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Dogs in the Garden

Dogs in the Garden

We love our dogs and we love our gardens, but sometimes they just don’t mix well. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from coexisting with both. My problems include digging, breaking plants, digging, peeing on turfgrass, fence fighting, and digging.

I’ve learned that many of the nuisance habits such as digging depend on the breed, separation anxiety issues, and energy/boredom level. Currently I have two female rescue hounds: a Plott hound and a dachshund. Separately, they are wonderful, loving girls who lounge in the sun and snooze most of the day after a vigorous morning walk. Together, they are a tag team of destruction rooting for mice, rats, gophers and moles. After being away for just a few hours, I’ve returned home to craters in the planting beds, soil and mulch on the gravel paths, and uprooted and broken plants. My female Labrador never did this.


Of course much of this behavior is due to their houndiness: they are bred for tracking and catching raccoons, rats, squirrels, and badgers. Both of them have excellent noses; any whiff of cat or rat, organic soil amendment, kelp or fish emulsion fertilizer is thoroughly investigated. Investigation includes vigorously digging up soil and mulch, and any plant that happens to be in the way. I’ve found that burying their poops in these favored digging areas does work to some extent. Or, they carefully excavate around the poop.

Although I love using organic fertilizers, and believe that plants and soils do best with them, I have to use them very carefully. Cottonseed meal, alfalfa and kelp meals are pretty safe to use, but anything with fish meal or manure is not. Even mixing one of these products into the soil itself is not a good idea with my hounds. Other breeds seem to prefer rolling in their favorite scents; dead worms are a favorite with several terrier and poodle mixes I know.

To eliminate the turfgrass pee rings, I eliminated the turf. Swapping the turf for gravel is one of the best things I have done in my garden, and the dogs love to lounge in it. Although this can make for a dusty dog, they love scrunching into it and I love the plants that thrive in gravel (especially California poppies and lupines). I think that although dogs love to run and play on modern turf, they don’t tend to like sleeping on it for the same reason we don’t like to walk barefoot on it. Modern water-saving turf-type tall fescues are pokey and stiff, compared to water loving bluegrass cultivars that are soft and pliable.

My dogs bark at all creatures and feared noises outside their domestic domain: crows, squirrels, delivery people, gardeners, neighbors, skateboards, garbage bins, and even me. I believe this is a natural and learned behavior that can be reduced, but perhaps not eliminated. My dogs are very happy to see our very patient mail carrier on the sidewalk, just not right outside the gate. So I do my best to reduce the barking and fence fighting habit by eliminating the opportunity. Other solutions I have seen include plastic peek-through bubbles in a fence so dogs can see out, or working with your dogs to allow an initial warning bark and then stop. Best to work with a professional trainer on this.

A dachshund on airspace patrol for intermittent crow flyover brings me a smile every time.

Sleeping is best.











Tula digging in the arugula to find the fish meal fertilizer.










Sweet puppy thinking about where to dig next.

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