawn, They are bad for digging that's for sure. Poor Tartarus. I thought you had a fence around your veggie garden?

    Randy, That's the thing! They dig so slyly we can be right there and not even realize what they are doing. Good thing no damage.

    NellJean, Playing is part of the charm of dogs and we all love that but it can be annoying. Another dog might make her happy and keep her out of trouble.

    Rose, Those poor fish must've been traumatized. I checked to be sure they were all still there but just imagine! He is funny and yes, tsunami for sure. The bathtub only holds 35 gallons and BJ can easily displace that. Great job on training Sophie! I wish I had known that tip when I got my first (and only) puppy-Link. Fortunately he is so little that he is not an issue. Those big dogs though-you know. Sophie will slow down as she ages but I would suspect she'll be digging with you:)

    Bangchik, I have the same problem with my now two outdoor cats. Sigh. Not much to do with them at all. I like the idea of the wire but you are so right about the outdoors being their domain.

    Darla, They can be trying!

    Dave, I can see that. Dogs tend to do their business in out of the way spots-your neighbor dogs might think that since you don't have any of your own then your yard is out of the way. It is frustrating indeed. Big fences work to fix that issue. And no not a fun game at all especially with little ones.

    Gail, We just adopted another stray here and now we find double the-uh-parts of critters on our sidewalk outside. Yuck! The cats do a great job outside and sure earn their keep. I know coyotes can be a problem for them. Here we have a dangerous road but the thing with cats that are strays they are usually street smart. If you don't have a skunk put out some food and you'll soon have a stray or two that will love you dearly. I bet you are glad the peahen moved on but don't they do a good job of taking care of bugs? That would be good.

    On my way to Clarkville Base for a walk and some communing with nature. Everyone have a super great day!

  10. oh I love it to see your dogs !!! we allways are gardening with Hopkins, that is so important !!! Master of our garden :-))) hugh Kathrin

  11. I have a special section of my garden that's specifically a cat garden... but cats really don't do too much damage, esp. not my cats who essentially move with the sun and sleep. If I try to imagine my niece's three large dogs in my garden, I worry! (Though they're not likely to come from CO.) I live near a public path where people walk their dogs. Dogs are legally required to be on a leash but of course owners are idiots and I occasionally get some big dog in my garden and it makes me mad. But I digress! Good tips for dog owners. :)

  12. I have a once wild rabbit which now follows on my heels as I go about my gardening. When I step over the fences surrounding the gardens, it sits outside waiting for me, or hops off knowing there will not be any treats for it. It really is the cutest thing to see.

  13. Good Morning everyone! Great tips for happy gardening with dogs. The only dogs I must deal with in the garden are the neighbors. Zip the rat terrier avoids the garden areas but at times hikes that leg on something of value. He is small so not really an issue for the plants. I have always said if I were to get a dog, it would be a girl so the leg hiking would not be an issue in the garden! The Rhodesian ridgebacks on the other side mostly stay home in their fenced yard. But at times they get loose and trot over. I have yet to see them destroying anything but there’s always tomorrow…

    Have a good walk!

  14. Very good tips! I really like the liriope idea along the fence line. I'm lucky that our dog is pretty lazy outside now that she is past the puppy stage. We did have to put a fence up to keep her out of the fruit and veggie area or she'd be eating everything in sight there. Our neighbor cats are more of a problem causing damage, rolling on plants and doing their business in our yard and on our house. But our dog likes them and welcomes them to hangout with her, so I've just learned to put up with them. I think even though pets in the garden require extra efforts, a garden would seem a little bare without any pets at all.

  15. CeCe and Bella girl are big dogs but BJ is huge and could really do some damage. I know big dogs are usually very good dogs but I made up my mind when we had Bear that I NEVER EVER wanted another big dog and will settle for my Boston Terriors. Hubby and I both had one as a kid so they are a perfect fit for us and they are not gonna do a lotta harm in a garden. Now that Bella girl can do some serious damage with her constant digging. She has made many huge holes here when she lived here.

    Good post and it is always good to see my grand dogs!! Oh, I just thought, actually Bella would be a great grand dog, right?

  16. Back from my walk and what an awesome day for it!

    Kathrin, Hopkins is a sweetie and master for sure. hugs

    Monica, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on gardens for cats. It's a very good idea.

    Keewee, That sounds SO adorable!

    Skeeter, You are so laid back with the dogs. I tell you if I had Rhodesian ridgebacks I'd be praying they stay next door! Great walk. One day you and I need to do it. We can talk while we exercise-beats the usual thing we do where we talk while eating. Ha!

    Catherine, Cats can be messy critters but it is good your dog likes them or it could be even worse. Yes, pets in the garden make a garden extra special.

    Mom, Greatgranddogs for sure. Christine reminded us of that when she was here. We've adjusted to telling Bella Grandma is going outside now instead of mom. Of course, Rog just calls Bella sweetie as he adores that dog so no problem there with Granddad. She is such a pain at times but we enjoy her. Of course the goldens are still my favorite (think they sleep late). I do like the Boston terriers and agree they are perfect for you and David. Just the right size and right number-one.

  17. Very good post, Tina! Interesting, helpful and fun to read! I have a special phrase for my dog when take him out to do business; it's "Do It!" My biggest problem is neighbors' cats. They love my garden! I love cats, but I don't like what they do with my flower beds.

  18. As a owner of 3 dogs and my husband's work dog, your post was very helpful. Especially the problems with digging. I love the idea of using a trellis and maybe wire. Thank you!

  19. I don't have any animals but have to watch out all the time for neighbors cats. They like to lay in my window boxes that I have on my chain link fence. That in turn ruins the flowers. I got some wire to make "cages" with to keep them out. Hope it works.
    When my neighbors had dogs they never cleaned up after them or taught the dogs to go in a certain place. When it rained a lot the whole neighbor smelled awful. I couldn't go out in the back yard. It was a touchy situation. For some reason or other that situation is no longer. Sad for the animals if they aren't taken care of.

  20. Hi Tina, your frustration with the dog issues seeps through in your words. I know you love them, but the digging is such a problem. We don't have dogs, but sometimes a neighbor dog will get caught in the back and can't remember how they came in and panic. One young dog dug up several beds, exposing newly planted eryngiums to the hot sun. I was livid. We use fences and stakes to keep the cats out of fresh beds, but the squirrels are the worst diggers here.

  21. We had an English setter who loved to dig in the big planter in front of my house. She would dig enormous holes and lie in them. We tried everything, and nothing worked. We finally decided to lace the dirt with some sharp carpet tacks left over from a redecorating job. We figured she might hit one tack and be cured. I was worried this was excessive cruelty but I was desperate. We listened for a yelp but never heard it. The next morning the dog was lying happily in a newly dug doggie hole, and all the carpet tacks were piled in a neat little heap to the side! Eventually I planted spreading juniper in the planter. Our dog would lie amidst the greenery, and the spreading branches hid the holes she dug.

  22. Hey Tina. I could have used this post a few years back when my dog was a puppy! I struggled and struggled to keep him from digging in my beds ~ my vet even suggested I create a spot in the yard specifically for him to dig. I was worried that would encourage the behavior so I didn't. Lucky for me, he's a small dog so some short fencing (as you suggested) has done the trick. He does like to urinate on my antique bird feeder and other garden objects not protected by a fence. I get the yellow spots in my grass over the winter but I never stress over it either. Usually once it's summer and getting watered, the yellow goes away. I love my dog so I would never give him up because of gardening. I think it's great to address making them work together.

  23. Somehow when I started gardening in earnest in my early 20s, I lost my longing for dogs and especially so after my beloved German shepherd died. I decided to give up on having one. Like you, I would get frustrated with the destruction, and I figured that life/gardening could be frustrating enough without the added bit. Then the kids got old enough to want one, and we agreed as long as it was small. Now that the kids are adults, and the last granddog has gone to live with one of them, I am free from canines for once in my life! Daughter's cat now reigns supreme at the household and in the garden--when she decides to go outside, which isn't often at this time of year. Those little packages she and the neighbor's cats leave for me in the dirt when I start planting are no fun. Do you have some creative ideas for cat owners? Fences or hedges sure don't deter.

  24. Mom-Mimi emailed me and told me about this post so I had to check it out. Good to see my little girl and glad too hear you are remembering you are her grandma and mom. I would hate to lose my only baby!!! She does love to dig and I know how much you hate it. I hated filling in the holes at Mimi's house and my apartment as well. I had trained her at Tom's not to enter the gardens...hard but it was doable with her there with me all the time. I miss her and can never thank you enough for taking in my baby. And of course Mimi for taking in all my little kitties!! Love you guys. And as always thanks for your support through all my life's courses!

  25. Forgot my user name and password!!! Christine

  26. Christine, Of course we knew it was you! Yup, Bella is STILL your baby but she likes us pretty well too. You get her back whenever you want her-the sooner the better:)

  27. Good posting about our four-legged friends in the garden. I am lucky mine don't dig, one of their very few good points. I have some small fencing around some of the plants I don't want the male dogs to lift their legs on. I would rather the little fence is peed on than the bush. I have a friend who said she used moth balls buried under the mulch to keep her male dogs from choosing certain places....never tried it, so I can't say one way or the other.
    My biggest dog thinks the bird bath is his personal water fountain.
    What can you do? They fill our lives in so many other ways.

  28. I had to smile when I saw this post, because I just happened to post about this same issue on a previous post. The way I see it: No dogs in my garden! Oh yes, I’m the “witch” of my garden when it comes to my neighbors’ dogs jumping over our 6” fence (really, come see!) digging and barking my peace away... Have I said enough yet? Gardens and dogs cannot coexist in peaceful harmony...


  29. Oh! Tina... I just envy u with all that space which is so lovely & appealing.... I can only long for a moment there.... U lucky dame....



  30. Yow, tina. When I think about the issues I have with one little dog, it must be amazingly more complicated with four bigger ones!

    When I'm not stepping in it, I do think the dog waste in the yard keeps the other critters away. In fact, I sometimes purposely scatter it around the perimeter. I have very few squirrels and no bunnies at all.

    My other big problem is eating the vegetables! Mostly snap peas. She ripped them all out of the ground last year. I'm trying to train her to stay out of the veggie beds by screaming NO! whenever she steps in one.

    Love the groundcover idea - it looks nice by the fence, too.

  31. Oh yes, I'm familiar with the many perils of dogs in the garden. A few years in a row, I had litters of puppies in spring, and they would take out all my new plantings, leaving me with mixed emotions! The privacy fence on one side of the yard has helped quite a bit as you said, but the other side is still chain link where the other neighbors dogs are. I had good luck with a small short fence around the areas where the dogs liked to stand to bark and dig. I don't have to run the entire length of the fence, just some key problem areas. I've been able to use cheap construction equipment, using panels of concrete reinforcement mesh, cut into sections, as small moveable fence panels. I've been pretty happy with these, as I can move them around easily by pushing the prongs into the ground with my foot, and cutting more as needed. They mellow from grey metal to rust, and practically disappear, so it's not too much fence-i-ness for the garden. As you say though, it's a multi-pronged approach, a combination of interrupting the behavior and preventing the opportunities for mischief. Not convenient, but I wouldn't want a life without both dogs and gardens, so you do what you have to do.

  32. Megan, Excellent tips. Dogs can be so annoying and those movable fences sound great. Yes, we have to do what we do and it's worth it. You are super awesome to foster the animals you do.

  33. Loved your post! I have an 8lb yorkie poo and a 50 lb collie/papillion/mastiff/german shepherd mix (yes, interesting combo) The yokie poo I had first and he didn't damage much except digging where I was trying to plant stuff. I guess he was trying to help me, saw me dig so he thought he would join in. The mutt well...he is one who runs into all the flower beds, tears up the lawn, chews on my baby trees, ect. He hasn't dug much but he has tried. I also had to make a mulch path along our fence due to neighbor dogs, during rainy season he would drag in so much mud from wearing the area out. I would love to do what you have but we have a wooded lot that we took some of it making it into a wooded backyard. We still have tons of snakes. I would be afraid snakes would like that cover too much. Rat snakes and garden snakes would be ok, but we also have copperheads which I want to stay away from my dogs.

    Since our grass was newer when we got the mutt his running around did trample it. We have found the paths that he runs most and are turning them into trails for ourselves as well. We live on a slope so we are putting in some stone steps to help with that. I also left one corner of my yard that we pile leaves in during the fall. For some reason my mutt loves to do his business there. It is the furthest corner from the house and we rarely walk there (we do clean up the mess though) The yorkie poo does his business where ever he feels the need to poo but he is starting to decide the leaves are a good place as well. This also gives them an area to dig if they feel like it. It is an eye sore but the dogs have a corner to do whatever in. I planted a few interesting type trees that will eventually block it from our view.

    Love dogs and love my how the dogs change my plans for my garden as well...:D

  34. Hi Laura, It is a pleasure to meet another dog and garden lover! It is like we can't live with them and can't live without them but adjusting is a good thing. So glad it has worked out for your yorkie and collie mix. Big difference indeed. I bet you get all sorts of looks! Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!