How to have a garden with a Dog without Pulling your Hair out, and more great tips:

How to have a garden with a Dog without Pulling your Hair out, and more great tips:

Think you might go barking mad with a dog in your garden; think again.  Having a four-legged friend in the family doesn’t mean you have to forfeit having a fabulous garden.  With a little planning, the art of learning forgiveness, and the ability to give up on perfectionism, you can create a garden both you and your dog can enjoy.   

Dogs, like children and hot weather, have that crazy knack of causing all sorts of chaos in a garden.  So how do you restore balance and calm to your garden.  Thankfully there are some simple things you can do to reduce the angst, keep your garden looking fabulous and your pooch safe and happy at home.

Understanding the nature and needs of dog breeds can be the start of a better relationship, and a great foundation point when selecting plants and indeed garden design elements.    Retrievers or Labradors for example, enjoy water play, and will happily dive into fish ponds or topple over bird baths in their enthusiasm to get wet.  Kelpies and bordercollies are known to patrol boundary fences, while terriors can be prone to digging and incessant barking.   Understanding the natural instincts of your dogs’ breed will help you better select or eliminate garden features such as ponds and their placement, fencing styles, and where best not to plant.  In the case of dogs who like to ‘patrol’ the fenceline for example, giving them half a metre of plant free space adjacent the perimeter of the fence will mean they have room to do ‘their job’, without damaging plants while they are at it.  You will be happy and so will they. 


So, what are the essentials for a happy garden/dog relationship? 

1:            Excellent fencing is crucial.  Not only does it keep dogs off the street and away from vehicles, if well planned fences can also keep them away from backyard hens and veggie patches.  A fence appropriate to the size and ability of your dog makes most sense.  A Jack Russell isn’t likely to need a 5 foot fence, whereas a working dog may well.  Fences should be sturdy, and kept in good repair.  Consider burying robust wire mesh below the soil surface adjacent the fence if your dog is a ‘digger’ to prevent them escaping.   Think about the nature of your dog.  If they are calmer when they can see who and what is passing by, why not plan for an open fence, or one with a ‘peep hole’ so they aren’t intimidated by what they imagine is happening on the other side of a solid fence.   

2.            Once established, dense plantings and foliage can be a great way to deter your dog from an area – think of it as a plant barrier rather than a fence.  Again, the height and breadth of the barrier will be determined by the breed of your dog.   Dense, woody plantings of viburnum, rhaphiolepis, wormwood, and even bay can encourage your dog to walk around rather than through garden beds.  Pricklier ‘barrier’ plants include roses and Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii). 


4:           Shade and Shelter are obviously as important to dogs as they are to humans.  In hot weather ensure your dog has a cool place to retreat within the garden.  It might be a cool lawn under the shade of a deciduous tree, a pergola or a verandah.   Do be aware that some hard surfaces such as paving or concrete can be very hot – shade them where necessary so they are comfortable for your dog to walk on.    During inclement weather offer your dog a kennel or bed placed away from cold breezes and rain.    Importantly do remember that dogs are social animals – they love nothing more than to feel part of your family.  If yours is an ‘outdoor’ dog be sure their bedding or kennel is placed where they can be part of the comings and goings of family life.


5:            Dogs thrive on interaction and stimulation.  Having a garden which has interesting elements will better while-away any hours your dog is on its own.   Let your dog see through to the street to interact with passers-by; have a mix of hard and soft surfaces at different levels to help keep your dog mobile and active, while being interesting (without being uncomfortable) under foot. Consider growing tall grasses your dog can ‘wander’ through or play in.    If you’re game, give up part of your garden for a dog ‘sandpit’.   You could build a permanent sand pit, however a  child’s ‘clam shaped sandpit is an excellent inexpensive solution

6.            Dogs like a ‘vantage point’ from which to observe the day.  If a dog can’t find a natural observation spot they will often appoint themselves a chair from which to better view their surroundings.    Having an observation point can be as simple as placing their bedding on a high verandah, or incorporating a deck into your garden design, so that your dog can watch the comings and goings of the day.  The area doesn’t need to be unattractive or a ‘dog only’ space – why not make it large enough that you can sit and appreciate the joys of your garden as well.

7.            Toy Box tinkering:  In much the same way you might have a childs toy box, consider having a place to keep balls and dog toys.    If you are in the habit of popping them back in the same bowl or basket each day your dog will soon learn where to find them, and if the bowl fits with your garden decor you will like it even better. 


8             Fresh drinking Water is a necessity.  For ease of cleaning and replenishment it’s a great idea to locate watering bowls adjacent an outdoor tap.    It’s a good idea to pop a small hook close by the watering bowl on which to hang a dish-brush to scrub the bowl.  Water bowls don’t need to be kitsch or ugly.  A water bowl can double as a piece of garden art as well as being practical - think outside the square and consider a decorative ceramic dish or a beautiful Asian inspired stone water receptacle.

9             Keeping edibles for the kitchen can be challenging with some breeds.  Left to their own devices, dogs orientated by food can be quite adept at ‘picking’ ripe fruit from trees, tomatoes from vines and berries from bushes.   If exclusion from the orchard and veggie patch is not an option, place tempting crops such as tomatoes out of their reach.  Raised beds and hanging pots are perfect for this; consider pruning fruit trees so that fruit is not easily accessible to your dog.    Netting fruit trees can also be helpful (be sure to remove netting as soon as your crop is harvested).    If you are the sharing type, look out for netting bags to place over selected bunches of fruit, leaving others available for the dog and for the birds. 

9:            Pathways and doggy doors:  While you can’t always stop a dog bringing unwanted ‘treasures’ inside via the doggy door, you can reduce the amount of dirt carried in on their paws by ensuring the majority of pathways your dog traverses have a hard surface.  Concrete, paving and gravel all act as good barriers to dust, and provide alternative to earthen and sawdust paths.

10.         Puppy problems:  Puppies can be particularly destructive in gardens.  This is the time for mustering the greatest forgiveness and patience.  Puppies are renown for chewing - they’ll chew anything from outdoor settings to boots;  the trunks of small trees, hoses and irrigation systems, you name it, and they are likely to chew it.   Applying products containing chilli, or bitter tasting sprays such as citrus oils or vinegar can be a deterrent (check they won’t stain your items).  Garden tools, gloves, and bags/boxes of garden product are best locked away in the garden shed out of harms way.   This is a great time to institute a dedicated toy basket referred to earlier, and ensuring you spend plenty of time with your new pooch so that it learns what is appropriate behaviour in your garden, and what is not.. Most dogs grow out of puppy behaviour and with good training will become valuable and loyal members of your family. 

11           Poisonous Plants:  many dogs will happily live with plants without chewing them.  If your dog plays with or chews plants, or if you have a new puppy in the family, you should familiarise yourself with common species known to be toxic to dogs.  Understanding the plants and their dangers can help you make choices about placing toxic plants out of reach, removing them from your garden altogether or excluding the dog from parts of your garden.   Be aware that toxicity will vary from plant to plant and that while many plants are mild in their toxicity, when consumed in large amounts some plants can be fatal.  Consult your vet if you suspect your dog has injested plant material (Take a piece of the suspect plant with you to the vet).    Common plants known for their toxicity include:

  • Lillies
  • Sago Palms
  • Ivy in all forms including English Ivy and the popular indoor plant Devils Ivy
  • Philodendron
  • Rubber Tree
  • Aloe Vera
  • Asparagus Fers
  • Lantana
  • Oleander
  • Daffodil
  • Jade plant
  • Tulips, and
  • Cannabis


Plants in your productive garden to be aware of include

  • Tomato leaves
  • Grapes
  • Onions
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Avocado
  • Garlic
  • Walnuts

 **This is not an exhaustive list.  For more reference material the following websites have good information about plants and their toxicity effects.    

12:         Batten down the baits.  Rat baits, snail baits and human medicines are all poisonous to dogs.  Ensure baits are stored in a locked garden shed to prevent accidental poisoning.  If you need to undertake rodent control use locked bait systems, live catch alternatives, or try the new Ratsak Naturals Rodenticide bait pellets (the active ingredient is corn meal – this product is safe to use around dogs when applied as per the instructions).  For snail control, use a bait such as Multiguard Snail and Slug Killer also safe to use when applied as per the instructions  –good garden centres and hardware stores will stock these products.  If you suspect your dog has consumed rat or snail bait it is important you seek veterinary care immediately.  It’s helpful if you know what the active ingredient of the bait is, so remember to take the box with you to the vet.

13:         Garden care products:  Organic pelletised fertilisers are very tempting to some dogs.  If yours is a dog which insists on sniffing out every last pellet of fertiliser you’ve broadcast, consider switching to a fertiliser such as TroForte, or other non-organic products, which provide all the nutrients without the tempting aroma. 

14:         Lawn care, and the old chestnut of dead patches from dog wee:    Lawns are as important to your dog as they are to you.  So how do you reduce those dead patches in your lawn – it’s easy. Where possible irrigate the area immediately with a bucket, watering can or with a hose. Where it’s not possible you may wish to consider investing in ‘Dog Rocks’ or a similar product. When placed in your dog’s water bowl they work to lower the PH of your dog’s urine therefore reducing the impact on your lawn. (The urea in the urine combined with the high PH is what causes the burn to grasses.)  Couch, buffalo and kikuyu, all summer active grasses, have the ability to self-repair when they are damaged and are ideal varieties to plant when you have a dog.  When damage occurs from urine burn, digging or from wear and tear, simply top dress the area with some sandy loam, fertilise with a specific lawn fertiliser, water in well and your lawn will recover in around four weeks.  Dogs can also wear tracks in your lawn. Where this occurs you may wish to consider installing some stepping stones to ease the pressure in the lawn, or you could place some temporary or movable fencing in the area to allow time for the lawn to recover.  The single best way to ensure you have a lawn that both you and your dog can enjoy is to fertilise your lawn with a specific lawn fertiliser, a little and often.

15:         Pet Grass:  You may have noticed some dogs will eat grass.  If your backyard is not privy to a lawn it’s a good idea to have a couple of pots of ‘pet grass’ on rotation available to your dog    Pet grass is said to aid in digestion and assist with hairball control.  It can also be a helpful and safe alternative to chewing pot plants.  Pet Grass is inexpensive, and is readily available from your local garden centre year round. 

Finally, don’t forget to include your dog in your daily garden routine.  If you are up early and watering before work, be sure to take a treat with you for your dog.  Engage in play while you are watering, chat with them, give them a scratch, include them in your garden chores – they’ll soon look forward to joining you on your gardening journey, and with the right care, plenty of distractions and good training will be happy, trouble free companions in your home and garden.