It’s been a while since I wrote about dogs in the garden, but considering how often the topic has come up recently perhaps it is time to re-explore the issue. Many might think that having a dog and a garden or nice yard are not compatible, but with a little bit of planning and training – both you and your dog – you may find that that is not necessarily true.
The most common complaint about dogs and yards is, of course, brown spots in the lawn caused by dog urine. Dog urine is high in nitrogen and the brown spots are the result of too much nitrogen being concentrated in too small of an area. The brown spots are the equivalent of fertilizer burn, which sometimes happens when too much fertilizer is applied to the grass or some is spilled while being poured into a spreader. The brown spots are dead grass, but they will eventually be filled in with grass spreading from the grass rhizomes around the edges. A better approach might be to prevent the spots in the first place.
While there are lots of “old wives’ tales” about how you can prevent your dog’s urine from burning the lawn, the only one that really holds water is – more water. You can dilute your dog’s urine and reduce the concentration of nitrogen if you can increase your dog’s water intake. But as the saying goes, sort of, “you can lead your dog to water but you can’t make him drink.” And of course if you do convince your dog to drink more that means more trips outside. So you might try diluting after the fact by pouring three to four times as much water as the volume of urine on the spot where your pet has relieved herself. This will require you to train yourself to do this every time your dog goes out – yes even in the middle of the night. So maybe it is better and easier in the long term to train your dog. That is to create a doggy “bathroom” in your yard and train your dog to use it. Set aside a secluded corner of your yard and fill it with wood chips, sand or gravel. Two or three weeks of dedicated training should result in a better looking lawn and less work for you in keeping it that way.
Other complaints that dog owners may have about their dogs and their gardens are worn paths in the yard, digging, chewing on plants and shrubs, and tracking in dirt. You can determine ways to address those issues with your pet by understanding your pet’s needs and observing her behavior. Observe your pet in the yard. She needs exercise, shade, water, a place to rest and interesting things to look at. Exercising your dog regularly can reduce her tendency to run in the yard and create paths, and already worn paths can be covered over with wood chips.
If your dog is a digger you may be able to curb that habit by not giving the dog food in the yard that he might be inclined to bury (like bones) and placing something over a favorite spot to discourage the dog from digging. If all else fails you might try assigning the dog a specific area where she can dig.
You can train your dog not to chew on your plants the same way that I discourage rabbits from eating mine – pepper spray. The spray will not harm plant or animal – just give the plant a very unpleasant taste. The spray will wash off in the rain and you will need to be diligent about re-spraying, but eventually the dog will realize that the plants are not very tasty. You can buy commercial pepper spray in most garden centers – or you can make your own by mixing cayenne pepper with water in a spray bottle. Another thing you might try is planting flowers in raised pots and urns or in hanging baskets around the yard to keep them out of the dog’s reach.
To keep the dirt from being tracked into the house, create a buffer zone between the dirtiest part of the yard and the house, such as a deck, patio, shredded bark or grass the dirt can be cleaned off your pet’s paws. Trim your dog’s nails and the hair between her toes which trap dirt.
Yes you can teach an old dog new tricks – it just takes a little more time and patience; so with a little bit of planning and training you can have the best of both worlds, garden and dog.