My dog is an obstinate, awkward, devious, occasionally spiteful, deaf-when-he-wants-to-be pain in the butt. I think he learned at least some of these traits from me. I know for sure he watches me closely and copies other things I do – like ‘harvesting’ pea pods, for instance. Grrr!
Don’t get me wrong, Bracken is lots of fun and wonderful company in the garden. But he does love his home-grown fruits and vegetables almost as much as I do, and he has a talent for getting into trouble. So over time my garden has evolved in order to gently enforce a set of rules (he probably thinks of them more as ‘guidelines’) for good doggy behaviour in the garden – for his safety as well as my sanity.
A Safe Garden for Your Dog
It’s essential to provide water and shady areas for your hairy companion so he doesn’t overheat on hot days, and a dry spot if he’s likely to be out in damper weather. Make sure any sharp edges or pointy things are covered over or kept out of reach, as inevitably an inquiring nose will find them with potentially disastrous results.
It goes without saying that a secure boundary is an essential part of a dog-friendly garden. Its height will depend entirely on your dog’s jumping ability and his Houdini tendencies. A bored dog is more likely to escape in search of entertainment, so make the garden an irresistibly fun place to be by providing free access to toys, chews or uncooked bones, and don’t leave him alone for extended periods.
When mowing the lawn or strimming, remember that flying objects can be propelled from the blade or wire at high velocity. Never let a dog walk alongside you while you cut the grass, and preferably keep him in another part of the garden or indoors while you do this.
‘No Dogs’ Zones
I’ve found that it’s easier to make it clear that certain areas of the garden are off-limits to my canine chum, than trying to remove a half-masticated carrot from between his jaws! Some gardeners find that the level difference offered by raised beds make it easier to train a dog (or a child, for that matter) that this is an area that they are not allowed to venture into.
Failing that, a low fence may do the trick. Whenever my back was turned Bracken would help himself to whatever fresh produce he fancied, from broccoli to radishes, until I put a knee-high fence around my vegetable garden. He can easily jump the fence, but for the most part he respects it as a line he must not cross.
Eviction is the penalty for stealing. I find this to be especially effective in the greenhouse, as Bracken loves to sunbathe in there and is not at all happy at being sent out! Raspberries prove too much of a temptation for him, so it’s a good job I built a fruit cage, which is strictly a no-dogs zone.
Keeping Dogs Occupied in the Garden
Your presence alone may be enough to keep a laid-back dog content in the garden, but most will appreciate occasional breaks for attention and games, especially if he’s a working breed such as a terrier or collie.
I tolerate otherwise unproductive grassy areas for the purpose of providing safe areas for Bracken to chase his tennis balls and play tug. (OK, I get grass clippings for mulch too, so it’s not entirely unproductive!). Light toys such as tennis balls are a good choice for the garden, as they are less likely to cause damage to greenhouses, cold frames and other delicate objects, should they go astray.
Persistent digging is an activity often complained about by dog owners. It’s always better to reward good behavior than punish bad, so if you have space the easiest option could simply be to assign Mutley his own area where he’s allowed to dig. Some people hide toys in a sandpit (which is no longer used by children obviously!). This reinforces the idea that digging in that spot is more rewarding than digging elsewhere.
Plants Poisonous to Dogs
Be aware that some common garden plants can be harmful to dogs – for instance daffodil bulbs, Bergenia (elephant’s ears) and yew are highly toxic to dogs, should they be so inclined to eat them.
Even some common fruits and vegetables can cause health problems in dogs, so it’s important to be careful about which home-grown goodies you share. The UK Dogs’ Trust publishes a list of common plants that are poisonous to dogs. For the most part, though, fruits and vegetables make a healthy snack for your dog as part of a balanced diet.
Working in my garden just wouldn’t be the same without my troublesome terrier to keep me company. I’m sure I would get more done if I wasn’t being distracted by him every five minutes, but being out in the garden needn’t be all work, work, work – having fun is important too!
If you have a top tip for making your garden more dog-friendly, or for protecting your plants from boisterous or greedy dogs, we’d love to hear it – please share it with us by leaving a comment below.