Sunday, June 17, 2012


Destructive behaviors needn't keep your dogs out of the garden.  Here are some tips including controlling dog urine spots, discourage digging, trampling, and sports-barking, and installing dog-safe water features and plants. 

Jesse and Chance doing what dogs do in the garden.
I live in a classic Southern California craftsman bungalow.  American Bungalow magazine published this article in their summer 2012 issue.  You can read the rest of it on their website.

Raising Dogs in Your Garden 
Inherent canine behaviors like racing, chasing, playing, and digging can make even the most stalwart dog-loving gardener throw in the trowel.  But I’ve observed my dogs’ habits and movements and let those enhance my garden design. And the traditional elements of the Arts and Crafts garden make it especially easy.   If you love dogs like I do, your garden also includes at least one dog.  To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than working outside with my canine assistants, so my garden accommodates, even encourages, what comes naturally to dogs.
Architectural unity of house and garden is paramount to the Arts and Crafts landscape. Gates, fences and walls frame outdoor rooms.  Walkways, pergolas, and trellises enhance the atmosphere of privacy, and fountains and ponds attract wildlife.
Mike and Auggie take Homeland Security duty seriously.
By providing only one place to peek out, I keep my dogs focused
on what I want them to see.
A quality wood enclosure is not only an ubiquitous part of a period garden, it also protects your dogs and prevents them from seeing and reacting to annoying stimuli like squirrels, cars and the neighbor’s dog.  And in locales where wildlife puts small pets in jeopardy, good opaque fencing keeps predators like coyotes out of the yard.

When you share your garden with dogs, walkways work best when you embrace the path of least resistance. Dogs being dogs, they will find the optimal path from point A to point B.  Be assured that everything in between will eventually be trampled. Before you finalize your garden plan, let your dogs reveal their game trails. Then make those an integral part of the design, as if you put them there with purpose. 

Jesse scratches an itch.
Use pet-friendly fertilizers to keep the lawn green and safe.
Use the bungalow garden’s signature trellises, rock walls and pergolas to grow delicate plants like sweet peas and clematis up and out of reach of inquiring noses.  Stack bricks or large rocks around vulnerable parts of the stem base to change the flow of traffic, so dogs run around the plant rather than through it. Thorny plants like bougainvillea and climbing roses are dangerous to ears and eyes of the inevitable nosey trespasser, so strip all thorns off the lower four to five feet of the stem. 

My yard features clinker brick walls and steps leading to a variety of levels including areas of low maintenance and drought tolerant plants. But I also maintain a modest sized lawn because the dogs enjoy playing there.  Multiple dogs and a lush green lawn may sound contradictory but with pet-safe organic mulch and fertilizer, it’s within the boundaries of possibilities. Apply a non-burning microbe fertilizer two or three times during the growing season. (I use pet-safe Ringer Lawn Restore Fertilizer) It not only makes play areas hardier, but with frequent and uniform treatment it also counteracts yellow spotting caused by urine.

Auggie enjoying his dog-safe garden.
Plant Palette
Unlike high-maintenance formal Victorian landscaping, the bungalow garden is unpretentious with asymmetrical beds featuring plants of different heights and textures - elements that are easily adapted to dog activities. Your plant palette depends on climate and location, but no matter what you select, make sure they are dog-safe. (You can get this information at the ASPCA Poison Control website). If your existing garden includes species that might be toxic, and they can’t be removed, make sure your dog can’t get to the poisonous parts of the plants.  I trim off all the bottom branches of some shrubbery.  Not only does it protect the dogs, but it also provides additional space for colorful under-planting, like durable lambs ear and alyssum.

Don’t invest in flowering bulbs, like amaryllis or daffodils, that take months to produce a few delicate blossoms. One raucous play session and they’re history. Rather, put in native perennials that require less care, such as been balm and coneflower. Salvias also work well.
You can't win every battle.  The pumpkin is cute, but  Lolly is cuter.
Anything smaller than a 1-gallon container plant will likely need some short-term protection. Consider partnering delicate plants with hardier varieties, like lavenders or ornamental grasses that can withstand high velocity dog activity. When the shielded plants are big enough to defend themselves, transplant the hardy varieties and put them to work elsewhere. Strategically placed arroyo boulders or large potted plants will do the same thing, and they can be moved throughout the garden with the seasons. A healthy dog garden is always changing.  I plant fragrant herbs like rosemary or lemon thyme in areas where my dogs cool off on hot summer days.  When the dogs come in the house, the garden’s bouquet trails in with them.

Give dogs a place of their own- just for digging.
Dogs will be dogs and that means they dig. Dog divots here and there are part of life, but you can employ a few tricks to discourage major excavation. 

Digging comes naturally to some dogs, whereas others learn by observation. When you use a shovel be aware that you’re demonstrating how to dig a hole.  When it’s time to put in the bedding plants, put the dogs in the house. 

For some unexplained reason, immature groundcover beds invite destructive investigation.  To troubleshoot, I lay down hog wire and peg it with wire hangers I’ve cut in half. Then I plant my starter pieces in each grid.  Digging is discouraged because the wire grid, invisible once the ground cover fills in, inhibits enjoyment. Who wants to dig in a place where you can’t make a hole?

Digging behavior is rarely negotiable, but location is. Dedicate an exclusive area and make it conducive to digging. Loosen the soil with loamy or sandy material, and then reinforce the behavior by hiding bones and favorite toys there. Keep the area cool and moist with regular light watering to attract dogs looking for a cool place to nap in hot weather. Conceal the spot with rosemary or lavender.  I prune the foliage so they can peek out to make sure they’re not missing anything. 
Izzy investigates the stream leading to the pond.
A pond is a lovely feature in any garden, but if you have dogs that like to swim, it can present problems.  Because I live with several pooches, I want to maintain control of individual personalities. Dogs that get into the water or harass the wildlife are not allowed near the pond.  However, water-adverse dogs that fixate only on what’s underneath the surface are free to explore.  To do this, and protect the integrity of the pond, I use a concealed wire-fencing product (There are several good companies. I use Invisible Fence Brand.) The transmitter wire, laid on the ground, is easily hidden between plants and boulders. Dogs wearing the special receiver collar learn to associate a high-pitched warning tone (or a slight shock depending on how you set the receiver) to forbidden areas of the garden. With some time and a little training they learn to stay away without the encumbrance of the collar.
Little dogs need little spaces.
As new dogs make their way into your heart and your garden, analyze their activities and modify garden features to suit eccentricities. A terrier garden should be different than one designed for a retriever.  An environment designed for an 85-pound dog lacks the personal touch a little dog enjoys.  Stretch your imagination.  Good dog gardens reflect the personalities of the dogs who live in them. 


  1. The biggest thing I need to watch with mine, is when he tries to fertilize the garden, lol. Today he is exhausting himself, barking at the planes from the air show.


    1. I hadn't thought of barking at things in the sky.