I had already planted the backyard gardens before we got our first dog back in 2000. Shortly after getting her, she began to drive me nuts with her incessant digging, trampling of tender plants, laying on others, and eating whatever she could reach off the tomatoes, berry bushes, and fruit trees. We loved that big sweet black Labrador, so of course she wasn’t going anywhere, but I also wanted my garden to thrive. I was at my wits end. Something had to change because she was too old to learn to leave the plants alone. I had to figure out what changes I needed to make to reduce her impact on the yard.
I read everything I could about gardening back in those days, but few books and magazines (pre-internet days, of course,) addressed big dogs in small garden settings. After a year of frustration with Camellias keeling over and multiple pits dig out of the lawn, the best advice I got was back in 2001, from a really old episode of Victory Garden on PBS. After watching it, I realized, I had made some big mistakes in designing my ornamental beds. The yard wasn’t dog friendly. The expert on the show recommended leaving a path between the plants and fence, around the entire perimeter of the yard, for the dog to patrol, and the bigger the dog, the wider the path needed to be. More than half of the damage was apparently the result of her just trying to “do her guard dog job.” I fixed the design as much as could, except for a few of the larger shrubs that were well established. I created a little more open space and paths so she could get back to the block wall.
What I learned about maintaining a garden with a dog(s):
- Dogs like to patrol the property line. Leave space between plants and fence.
- Most dogs like to dig. Gardeners shouldn’t hoard all the space for their plants. It is important to leave open space for the dogs to enjoy being dogs. (I have since applied this concept to my chickens, too.) The places she liked to dig were usually soft and cool, especially after rain. I ended up relinquishing a 8 x 10 area by the front gate that was in the shade in the afternoon. George also likes the same area, but he only gets half as much since there is a berry patch in there right now, too.
- Dogs like to see whats going on. When we built the driveway gate, we made sure to leave gaps so the dog could see out. Cut outs would have worked too.
- Expect all dogs to forage on fruit. Either plant extra to share or fence it off in a separate dog proof area, just like with chickens.
- Dogs damage things when they are bored, frustrated, or lonely. They are social and want to be with their pack, which in a pet’s case are their owners. I only had myself to blame for this one with our lab. After realizing a lot of her digging damage in the yard was due to loneliness, we started trying to have her inside much more often.
- Cover soil around plants with a plant tray or wire chicken until plants have a chance to grow in.
Eight years later, our current dog rarely is to blame for any garden damage. He is my constant companion throughout the day. While outside, he patrols throughout the yard, mainly trying to keep his nemesis, the squirrel from coming into his territory. The chickens seem to like the same open dirt patches that the dog does. The fence that keeps the dog out of the veggie gardens also keeps the chickens out too, and they too like walking and scratching along the fence line to look for bugs to snack on.