Building a garden around a dog

Pet-friendly landscaping keeps everybody happy

July 24, 2005|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

People love their dogs, but they also love their gardens, and sometimes it can be hard to reconcile the two. With some thought and work, gardeners and their dogs can both enjoy beautiful gardens.

For the past nine years, Fran Kiesling, owner of Dirty Dog Landscape Consulting & Design Services in Minneapolis, has specialized in dog landscaping, or "dogscaping," to help dog owners and their pets have fun in the garden together. A good design solves the natural conflicts.

"Figure out how people are using the space, then figure out how dogs are using it -- sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they are divergent," Kiesling says. "You have a path system, and so do they."

To make it all work, you must be firm, she says, but you also have to be realistic: "You don't want to plant your favorite shrubs in their favorite place to sit."

Just because a dog is outside doesn't mean it can run wild, Kiesling says. "Some owners look at the yard as a free zone for the dog," she says. "They think, 'Oh, he's alone so much, he should be able to do anything he wants when he's outside.' That kind of thinking can get you in a lot of trouble."

There should be rules for a dog's behavior in the garden just as there are rules in the house and when going for walks.

Kiesling advises her clients to plant relaxed landscapes that can absorb the wear and tear of the daily routines of their furry friends. In the gardens she designs, she avoids delicate plants, spindly trees and fishponds. She likes to use rocks to help establish clear dog boundaries, and she relies on wood chips for paths.

Dogs can be hard on grass, and Kiesling tries to keep lawns small. Dogs and their owners both like patios and decks, so she often incorporates them into her designs. When a client asks for a splashing fountain, she suggests a naturalistic pile of rocks with a recirculating pump, not something delicate that a thirsty dog could knock over.

Kiesling's philosophy of dogscaping is similar to modern zoo landscaping. The tigers live in an environment, not a pen. The elephants and tortoises have habitats of their own.

When you have a dog, the garden's design should take your pooch's needs and lifestyle into consideration. Dogs love pathways and little destinations.

"You need to have exciting things to do on a circuit for your dog," she says. Dogs like places to play and to rest, they like to be able to see out into the neighborhood, and they enjoy water.

Sally Benson, editor of American Nurseryman magazine, first observed the potential for smart dog landscaping in the mid-1990s. Gardeners were interested in wildlife habitats, but Benson realized that an awful lot of people's back yards had to meet the needs of domestic animals.

"Who uses the back yard more than the dog?" she says. Her Siberian husky, Dakota Star, was her chief garden designer: "I let her take the lead and lay the paths for me."

There's no universal style of dog landscaping. You have to take your dog's breed, gender, age and personality into consideration. Boxers are clownish and joyful, Kiesling says. Basset hounds are "like torpedoes" that can destroy perennial flowers with their big feet. Border collies are high-strung and need careful supervision; mastiffs are guard dogs, always on patrol.

If you have more than one dog, landscaping should also take into account what Kiesling calls "the configuration of the dog members of the family -- how many there are, what kind of play group they form."

Many dog owners are concerned about poisonous plants. Japanese yews are among the most popular landscaping plants, and they're also among the most toxic. They are not recommended in dog-friendly gardens. Kiesling doesn't use them at all, but she also says it's important to train your dog not to eat any plants, ever.

For a harmonious relationship, keep the scale of your plantings in scale with your dog. "Little dogs enjoy little plants," says Kiesling. She might have a flowerbed full of daylilies in a garden with Chihuahuas or Pomeranians.

If your best friend is a golden retriever, think taller and tougher, Kiesling says: "For him to have something to have a good time in, plant 4-foot ornamental grasses."

Dog-gone right

Your dog may be your best friend, but good training and realistic expectations will keep the bonds of friendship strong. Here are some comments about dogs, owners and gardens from Fran Kiesling, a landscape designer who specializes in dog-friendly gardens:

Take care: "With dogs, you have repair and maintenance chores that the guy next door doesn't have."

In a hole: Train your dog not to dig, or to dig only in a specific place. If you have several dogs, digging is a more complicated social behavior. "If you have dog toys or allow food in the garden, then you will have digging because somebody starts hoarding."

The call of nature: "There is no plant that can be peed on with any kind of frequency or regularity and live. Get the dog to urinate and defecate on a surface that is not plants." Pick up the poop every day.

Plant smart: Dogs can't see slender plants very well, so plant them in clusters or on berms. Cheryl Smith, author of Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs (Dogwise Publishing, $19.95), prefers raised beds.

Choose durable plants: Azaleas and hydrangeas are sturdy enough for dogs to run through without doing much damage. Smith grows lavender in her garden; her dog dashes through and comes out smelling sweet.

Flower power: Fill flower beds up; your dog sees bare spots as an invitation to step in and explore.

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