I’ve been thinking a lot about dog friendly gardening this summer because I’ve been day-dreaming about how I would design a new, larger garden than the one we have now. So I’ve been imagining what would make a perfect garden. I love being outside with Saffron and I want a yard that will be a nice place for people and dogs. What’s the garden of your dreams?
A lovely garden and dogs can actually co-exist happily. It just takes a little planning, maybe a few changes or compromises, and some consistent training. A good place to start is to look at your yard through your dog’s eyes. How does your dog use the yard? Does she like to patrol the perimeter? Does he like to sit on the deck and survey his domain? Does she have particular routes or places to lounge? Do you have a digger? Or a dog that insists on lounging in the coolest part of the yard, regardless of what’s planted there? Try working with your dog’s behavior by accepting it or redirecting it instead of fighting it. And try to keep them out of trouble before they ever get into it.
Some of the things on the wish list for my dream garden are:
Space between plantings and the fences so Saffron can patrol the yard the way she’d like to without disturbing the flower beds.
A high spot with a good view of the yard. She likes to check the yard before the goes down off the porch—checking for raccoons and squirrels, but she can only see a small portion of our current yard.
I wish Saffron had a long, barrier-free stretch where she could really run hard and some changes in elevation because she loves going up & down hills.
I’d also like a specific, out-of-the-way place for her to “do her thing”—that’s her “go potty” cue. An area defined by a border with good drainage and covered with gravel or wood chips for easy clean up and that can be hosed down.
Here are some tips I’ve used to solve problems that arise from gardening with a dog:
How to keep a dog out of a bed where you’ve applied compost, manure, or organic fertilizer—all of which smell divine to our dog? I’ve had success with one or a combination of the following:
putting chicken wire over the soil
liberally sprinkling crushed red pepper flakes (which you can get quite cheap at Costco)
If your dog has worn a path through your lawn or flowerbed, consider turning it into an real path with stepping stones or pavers.
To keep male dogs from marking plants or trees, provide another focal point for the dog. Dogs very often mark upright objects that are closest to their path, especially at corners. Place a rock, log, planter or some other non-plant object where the dog will encounter it first before it gets to the plant or tree you want to protect.
Don’t give up on your yard or your dog! Check out these links for many more ideas on dog friendly garden design and problem solving:
Awesome video showing counter-conditioning at work. In 4 minutes a dog goes from hating to have his nails trimmed (growling and snapping) to calming allowing it. All without “dominating” the dog or showing it who’s boss. Pretty cool, hunh? (Thanks Margaret!)
A German dog fetched a live WWII grenade last weekend. Fortunately he was trained and set it down on command. “Drop It” is an important thing to teach your dog even if they’re much more likely to pick up a dead animal or another dog’s toy than a grenade.
Sadly in other news, a dog pulled a California woman in front of a train killing them both. There’s a pretty small chance your dog will pull you in front of a train, but if your dog pulls on its leash, you could be pulled off your feet or into traffic. Saffron used to pull steadily on her leash so though I wasn’t likely to be pulled off my feet, I did start having severe wrist and elbow pain.
Do you have a dog or even know a dog? Check out these 10 excellent tips on training from Jean Donaldson, the Director for the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers. Donaldson has also written numerous books on dogs, including the revolutionary Culture CLash. She knows what she’s talking about.
Some fo my favaorite tips are:
Expect your dog to act like a dog.
Don’t wait for your dog to develop bad habits.
Don’t lay guilt trips on your dog—they aren’t moral or immoral.
Imagine, you’re assigned a task you aren’t clear about, you’re not sure what’s wanted or what the instructions are, but it looks hard. Maybe you’re anxious about the whole thing. And to top it all off, your supervisor is getting increasingly angry at you. Finally, you think you know what the supervisor wants and you preform the task. And then your supervisor tells you angrily what a bad person you are, or worse, thwaks you in the forehead. Or they don’t do anything, just irritated silence. What have you learned? That you work for the Supervisor From Hell? You certainly don’t know if you ever preformed the task the supervisor wanted.
I see this played out repeatedly at the dog park. Someone wants their dog to retrieve a ball, but their dog is understandably distracted by all the other dogs, frisbees, etc. or may not understand. The human gets increasingly more frustrated. It comes out in their voice and their body language. Still the dog doesn’t retrieve. The human gets more frustrated. Finally, the dog brings the ball. Now is that human’s chance to praise the good. The dog did retrieve. Now is the time for a affirming Good Dog!. Instead, most dogs get scolded, some get their collar yanked, usually the best they can hope for is a Big Nothing. Without the praise, how is the dog to know that they have done what you want?
We humans are really good at reacting to behavior in our animal companions that we don’t like—pulling on the leash, scratching furniture, nipping fingers. But we often fail miserably at praising good behavior in our pets. It’s what they’re “supposed” to be doing, right? But our pets don’t always know what we want from them. And even when they do know, it’s still important to remind them and reinforce with praise. Let’s get something straight, you aren’t rewarding bad behavior. You’re rewarding the dog for retrieving even if it took a while to happen. It’s most important to reward when the dog has the hardest time doing what you want. Put yourself in his place. What would you want and need?
So, don’t just correct behaviors you don’t want. Praise and reward the behaviors you do want. This requires a shift in perspective for most of us. Our cat, Raven prefers to scratch on our couch, so when she uses a scratching box or post we throw a little praise party. Plenty of Good Girl!‘s and What a good kitty!‘s. It’s not easy to remember, but it makes a big difference. Our dog, Saffron is nervous around traffic and sometimes pulls on the leash on busy streets. So when we walk down a street with lots of traffic and she doesn’t pull, she gets a bunch of encouraging praise. And those happy looks she throws at me over her shoulder because she knows she’s doing what I want? They’re the best.
Teach your animals what you want from them. Don’t teach them that you’re the Supervisor From Hell.