Dogs and gardens...

bebe_ct(6a)April 5, 2014

How do you keep your dogs out of your flower beds/borders?

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Training them to stay out, with words and that stern look and repetitiveness. She is trained to 'Stay' and 'Wait' and 'No'. They read body language very well, so I make sure to exaggerate my disapproval if she puts a foot in. When I am not in the yard, sometimes I see her go in one of the beds. In the winter it was too much trouble to go out and reinforce not to go in, but now that good weather is here and the beds are actively growing, I wouldn't let her get away with that either.

When I am working in the beds, she will lay down next to the rock edge in the pathway outside of it and I will make sure she knows I am happy with her doing that. I think she is very responsive to training. I've had dogs that are less so. Persistence and consistency, I think is the key with all dogs.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 4:11AM
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Thanks PM,
I'm not worried about when I'm outside with them; like your dogs, mine will listen well when I'm around. Its when they're out on their own that BAD things happen. Short of fencing in all of my beds and borders (what a pain!) I'm at a loss as to what to do...

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 6:58AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Yeah, that's a tough one Bebe. I'm home all day so I guess my approach would be to try to go out and correct her every time she stepped into the beds I don't want her in. I don't really know if that would completely work. I am going to try that this season. Also my dog is not destructive in the garden. She doesn't have any interest in digging. And it sounds like you have more than one dog and I think that ups the ante. I'm sure they like to play with each other too.

Surprisingly, my dog gets bored out there by herself pretty quickly, so she's not out there too long to get in trouble without me. Aside from pretty intense training to get the dogs to stop going into the beds when they are out there alone, or watching them to call them back in before they get in trouble, I haven't another idea off the top of my head. I don't see how I would make a decisions to fence in all my beds and borders. Maybe someone else has solved this problem?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:42AM
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spedigrees z4VT

A subject near and dear to my heart! I have a large fenced yard for my dogs off the kitchen/back porch as shown in the top picture below. That is as far as they go unescorted. The collection of old animals in the picture did not bother gardens or plants.

The middle photo shows a ring of stumps protecting my small flowering crabapple from the old pony (during her brief forays into the dogs' yard) because she did like to rub against and nibble on tree trunks and branches. This "stump garden" was inside the dog yard. It still is, but minus the flowerpots.

The pots atop the stumps are a thing of the past, as are my two old dogs (RIP). My new old dog does not bother plants in pots, but his companion is a young spitfire who would absolutely destroy them, so until she is an old dog, no stump garden. Perhaps by that time the stumps will have rotted out and the tree will be huge.

The bottom pictures shows where my gardens lie, safely outside the dog yard. Of course they are exposed to deer and rabbits, but these herbivores seem to prefer the clover and other delectables in the former pasture to flowers or veggies. While the pony was still living I ran a strand of electric fence around the flower beds, because she was known to nibble and trample plants unlike her wild brethren.

I walk the dogs around the gardens and through the woods, but these are supervised walks. I think it is important to have a safe fenced area for dogs, damage to gardens being the least trouble they could get into were they free to roam.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 2:18PM
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Spedigrees, your stump garden is charming!!! I hope you can resurrect that one soon...

We have our entire property surrounded by deer fencing, so the dogs will definitely be safe if I let them out, but the gardens won't. I think what I'm going to try is willow fencing. I'm signed up to take a willow "fedge" building class the end of May at the fletcher arts center in ludlow, vt, and I'm thinking I can put a really attractive low willow fence around all of my beds and borders relatively inexpensively. Another summer project. :)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:04PM
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This is a subject that comes up on the Landscape Design forum periodically, and if you go to the bottom of the LD forum and type "dogs" in the search box, you'll get a bunch of discussions, some of which may give you ideas. I think the solutions depend some on your gardens and some on your dog. Some folks have dogs that like certain paths or patrol certain areas, and so those become some of the garden's paths instead of being planted, sort of a "go with the flow" philosophy. If there are only a few places that are a problem, putting up a sculpture, birdbath, trellis, etc in those spots may serve as a reminder to the dog. If your dog is really trainable or small, low fences that simply serve as a reminder in areas you'd rather you dog didn't wander may work.

I don't have a dog, but those are a few of the work-arounds dog owners have suggested that stuck in my head.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:04AM
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The replies so far have been great, I love the attitude of the previous posters towards animals in the garden!

I use a couple of strategies to keep my dog from doing damage in the garden beds. Mainly I have mixed beds, with perennials and shrubs, and much of it is well established, so a few sortees into the beds doesn't do too much damage.

First, partial fences - the little 'trippers' that are about 18 inches wide, 14-24 inches tall, and decorative. I collect more whenever I see nice ones, usually wrought iron, that aren't too expensive. They can't actually prevent the dog from stepping in the gardens, but they provide cues to her about what's a path and what's not. Generally I'll place a series of them around any area that's recently been dug or re-worked - or where I think she's taking short-cuts through a bed.

Second, most of the beds' edges have swaths of floppy plants like nepeta, and those cheap, green wire fence sections work well to keep the plants from sprawling too much, and to convince the dog she doesn't want to go there. I think she knows she can get tripped up in the nearly invisible fence pieces. If I work a big area, sometimes I'll lay several of these down right on the ground - she doesn't want to step on them for some reason, maybe because they don't lay quite flat, and they spring up a bit when stepped on.

Also, the beds are edged with brick, providing another cue for her - and, there are plenty of walkways she can use.

I've also thought about using orange and lemon peel, discretely tucked into mulch or under plants. Dogs detest all citrus scents, I'm told; our local shelter uses orange spray in an emergency, when aggressive dogs start acting out. We haven't needed to try that yet, but I might give it a whirl sometime. It probably wouldn't last very long, though.

I don't really mind the dog going into the beds sometimes - she's a standard poodle, and she's great at catching voles. The only real damage she's done was in the pursuit of a nest of those beasts, and I can't fault her for that! We walk her to a school yard where she can run, just about every day, so unless she has visitors, she's pretty content to use the gardens 'appropriately'. That might be the most important strategy - giving them another place to expend all that energy.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 12:55PM
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spedigrees z4VT

Bebe, I hope you post photos of your willow fences after they are established, and in progress. I'd love to see them!(I'm assuming you mean the type of living fence of intertwined willows.) I've thought of a boundary fence across our swampy area with living willows.

Also I just wondered about your deer fence. How tall is it and does it actually keep deer out? Since they are such proficient jumpers, I imagine it must be 6 feet or more?

I'm quite envious of your deer fence. A fence encircling our entire property is on my to-do or at least my wish list. I really have no desire to keep deer out, just to keep the dogs in so they can be off-leash with me when I'm working out in the gardens or walking. So a 4 foot fence would easily prevent dog escapes while allowing the deer entrance.

I think Diggingthedirt's suggestion of low barriers/edging around flower beds is a good one, as a guide to make it more clear to a dog exactly which area you don't want him to set foot in. I have bottles on stakes surrounding my perennial beds (more to keep the hubby on the mower out than the dogs, but it does serve both purposes). My former two dogs in their old age were pretty reliable off leash with us, and understood the command "get out of the garden" and to stay away from the road on one side and neighbors' pasture on the other. Still an irresistible distraction could cause them to "forget." I would rate the two dogs I have now as maybe 50% reliable, not enough to trust them. The old dog would be liable to follow an interesting scent trail to off-limit places, and the sheltie is unpredictable!

Much depends on the individual dog, and how important it is to the gardener to have a dog-free garden.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 1:29PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Good points made here. It reminded me to mention, that my dog is really our son's dog and is not here all the time. So as DtD pointed out, exercise in other places at other times probably has a really big effect. Our son also has another dog and cats, and the 2nd dog just moved in in the past 6 months, so he's been consulting with a dog trainer about some new behaviors with both dogs that were bothering him. The dog trainer's first strategy was to get the dogs more exercise to reduce the amount of energy they have in the house.

And like DtD, I don't always mind the dogs in most of the beds. In the backyard, which is fenced, most of the beds are basically shrubs and mulch, except for the spring when there are some dicentra and ferns, spring ephemerals. During the summer there's not a lot going on in those beds for the dog to disturb. The one bed where I really don't want her, has a lot of perennials, but it's also raised about 6 inches and has a rock edge along the whole length. So that is a really good visual clue for her.

And these posts reminded me, that in the good weather when the plants are growing I haven't actually seen her in that bed. It was over the winter, when the snow was deep and she was trying to find some bare ground and less snow to walk in under the drip line of spruces that she started to go in that bed when I was not out there. And in that case, the little 'trippers' along the edge of the bed, probably wouldn't help much under 2ft of snow. [g]

So, I think I have circumstances that make it a lot easier to keep her out of the beds, just to clarify.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 3:18PM
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I put up a fence, I have 5 dogs and a small back yard, and it gave me peace of mind to have the area fenced off. I used wire fence, t posts and zip ties, so it was inexpensive and easy to do.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 3:26PM
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I'm not from New England, so I hope you don't mind the reply. :) Saw the thread over on the side and it caught my attention.

I have two Labs. My strategy has been to plant the backyard with a mix of trees and shrubs that can stand up to a little bit of abuse. :) They are generally pretty good about not stepping on plants, but I surround fragile new plants with a tomato cage until I think it's ready.

My other hobby besides gardening is training/competing in dog sports. Both of mine are pretty well-trained, but that said, they are still dogs - I don't trust either of them in the backyard by themselves. :D One will start digging out of boredom if I leave him to go out front and check the mail.

I think if you have a dog that is inclined to dig, they are going to dig if you're not there to intervene. You can't train them unless you are there to redirect every time they do it. Digging is a self-rewarding experience for them, and dogs tend to repeat any experience that has proven rewarding in the past.

Like someone else above, I don't mind if the dogs go into the gardens in the back. They were designed with them in mind - all the delicate plants are in the front yard. One of the worst incidents of damage I've had was caused by me, throwing their bumper into a young Dynamite Crape Myrtle. I knocked off the whole back half. Oops! :) But I was able to root some of the pieces, so now I will have a multi-trunk shrub.

I have heard the idea of establishing a "digging area" for a dog, which would be basically like a raised bed with some loose soil/sand that makes the job easy for them. You could place it behind a large shrub, out of view. Bury a few treats or toys to get them started. Of course, I'm sure if I went to the trouble to do that my digger would still prefer to dig under the Mahonias. Why in the world he chooses there, I have no idea. Those things are so prickly!

Oh - another thing I've tried to do is pay attention to the often-taken paths, and just let them have those and garden around them. For example, my digger dog also tends to get the zoomies and dash around the yard when he's excited. This includes going into and out of the beds - but he always takes a particular path. So, I have left the path open for him. He also really enjoys going into the Miscanthus and hiding, then darting out to "surprise" me. So, I'll always make sure to keep those as they are, as he really seems to enjoy them.

I think it's a lot easier to just watch what they tend to do and where, and work around it.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 3:56PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Glad to see you post, Connie and Lucille, welcome.

Well, all these pet owners who garden, I've posted photos of my dog enough times, but would love to see photos of all your dogs. :-)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 4:18PM
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