Podcast Episode 107: Dig, Dig, Dig

Here’s Episode 107Dig, Dig, Dig:

Learn how you can have an awesome garden that can survive your dogs!

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Check out these topics mentioned in the podcast:

We Like: Garden Tip—A Digging Pit For Your Dog


It’s warmed up enough here in the Pacific NW that I can work in the garden and I was reminded how much Saffron loves her digging pit.  Rather than fight her urge to dig, I redirected her to a dedicated space for digging.  She’s happy and I’m happy!

Several years ago, in a moment of insanity, I agreed to be part of a garden tour.  So all Summer and Fall we worked on the yard.  I planted hundreds of bulbs, divided perennials, moved plants around like you move furniture, and prepped raised beds for vegetables.  Then Winter came and we waited for Spring to see how it looked.

Next, we adopted our dog Saffron who didn’t know that a flower bed was different from a lawn or that the great smelling compost & manure on the veggie beds wasn’t for her to snack on or that all that yard wasn’t for her to dig a bunch of nice holes in. We had months to go before the garden tour and I needed to keep things looking nice, so I had a lot of incentive to quickly teach Saffron what she could and couldn’t do.  To top it off, Saffron had a lot off fear issues and was overly submissive, so repeatedly scolding her was out of the question and who wants to spend all their time saying “No!” to their dog anyway.

I think dogs need to be dogs and it’s asking a lot to expect them to act like they’re not.  Dogs like to dig and Saffron was making it pretty clear that she liked to dig too and make burrows or nests in our lawn for herself.  Given that she spent her puppyhood alone as a stray on a Reservation, I’m sure she dug burrows to keep herself warm and to feel protected.  I didn’t want to take that away from her, but I could get her to dig in a suitable place that didn’t wreck the yard.

I’d read about giving your dog a specific area where it’s okay for her to dig, which sounded like a great idea.  It’s kind of like a sand box for dogs.  Here’s what I did for digging pit success:

  1. I picked an unobtrusive corner of our yard that got sun in the morning and shade in the late afternoon.
  2. As I prepared the area, I called Saffron over and told her in a happy voice how cool this was going to be so she’d get interested and excited.  I kept repeating the words “digging” & “dig” so she would learn them and associate them with her pit.
  3. I put in a simple border made from garden edging from Home Depot to define the space.  Dogs are very visual and if you teach them, they can understand borders and barriers.
  4. Saffron is about the size of a large Border Collie and her pit is about 3 x 4ft. and 2.5ft deep.  I would make it 4 x 4ft. if I had more room.
  5. Then I started digging in the “pit” with a shovel to loosen the dirt.
  6. I decided to add some sand to the existing dirt so she wouldn’t get terribly dirty from soil sticking to her paws and fur.
  7. Next, while Saffron was watching, I buried some new cheap toys, a rawhide chew, and a large treat like a Greenie that sand wouldn’t stick to.
  8. Lastly, I pointed to the pit and said “Get it! Dig!” and praised her for getting in.  She was so timid she needed some encouragement from me, so I dug with a hand trowel and cheered her on.  She got it and had a blast.

Anytime I caught Saffron digging in an inappropriate place, I redirected her to her digging pit.  And more importantly, anytime I saw her in the pit—even if she was just lying down—I praised her.  I reinforced digging in the pit every few days by digging in it with a shovel and burying things while she watched.  She started learning that good things happened when she was in her pit.

Saffron totally gets her digging pit now.  She digs in it when she’s playing with us because she’s excited, she digs in it when she needs to release stress like after a walk in strong, scary wind, she digs in it and roots around when she smells something interesting, and she digs lovely, cool nests to lie in and take it easy while we’re doing yard work.  Every now and then, I bury something interesting in her pit for her to find just to keep her interested.  She still occasionally digs in places I don’t want her to, but very rarely.  And if she does, I just remind her of her digging pit.  Yea!

Gardening With Dogs

SaffronInGardenI’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.
  • Of course, it would have to have a digging pit, which I’ve previously written about.
  • 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)
    • temporarily erecting inexpensive folding fence borders that you can find at home & garden stores
  • 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: