So you want to start a garden, but you’re worried that all your efforts will go to waste when your dog traipses through, digging up your plants and snacking on the manure used as fertilizer, then licking you with a manure-infused tongue? Okay, maybe that’s just my particular paranoia, but most gardeners with dogs have similar worries. The concern is not at all frivolous. Dogs love gardens. The loamy soil is perfect for excavating in search of bones, the scent of fertilizer is attractive, and the plants are either tasty or simply fun to destroy.
What’s a gardener to do? It’s possible to protect your flowers and produce without stationing an armed sentry around the plant beds, but it’ll take some planning, and possibly a little bit of construction.
They say that “good fences make good neighbors,” and when it comes to gardening, “good fences make good dogs.” A dog who can’t get into the garden can’t damage it. Unfortunately, the most attractive garden fences tend to be the least effective in keeping dogs out. A cute white picket fence eight inches high won’t keep out a persistent Chihuahua, much less the rambunctious Wheaten Terrier determined to make a muddy mess of your vegetable plot.
Instead of cutesy decorative fences, try some metal stakes, chicken wire, and, if necessary, a few tent pegs to keep dogs from digging under. It’s ugly, but it works, and you can easily make a gate. If you just can’t stand having such an ugly barrier around your garden, a home improvement store or pet-savvy landscaper can suggest other options, but they’re likely to be more expensive.
Training can only do so much to overcome a dog’s impulses. Even the best-behaved dog may succumb to its inner puppy if left bored and unsupervised near your garden, even if said dog has previously been totally disinterested in digging up your plants. You can, however, improve the chances of keeping your garden safe by consistently training your dog to stay out of it.
Start by never allowing dogs in the garden plot, whether you have anything growing or not. Even when it’s covered in snow in the winter, your garden area should be a dog free zone. If your dog heads toward the garden, clap your hands loudly and make a sharp “Ah! Ah! Ah!” noise. If this doesn’t deter your dog, try a shake can (a can filled with pennies) tossed noisily a few feet in front of the dog. Remember, never throw things at your dog! The idea is to startle him, not hurt him.
If your dog digs in the garden as soon as you leave him alone, bury a few inflated balloons in his favorite spots. The loud surprise he digs up will deter most dogs from digging again after a few repetitions.
As a final note, please keep your dog’s safety in mind no matter how carefully you keep her out of your garden. Don’t use cocoa mulch, which can be lethal to pets. Check a list of pet poisons before planting anything, even if you’re fairly sure it’s harmless. Be cautious about your use of manure, and consider a fecal test for parasites if your dog has been exposed to a manure-based fertilizer.