A patch for the pooch

July 02, 2006|By BETH BOTTS | BETH BOTTS,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

We love our dogs. We love our gardens. But sometimes our dogs love our gardens too much.

They love to dig. They love to romp through carefully designed plantings. They love to sample the plants, which may not agree with them. They love to use the entire lawn as a bathroom. They love to explore what's stored in the garage. They love to burrow under the fancy fence and take it on the lam.

Here's how to tame the beast: Plan a garden to be enjoyed by dogs as well as people, rather than a people's place that dogs damage or a cage for animals we don't have time for. And plan to be out there, enjoying the garden with your pet.

"Dogs will want to use the landscape in ways that may be a little different from the ways humans might want to use the landscape," says Cheryl Smith, a Seattle-area trainer and author of Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs (Dogwise Publishing, 180 pages, $19.95). "Trying to accommodate that makes things easier for both."

For example: If the dog likes to run on a circular path around the house, don't plant a hedge that blocks it. Leave an opening where it likes to run and it won't break down the shrubs.

Dogs are less likely to damage perennials planted in large, highly visible masses (as most garden designers recommend for best visual effect) rather than as lone vulnerable specimens. A dog usually will detour around a large clump -- and if you lose a few, you still have plenty.

Or take another tack: Smith deliberately planted lavender across one of the paths that Nestle, her border collie mix, and Diamond, her poodle, have beaten through her large lot. "The dog doesn't hurt it, and it makes the dog smell really good," she says.

The basic requirements for dogs outdoors are water; shade, such as a doghouse, a porch to lie under or even a gazebo that shelters from the sun; and entertainment. "Bored dogs develop bad habits very quickly," Smith says.

A frequently changed selection of interactive toys such as rolling balls filled with treats can help, if you absolutely must leave a dog outside alone. But the best cure is your company. And make sure you have an open area in your garden for playing fetch and other games.

Dogs like to hang out around gardeners. Sometimes they like to help, or at least imitate what they see.

While Barbara Pronek of Chicago was planting bulbs last fall, she turned around to see her Labrador retriever, Cubbie, digging the bulbs right up. Dogs often are curious about what humans have just buried, and some dogs just love to dig.

That not only can be annoying, it also can be dangerous -- some bulbs are toxic.

Don't fight it. Instead, make sure the dog can dig in a safe place.

"Give them their own little dog garden," says Stephanie Smith, director of outreach for the Humane Society of the United States. Fill a child's wading pool with sand or just loosen a wide pit of soil with a shovel. Then take the dog out and let him see you bury favorite toys or treats. Bury new ones from time to time, and you can teach your pet that "the people garden is not a good place to dig but the doggie garden is. You might find bones," Smith says.

A special place is also a good solution to another gardener's gripe: The lawn as a bathroom. When you are house-training a puppy anyway, it's no problem to train it to go in a particular area, Cheryl Smith says. With older dogs it may be harder, but it may be worth it. Keep that special place cleaned up, though, so it won't be a turnoff for the dog.

What about spots in the lawn? They are the result of a high concentration of nitrogen in the dog's urine, which overfertilizes the plants and burns them. The best way to prevent spots is to flush the lawn with water immediately after the dog urinates to dilute the nitrogen, or train the dog to go in its own special place.

Many people worry that their dogs might eat poisonous plants, and, indeed, some common plants can be toxic. Dogs often taste new things just because they are curious. Usually, the result is an upset stomach but no lasting damage, says Steven Hansen, senior vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Champaign, Ill.

A more fatal substance is cocoa shell mulch, which smells deliciously like chocolate and can be fatal if dogs eat it.

But by far the greatest poison hazard is carelessly stored pesticides, especially insecticides. It's not the coating on leaves that is the big danger -- "A dog is not going to consume enough plant material to cause a problem," Hansen says -- it's bags or bottles left where a bored, lonely or simply curious dog can get at them.

"Dogs are just dogs and they eat the most amazing things and they eat a lot of it," Hansen says.

So always store garden products high up out of a dog's reach or behind locked doors. Read directions and follow them precisely.

Or consider giving up pesticide use altogether if you have pets.

The other greatest garden danger? Getting out.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.