Want a dog but love your garden? Before you invest in a canine friend, check out Adrienne Wild’s advice on how to keep them both thriving
How to create a dog-friendly garden in your home
If you’re thinking about bringing a dog into your home, you must ensure your garden is safe and pet friendly.
Make sure there are no escape routes!
To create a dog-friendly garden, it’s vital you cover all escape routes to stop your pet disappearing without trace, so begin by making boundary fences strong and secure. In a busy area, consider replacing a peep-through fence with solid panels to avoid any distractions, such as passers-by taunting your dog. Planting tough shrubs in borders by the fence can be helpful in preventing a nervous dog being disturbed by the outside world.
To stop a canine Houdini escaping, make fences at least 1.8m tall, and extra-difficult to scale by fixing less rigid trellis to the top. Never secure a dog with a chain, as there’s a risk of strangulation, and chained dogs can become aggressive.
In order to deter dogs that like to dig, consider putting a wire mesh fence in front of your existing fence, to a depth of at least 15cm.
Clever dogs can have the intelligence of a toddler, so keep large pots, the barbecue and raised beds, or anything that can be used as a ladder, well out of reach.
Check whether any plants growing in your garden are harmful. Laburnum seeds, for example, are toxic and its roots – as with rhododendrons and azaleas – are also poisonous, making them especially dangerous to dogs that dig or if they’re used as throw sticks.
Narcissus, lily and many other bulbs are also harmful if eaten in quantity, so if your dog likes chewing, steer clear of these and other plants with poisonous parts, such as sweet peas, foxgloves, delphiniums, hellebores and columbines.
Avoid plants with long, sharp thorns or pointed leaves – eg, yucca – that might injure a dog’s eye. And strim long grass in wild areas of the garden before perennial rye grasses produce their sharp seeds, as these can pierce skin and get lodged in ears, eyes, nose and toes.
The best bet for dog-friendly borders is edible flowers such as pansies and roses. But these will attract bees so, in case of stings, have some baking soda handy – which can be mixed with water to make a soothing paste – and maybe few healing plants growing nearby.
Beneficial herbs include fennel, which can be rubbed on a dog’s fur to repel fleas; calendula flowers, which can be boiled and used as an antiseptic wash for cuts and grazes, and thyme, which can be used to soothe a dog’s cold and even depression!
Pack your dog-friendly garden with robust plants – herbaceous perennials such as daylilies, coneflowers, lavender, salvia, Shasta daisies and hardy geraniums are ideal. Sturdy ornamental grasses and shrubs such as viburnums, Euonymus japonicus, escallonia, phormiums and bamboo should also withstand assault.
When filling gaps or making new borders, buy the largest specimens you can afford, and if you have a digging dog, plant – and weed – when they’re not around so they don’t get ideas.
While mulches will give your garden seamless good looks and help protect plants, you must choose them carefully when you have pets. Dogs are sensitive to theobromine, found in cocoa-shell mulch.
A safe choice is bark nuggets, which are easy on paws yet large enough so they won’t cling to a furry coat. Aggregate mulches are also useful for making borders a no-go area, as they tend to feel unpleasant on a dog’s paws.
Keep the garden tidy, and don’t leave hazardous objects such as sharp tools handy. Dispose of hot barbecue coals safely, and make ponds safe by restricting access or covering with a metal grill or mesh.
Adopt an organic approach to plant care and, if you must, only use pet-friendly slug baits and traps, and clear up dead slugs and snails as they can infect your dog with parasitic lungworms if eaten.
You’ll soon realise that dogs ignore paths, preferring to run through gaps between borders or maybe along a fence. They will also have their favourite marking posts, which could be your favourite ornament, so allow for this in your design.
If you have a lawn, be aware that grass that’s urinated on by bitches turns brown. Plants will also eventually be killed by your dog lifting a leg on them, so if necessary get the hose out to dilute the effects.
Some owners add a dash of low-salt tomato juice to their dog’s food each day to help change the nitrate balance in its urine.
Dog poo is a messier problem and also carries worms (Toxocara canis), which have eggs that can live in the soil for years. Handling infected soil may result in fever, vomiting and serious eye disease, so always clear up dog mess immediately and keep your pet healthy by regular worming.
If all this has left you feeling precious about your plants, consider setting aside a corner of your garden as a dedicated dog zone.
Give your pup an elevated platform from where they can survey what’s going on around, plus a bowl of clean water to drink, and they’ll enjoy being top dog in your home!
Then, simply sit back and enjoy your dog-friendly garden!