Having dogs and a garden sounds like a dream. Farmers and hobby gardeners, alike, swear by their faithful “furry” assistants. Monty Don, Britain’s favorite gardener, even wrote a book about his golden retrievers Nell and Nigel, where he says that like gardening, “dogs are the other element of that transplanted desire for older rural harmonies.”
But when your dog knocks over a bunch of tulips that have just blossomed or excavated a vegetable bed with recently transplanted seedlings, one can’t avoid getting frustrated. Then there’s a host of other reasons why pets and plants don’t seem to mix. But we love our dogs as much as we love our gardens, so we’ll go through lengths to achieve balance.
Know your breed
Before you turn your dog loose in your backyard, be aware of the breed’s traits and personality first. There are certain breeds, like beagles and those in the Terrier and Hound groups, love to dig and can flip your garden upside down if you leave them to their own devices. The best breeds are those bred for the outdoors, like mountain dogs, German Shepherd, English Mastiff, Keeshond, and Samoyed. But if the one you have is a digger, you may have to make a few adjustments to your gardening habits and do plenty of training.
Dogs are innately territorial. If they think your lawn is their playground, that’s how they’ll treat it. Train your dog to know the boundaries and access restrictions. Reinforce this by installing low fences or planting sturdy barrier plants. This way, you can protect your beds and keep your garden organized, as well.
Start them young
Plants grow best when they start strong from the seed. Likewise, dogs, no matter the breed, can grow up to be obedient and respectful of your garden. The earlier you start, the more successful your training will be. The moment you bring a puppy home, let it know which areas of your garden are off limits.
Keep them safe
But some things are just unavoidable, and one way or another, your dog will be tempted to explore your garden. Thus, you must make the effort to keep it dog-friendly. Store garden supplies away, especially toxic chemicals and sharp objects. Avoid spraying weed killers and pesticides altogether as they can poison pets. But if you really have to, restrict yard access for three days to a week after application of the product. Avoid planting prickly plants or plant them in planters, raised beds, or hanging pots. Check out this list of plants that can be toxic for pets.
Keep toys within reach
Your dog won’t touch your plants if it has something else to gnaw. it’s preoccupied. Keep a stash of toys in strategic areas in your garden. Have a mix of tennis balls, squeaky and rope toys, and touch chew toys so they don’t get bored.
Create an alternate digging area
You can’t curb digging behaviors in some breeds, but it helps to designate a place of their own to excavate. Place a dog sand or “dirt” box so your dog can still satisfy their urge to dig without destroying your daffodils and vegetable patch.
Provide water and shelter
Dogs get hot easily, and that can be a health and safety risk. Have a source of fresh water around your garden. Put the water in handcrafted, ceramic bowls so they double as garden art. And make sure you clean the bowl and replenish it every day. Provide a shady kennel or doghouse, as well, so that your dog has its own place away from people. Some breeds like to keep it to themselves when they’re exhausted, so they’d appreciate a warm, dry place to retreat to.
Give them plenty of exercise
One way to keep your dog from running amok in your garden is to give it plenty of fun, stimulating exercises. Start with obedience basics before you move to more physically and mentally demanding activities. Set up a backyard agility course once your dog is ready to hit the ring. Not only does this help improve your dog’s behavior and skills, it’s also a healthy way to amuse your dog and yourself. Plus, it can help keep the excavation at the minimum.
One way to avoid muddy pawprints in your home is to pave pathways. But evaluate your hardscape options. Asphalt and synthetic lawns can be harsh and hot on the paws. Gravel, on the other hand, can get lodged between paw pads. Opt for soft groundcovers, instead, like Irish moss and buffalo grass, or pet turf for a low-maintenance option.
Trim the grass
Tall grass can be a breeding ground for ticks and fleas. Sharp blades can also irritate your dog’s skin. Keep your grass bed manicured at all times. This also keeps your furry companion from nibbling on or grazing on grass, which may not be good for their health.
Try container gardening
If fences and barrier plants are not a practical option, consider growing plants in raised beds or planters, instead. This is a surefire way to tackle the digging problem. Go for heavy, sturdy planters so they don’t get toppled over, especially if you have big, playful dogs. Most plants do well in pots, so you don’t need to limit your plant selection.
Include your dog
Since your dog will pretty much follow you wherever you go, give it an activity while you tend to your garden. Activity and stimulation are the keys to having a happy, healthy dog. Play a few rounds of fetch or ball toss, or give it a pat and belly rub from time to time so your dog doesn’t resort to bad habits to get your attention. Or be like Monty Don and make a “furry” assistant out of your dog for small tasks like carrying a small basket of garden trimmings or a packet of seeds.
Be calm and understanding
Keep in mind that dogs are not people. They only understand rules to some extent. So don’t get too upset if your dog knocks over a pot or makes a mess. Remember, plants will grow back quickly, but earning your dog’s trust and forging a bond is more rewarding. Let your dog run free once in a while and cherish each moment you have in your garden with an adorable companion following you around.
Dogs have been helping “paws” for farmers and gardeners for centuries. But keeping the harmony requires some planning and reinforcement on your end. Be patient and get creative until your dogs and plants can coexist without you having to micromanage everything.
gardener and landscaper for upscale homes in California. Enjoys flower arranging and keeps a greenhouse of rare and exotic flowers to use upon customers’ requests. Enjoys costume designing and watching movies with her daughter on her days off.