Digging in the Dirt with Your Dog

Having a dog doesn’t have to spell “The End” to your carefully landscaped garden oasis. Sure, your dog may try to transform your backyard into a backlot for a Dogs Gone Wild video, tearing paths through the lush lawn, dotting it with yellow pee patches, destroying herbaceous borders, trampling floral accents and chomping shrubs like chewies. But you can stop the mayhem. By simply putting a few ground rules in place and incorporating some basic dog-friendly design features, your garden can be a place where both you and your pet can co-exist peacefully and enjoy together.


The buzzword in doggy terms is environmental enrichment. “Boredom is a huge problem as it leads to destructive behavior in dogs,” says Fran Kiesling of Dirty Dog Landscape Consulting and Design Service in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “It’s important to keep your dog engaged outside otherwise he will dig and chew and wear paths through the lawn.”


The secret to successfully sharing your yard is to ensure that your pet understands basic training commands like “Go Play” and “No Play” or “No Dig”. These commands can help teach him the difference between areas designated for dog games and those where he must stay by your side.

The “No Chew” command can help you preserve your newly planted shrubs, which to your dog smell suspiciously similar to dead sticks. If you have a new puppy, it is a good idea to screen off sections of your yard until you have taught him the basic commands he will need to understand your garden rules.

When planning, keep in mind that dogs don’t understand property lines and flat spaces; they need verticality to designate boundaries and areas. The best way to do this is with shrubs or fencing. Dogs also have bad depth perception. Consequently, it would be unwise to place a hanging basket overflowing with brightly colored petunias on a stand right outside the back door because chances are your pal won’t see it until it’s too late!


In order to design adventure paths and areas where your dog can let rip and have fun without getting impaled on any objects or causing damage, it’s important to assess exactly how your pet uses the garden; notice where he likes to play, where he likes to walk and sniff. And his favorite spot to lie down. And most importantly, pay attention to the spot he’s chosen as his toilet area.

You should also take your dog’s breed and inherent personality into account when planning your garden. For example, a large Neapolitan Mastiff with his guard dog instincts is likely to tirelessly walk the perimeter of the property and wear a path in the grass. A Jack Russell Terrier with its high gear terrier traits will vigorously sniff everything and dig holes at the first opportunity.

Regardless of the breed, all dogs need exercise. So it’s essential to give them pathways to run. If they have already mapped out their own route, utilize that rather than trying to re-direct them elsewhere. Surfaces such as bricks, flagstones, gravel, cedar chips or wooden steps are paw-friendly and make an attractive feature in the landscape.


Because dogs love to explore and investigate, why not create little adventures and secret spots in the garden where they can stop and sniff? A section of log that will decompose over time surrounded by ornamental grasses or perennials creates a wonderful sniff area. Critter piles of small rocks where mice and frogs can take refuge also makes a great smell zone.

Generally grasses are non-toxic to pets, but it is a good idea to check before you plant. Also, be sure not to plant anything thorny along pathways. For a selection of pet-safe plants, check out the list of non-toxic plants at www.aspca.org/apcc . Speaking of toxins, remember to keep fertilizers and poisonous sprays locked away. And don’t expose your pet to an area after these products have been applied. It’s also important to ensure that there are no holes or weak spots along the property boundaries. If your dog is an accomplished archeologist or escape artist, it may be a good idea to install chicken wire underground or even concrete beams along the perimeter of your yard.

Somewhere down the garden path set aside a designated toilet area and train your pet to eliminate there. A pheromone-treated garden stake that attracts dogs is a useful training device in helping your dog determine the right spot. Male dogs will appreciate a permanent marking post in their toilet area. You can use anything from driftwood to an attractive fire hydrant garden statue. To keep your doggie toilet hygienic and low maintenance, cover the ground with an easy to clean material like pea gravel or cedar chips, and plant shrubs around to screen it off from the rest of the garden.


If your dog loves water, why not include a water feature just for her? Ensure that it’s very shallow with sloping sides for easy access. Alternatively, a small outdoor fountain with running drinking water is an attractive addition to any garden or deck.

Dogs love to play King of the Hill and will enjoy an elevated spot where they can sit and view their surroundings. If you don’t have a natural rise, create one using a fake rock or decking. And depending on the size of your garden, a doghouse with its own window box of edible vegetables like carrots will not only be eye-catching but a practical place for your pet to sleep and relax.

Of course, dogs love to spend time with their people, so be sure to include them under your pergola or shade structure by providing a nice comfortable outdoor mattress to snooze on. Elderly pets in particular will be most appreciative. Mmm… It’s a dog’s life

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