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Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Dog-friendly Yard Work
Dog-Friendly Gardens and Yards

It’s springtime, the warm weather and longer days give us time to see how our gardens and yards can be made more dog-friendly. One way is to make sure they’re free of plants that might make them sick; another is to add a few small amenities they’ll enjoy more than digging up the flower bed. Here are some ideas from Maureen Gilmer, landscape designer, horticulturalist and dog lover. More can be found online at moplants.com, where you can also download The Dog-Scaped Yard: Creating a Backyard Retreat for You and Your Dog, the eBook from which these were adapted.

Fleabane Herbs
Through the ages, fleas have been the bane of existence for humans as well as dogs. Before pesticides, it was common to strew herbs over the floor of a home, pub or castle to control vermin. The oils in many garden herbs are historic flea repellants, which led to them being dubbed “fleabane.” To use them this way, simply cut the branches and strip the leaves to line the bottom of a dog house. Or, dry the herbs and leaves and stuff them inside the lining of the dog’s bed, which naturally discourages the pests through the winter months. Some of these herbs may also discourage ticks as well.
Fleawort (Erigeron canadense), annual
Fleabane/pennyroyal (Menta pulegium), perennial
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), perennial
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), shrubby perennial
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), shrub
Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), tree
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus), tree

Warm Weather Flop Spot
Dogs don’t sweat, they cool off by panting. Many dogs labeled problem diggers are really just trying to keep cool. They instinctively dig nests in shady places to access cooler soil, and sprawl out in them during the heat of the day. In heavy soils especially, this makes a huge mess—the dirt stains paving, plasters the dog’s fur and litters the yard with clods.
My solution is to provide them with a pit of their own that’s more damp and cool than the flower beds. Give them sand to lie in and it won’t stain or make mud, and when dry, it easily falls away from their fur. Keep the area slightly moist and your dog will prefer that spot over all else. You can make a few of them, scattered around damp, shady, out-of-the-way spots in the yard. Be sure to wet down the area often in the heat of the summer.

Instructions
1. Dig out a shallow pit of a size to fit your dog comfortably.
2. Mix up a bag of concrete and line the pit with a thin layer.
3. Before the concrete dries, poke a few pencil-sized holes in the bottom for drainage.
4. Line the depression with at least six inches of clean white playground sand.*
5. Sprinkle with water to the point of dampness.

A Disguised Seasonal Dipping Pool
It’s easy to create a dog dipping pool that’s safe and easy to clean for the summer. The trick is to choose a sturdy, molded-plastic kiddy pool rather than an inflatable one, which is too easily punctured by sharp claws. Be sure the pool is shallow enough for your pet to get in and out of easily. (Beware: Small dogs may find the plastic sides hard to navigate when wet; choose a size that’s safe for your particular dog.)
The best way to disguise it in your garden is to set it into the ground just like a real swimming pool. Dig out the area under the pool so it sits with the rim an inch or two above the soil line. This will protect the rim and sidewalls from breakage as your dog enters and exits. She’s also less likely to chew on it, and it will stay put when empty, which is a time when big dogs tend to turn kiddy pools into play toys. The downside with this kind of pool is draining it, which can be done with a simple siphon (you can find one at home improvement stores). Or, when all else fails, bail it out with a bucket!

Al Fresco Nibbles
Rose hips. Lois the Rottweiler would sit on my deck and eat the ripe hips off my Rosa rugosa plants. The fruit of the rose softens and becomes very sweet in the fall, rich with vitamin C and many other beneficial nutrients. The vet concurred that they were equally as healthy for dogs as for people, and probably gave Lois some of the vitamins her body craved. Moreover, he said that the astringent quality of ripe rose hips would protect her from urinary tract infections. So feel free to plant roses for the dogs and let them forage in the fall!

Wheat and oat grass dog patch. Fresh wheat grass juice is a popular drink for humans. Wheat and oat grass are also good for dogs, in moderation. They will naturally graze on it when they need the nutrients it contains, rather than browsing through your flowers. If you have a dog in a small city yard, consider planting wheat grass in an outdoor patch. It grows great in low, wide troughs. Most pet suppliers sell the seeds in small quantities. For a sizeable dog patch, save money by purchasing your oat and wheat seed in quantity at a health food store. It’s free of chemicals and ideal for large plantings.
Bark Tip: Container gardening is a good way to try out herbs with dog-appeal. Easy-to-grow specimens include chamomile, lemon grass, lemon verbena, lemon balm, peppermint, spearmint, oregano, thyme and yarrow. Not only can you reposition the containers if needed, the pots restrain notorious spreaders—mints, for example—from taking over your yard.

Keep Your Yard Foxtail Free
Foxtails are a group of grassy weeds that have seeds attached to long serrated fibers. They are designed with barbs to penetrate an animal’s fur or skin and stick there until they finally drop off somewhere else. When grasses turn brown, foxtails become quite stiff and are easily inhaled by dogs. The tips are sharp enough to penetrate through the softer parts of the paw, mouth and other sensitive spots. Once inside the body, foxtails can travel through the bloodstream and cause serious injury. Keep your yard free of these weeds by pulling all grasses while they’re still green.
 

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
15 Doggone-Good Tips for a Pet Washing Station
Turn a dreaded chore into an easier task with a handheld sprayer, an elevated sink or even a dedicated doggie tub

This is going to sound harsh, but your dog stinks. Don't feel bad — it's natural, and you are nice to let him swim in that creek and run in the mud and roll around in yucky things. You don't notice anymore, because your schnoz is used to it. But when I come over to visit, the smell of your dog's bed and the smell on my hand after I pet him is very noticeable, so chances are, the same smell is in your carpets, car and any furniture Fido lounges on. 

You probably mean to wash the dog more often, but it's a pain in the neck. Large dogs are tough to get into bathtubs, the big shake afterward makes a mess, and the whole thing can be quite an ordeal. 

Now that we've got that out of the way, a home pet washing station isn't looking so crazy. In fact, you can use them for other things, too. A builder who's been adding them for years, Vincent Longo, says that one client uses his pet care station for cleaning dirty golf clubs, gardening tools and even the kids after a busy day making mud pies. 

Whatever your thoughts about pet wash stations, there's no denying their popularity. If you're thinking about adding one, here are some ideas to consider.

Incorporate the washing station into the mudroom. Mudrooms are a very popular spot for dog wash stations. Dogs enter from the back or side door, and their muddy paws never make it into the rest of the house.

 

Photo by Orren Pickell Building Group - Search traditional laundry room design ideas

 

Include a handheld showerhead or sprayer. Not only will it help you get your dog's entire bod nice and clean, but it will also let you do a quick paws-only wash.

Be prepared for the big shake. Anyone who has ever washed dogs knows that afterward they shake off the water with gusto and get the entire area wet (including the person doing the washing). Having a surround and floor that can stand up to water will keep the big shake from damaging drywall and floors. 

If your dog is the type that runs around the house in crazy circles after a bath, all I can recommend is shutting the mudroom door until Sparky dries off and calms down, or else letting him into the garage for the runaround.

 

Photo by Angelini and Associates Architects - Discover traditional laundry room design ideas

 

Go bigger with the drain. Longo recommends using a 3-inch drain in a pet washing station. It will handle dog hair better than the standard 1½- to 2-inch shower drain. He also recommends adding a hair filter over the drain.

Clearly, this dog loves the pet wash station and is just begging for a rinse.

 

Photo by Designs Dell'Ario Interiors - Search contemporary laundry room design ideas

 

Consider an elevated dog bath for smaller pets. It will be easier on your back and knees in the long run, as long as your dog is willing and able to jump into it, or you don't have a problem lifting your pet into place.

Step it up. In this clever design, the counters double as steps up to the basin. The middle step serves as a drying station and has room for a cozy pet bed underneath.

For smaller dogs a large utility sink plus a sprayer is all you need.

 

Photo by Direct Home Design - Browse traditional shed photos

 

Use what the pros use. You can find professional bathing stations complete with ladders or ramps at places like ProGroom.

 

Photo by BACK Construction - Search traditional laundry room pictures

 

Combine gardening and pet grooming. Pet washers are also great places to water plants, rinse off mucky Wellies and clean your gardening tools.

 

Photo by Smith & Vansant Architects PC - Browse traditional laundry room ideas

 

Incorporate your own style. This custom dog bath utilizes vintage tiles that the homeowner had been collecting for years.

 

Photo by Morning Star Builders LTD - Search traditional laundry room pictures

 

Have drying towels handy. An overhead drying rack is a handy spot for drying dog towels as well as laundry. If you utilize this kind of system, be sure to remove your people laundry before the big shake.

 

Photo by Witt Construction - More traditional home design photos

 

Embrace the theme. This area celebrates dogs in the wallpaper and has plenty of shelves for dog supplies.

 

contemporary bathtubs

 

Hydro Systems Petopia - $1,643.25

Consider going high-end. Do you and your pet have luxurious tastes? If so, try a dog-specific tub. When family-owned company Hydro Systems decided to dip into dog bath design, the owners collaborated with their groomer of more than 20 years, adding features like skidproofing to prevent slips and slides, and even an optional jetted whirlpool system. 

Is your dog the spa type? Do tell, because this idea is certainly new to me, and I can't quite wrap my head around it. Unless the dog's name is Zsa Zsa. Then it makes sense. (Seriously, though, the folks who designed this tub and added the spa option say it's a matter of personality on a case-by-case basis.)

Hydro Systems Petopia II - $377.25

This model is for smaller dogs. I included it because a photo of a dog sitting in its own personal bath wearing a bling-bling necklace simply must be shared.

 

Photo by Schachne Architects & Builders - Browse traditional bathroom ideas

 

Think about storage for supplies. Just like a human shower area, this one has handy shelves for dog shampoo and sponges.

 

Photo by Phil Kean Designs - More contemporary patio photos

 

Take it outside. Homeowners are increasingly incorporating pet washing stations into their outdoor showers. All it takes is a handheld sprayer or showerhead that can reach down to the ground. Rinse off muddy paws here before they can get inside and muck up your rugs.

A second, lower handheld spay is good for pets and for rinsing off your own feet before going indoors.

Provide a clean path to the door. A concrete, gravel or stone walkway will prevent your dog from dirtying up his paws on the way in from an outdoor wash. Unless, of course, the dog breaks free and does that crazy circle thing out in the yard.

News: Guest Posts
How to Pet-Proof Your Garden

Having a pet that enjoys spending time in the garden requires a two-pronged security strategy: on the one hand, the garden needs protecting from the pet, but your pet will also need to be protected from the garden. Some plants and fertilizers, for example, can be poisonous – with the latter, it’s best to check the label, but also to cross-reference the contents online. In general, organic fertilizers such as manure, compost, or seaweed are safer, non-toxic options. See this nifty infographic for more dog proofing garden tips.


How to Pet-Proof Your Garden – An infographic by HomeAdvisor

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Dog-Friendly Prepping for Spring
A Seasonal Heads-Up

Spring officially, well, springs forth in late March, but depending on where you live, it might show up earlier, or later. Either way, if you live with companion animals, it comes with a few cautions. Take note …

In the house. Thinking about dealing with a winter’s worth of dust and debris? Think smart about your cleaning products; many are irritating or even toxic for dogs. Invest in eco-friendly products, or make them yourself. (For a passel of cleaning tips as well as other ways to green up your paw print.)

In the driveway. Most often associated with winter, antifreeze poisonings happen in the spring as well. Whether from shade-tree mechanics, unidentified vehicle leaks or even the bases of portable basketball hoops, ethylene glycol–based antifreeze winds up in driveways and streets, where its sweet taste attracts dogs and cats. Even in tiny amounts, it’s been known to cause sudden kidney failure.

In the yard. Slug and snail baits combine an attractant, usually apple meal or some other sweet-smelling base, with an active chemical compound such as metaldehyde to poison whatever swallows the bait. Increased rodent activity also means increased use of rat poison, which is one of the deadliest things your dog can ingest. Keep all of them out of dogs’ reach.

If you’re planting (or replanting), check out the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants. A safe choice trumps a dangerous one, particularly if your dog likes to graze in your garden. Go to aspca.org and enter toxic plants in the search box.

Then there are fertilizers; even organic or natural varieties can be harmful. Blood and bone meal can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatic inflammation. Grass and flower fertilizers can also contain toxic chemicals that may be deadly if ingested.

Out and about. If your dog spent a good chunk of the winter crashed on the couch or eating a few too many sweet potato chews, it’s a good idea to bound gradually into a spring exercise regime. Monitor your pet and start slow. (This is also applies to the human member of the team.)

If your outings take you to your local dog park or over hill and dale, keep an eye out for foxtails—wild grass awns that begin to sprout in abundance in the spring. They’re more obvious later on in the year when they dry out, but they’re also a problem at the green stage. Get Dr. Shea Cox’s take on the problem.

News: Guest Posts
12 Houseplants That Are Dangerous to Dogs (and Cats!)

This inforgraphic is a good reminder that we should consider our dogs when picking plants for both inside and out. According the ASPCA, their poison control hotline receives around 150,000 calls annually from pet owners needing assistance with possible poison-related emergencies. This inforgraphic is based on a list of toxic plants from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's most common causes of emergency calls and Texas A&M ’s “Common Poisonous Plants and Plant Parts ”. The infographic gives you a break down of the risks to your dog (and cat!) and warning signs to look out for.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Earth Day Tips
Reduce Your Paw Print

This year we celebrate Earth Day’s 45th anniversary. This annual event is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement back in 1970. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Today, events large and small raise awareness of the fragile balance we hold our planet, and educate to bring changes to the dangerous course we’ve set.

Our dogs bring us closer to the natural world, and help us appreciate the environment we share with them. They too will benefit by our stewardship improving. We all need to pitch in to make a difference. Here are some simple ways to raise eco-friendly dogs and reduce our mark on the world.

Adopt Rather Than Buy
The ultimate in recycling, go green by adopting a dog from your local shelter or rescue group. There’s a wonderful animal (both purebreds and mixed) waiting for a good home at your local shelter.

Spay/Neuter Your Dogs
It is the most effective way to reduce the pet overpopulation problem.

Choose Foods Wisely
Buy dog food that is made with organic and humane ingredients. Eliminating chemicals and additives in food is safer for your dogs and the environment. Better still, purchase locally produced food or make your own. Avoid plastic bowls, which can leach chemicals.

Make Waster More Eco-Friendly
Use biodegradable poop bags as opposed to plastic whenever possible. Consider installing an underground pet-waste digester in your yard.

Buy Quality
Cut back on landfill by buying fewer canine accessories, and investing in well-made, long lasting beds, toys and leashes and avoiding the disposable variety.

Buy Recycled
Purchase products that are made from sustainable, organic, and/or recycled materials.  Seek out companies with proven commitments to recycling packaging materials and waste products on the production end.

Clean Green
Use eco-friendly cleaning ingredients like vinegar or baking soda. There are many natural commercial cleaning products available on the market—non-toxic and safe for animals. Shampoos as well.

Grow Green
Plant a tree to celebrate your dog! Plant an organic herb garden, including parsley, thyme and rosemary to “spice” up your dog’s meals. These herbs can make a perfect kitchen-grown garden too.

For a more comprehensive guide to living green with pets … see more simple strategies for reducing your dogs’ paw print.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Gardening
A primer for making it safe and organic

My dog likes to dig. I watch her toss a chunk of wood—she barks, howls; she furiously claws, daring the evil stick to make a run for it. Dig dig dig, deeper it goes. Bite the stick—chew the stick—now she’s proud. I think she’s also proud of the hole she’s made. I think my dog wants to garden with me. I have a friend who’s done a study on dogs digging holes. She asserts that her dogs have more tendencies to dig up the lawn and garden once they’ve watched her dig. Doggy see, doggy do is her theory. I have doubts. I have no doubts, however, that dogs like to dig. They dig to hunt prey, such as mice and gophers. They dig to bury bones, and then dig them up again. They dig because it’s a fun, completely normal canine activity. The challenge is in protecting your garden from this fun.

Protecting the Garden
I once had the joy of tending a large expansive vegetable garden in rural France. Roomy rows for walking among manicured beds of luxuriant foliage permitted one to feel like the Master of the Manor inspecting one’s domain. In that garden, there was room for a dog to walk at my side without damaging any vegetation. Alas, my pocket-size urban garden in San Francisco barely has space for plants. Keeping such a plot a canine-free zone requires ingenuity.

Raised beds are one solution. Dogs can be taught where they’re permitted and where they are not. The more obvious the physical distinction between these areas, the easier the training. Architectural railroad ties, stacked two or three deep at the garden perimeter, are affordable and available from lumber yards and landscape supply companies. They are attractive, sturdy and free of the toxic compounds present in recycled real railroad ties. A raised bed garden requires extra soil and amendments the first year or two, but the results are well worth the effort and initial expense. You dog will understand not to jump into the garden (with a bit of training), while your back will learn to appreciate gardening at elevated levels.

Fences seem to be an obvious choice when total exclusion is desired. Bur quality, attractive fences are expensive, time-consuming to install and can block sunlight. Instead of fencing in your garden, consider fencing in your dog. Before you get upset, realize we’re not talking about abandoning your dog to a concrete fenced-in kennel. We’re giving him his own garden. It’s called a digging pit and is the secret for coexistence between a backyard garden and your dog. Set aside a small area and dig it up like a garden; a patch three by six feet is sufficient. Bury your dog’s favorite toys and treats while he watches, then encourage him to dig them up. As he does, praise and reward. During the exercise, chant “Dig in your pit, dig in your pit.” Dogs learn the trick quickly. Combine positive reinforcement with verbal discouragement when your dog wanders into a forbidden zone. You can speed the training process by being a bit devious. Drip some tasty food or meat broth in an area you wish him to avoid. When he explores and starts to dig, it is your opportunity to shoo him back to his pit and praise him for digging in his own garden.

Protecting the Garden
If you and your dog are going to share gardening experiences, it’s only fair to grow things you both enjoy. As you plan your landscaping, if you have room, consider planting a tree. In answer to the ever-popular questions “How do I keep my male dog from killing a young tree with his own ‘watering’ efforts?” I offer two approaches. Frequent rinsing of the trunk and soil with fresh water helps dilute excessive fertilization. Or, secure a copper or galvanized splash guard of appropriate height and circumference around the developing tree the first couple of years to divert unwelcome attention. Once established (preferably near your dog’s play pit), the tree will provide blissful shade for those days when your dog is busy watching you weed and sweat in the sunshine and heat.

There are trees to avoid (noted at the end of this article), but you can’t go wrong with an apple tree. A bit of apple, crushed and mixed with other fresh foods, is a delightful addition to the diet of a dog who appreciates homemade cuisine. So too can boring dog food be enlivened by judicious supplementation with a touch of fresh, home-grown parsley, ginger or mint. It might even improve your dog’s breath. Check with your vet to make sure fresh herbs and vegetables are appropriate for your pet.

Most things that you like from the garden will also appeal to dogs. Incorporate carrots, squash, potatoes, peas and other vegetables into meals or treats. Remember that the items you must cook before eating yourself, such as potatoes, require the same treatment for canine consumption.

Protecting Your Dog
Having protected your garden from your dog, you must now protect your dog from the garden. Within those forbidden walls many dangers lurk. Chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides head the list. Avoid them. With vegetable gardening, going organic makes great sense. If you want to freely graze in your garden (and not panic if your dog does the same) organic is the only way. Particularly troublesome chemicals used in non-organic gardens are worth of mention. The active ingredient in most snail baits (metaldehyde) is terribly poisonous—causing tremors, convulsions or death—and formulated in a way that attracts dogs. Gopher and mole poisons are quite nasty and should also be avoided. Most fungicides, herbicides and pest killers when first applied, even organic and relatively safe varieties, can be toxic if ingested or contacted by your pets. Always seal and safely store such products. Keep your dog away from sprayed areas until they dry. When watering, prevent excess run-off from drifting toward your dog’s favorite spot. You don’t want your pup lapping from puddles of dissolved garden chemicals.

Carefully consider plant selection. Many ornamentals and some vegetables can poison a dog who consumes vegetation. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Larkspur (Delphinium ajacis) and even potato foliage (Solanum tuberosum) have toxic effects on the heart and circulation. When dogs eat large amounts of onions, they may suffer red blood cell destruction. Rhubarb leaves (Rheum rhabarbaram) contain oxalic acid. In quantity, it damages kidneys.

If you dog loves to chew wood, avoid trees with toxic bark, such as cherry (contains cyanide-like components). Some nut trees are risky (walnut is notorious) when dogs consume rotting shells, which contain fungal organisms that produce nasty toxins. Depending on your dog’s dietary tendencies (and digestive tract), stone fruit trees (apricots, plums) can provide raw material for obstruction by indigestible pits.

I’ve lately noticed that my dog has more fun digging in her garden than I do in mine. Of course, she keeps finding those bones I’ve buried for her. Perhaps when the carrots are ready to pull, we’ll be on even terms. Maybe I’ll even share one with her.
 

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Tips on Dog-Safe Gardening
Garden organically, for the sake of both the planet and your dogs.
Dogs on Grass

Raised beds protect plantings from scampering paws and swinging tails. Dogs can be taught where they’re permitted and where they are not.

Digging pit, preferably in shaded locations, give dogs places to practice their excavation skills without disrupting your garden beds. You might entice them to use it by lightly burying (as they watch you) a treat-filled Kong.

Leave a plant-free “patrolling” area around the perimeter of your yard; dogs instinctively (and repeatedly) cruise boundaries and fence lines.

Construct a barrier around plants of the nightshade family, including eggplant, tomato and potato; their foliage and stems contain dangerous alkaloids that can kill a dog. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Larkspur (Delphinium ajacis) have toxic effects on the heart and circulation. When dogs eat large amounts of onions, they may suffer red blood cell destruction. Rhubarb leaves (Rheum rhabarbaram) contain oxalic acid. In quantity, it damages kidneys.

Avoid cocoa bean mulches; their chocolaty smell makes them pup catnip, but they contain theobromine, which is toxic for dogs.

Cross almond or walnut trees off your list for areas used by dogs; tannin is a canine toxin, and almond and walnut hulls contain it; moldy walnuts are also a problem. Avoid trees with toxic bark, such as cherry (contains cyanide-like components). And, some stone fruit trees (apricots, plums) can provide raw material for obstruction by indigestible pits.

Do not use snail bait containing metaldehyde, which is highly poisonous to dogs and cats. Copper barrier tape is a good alternative; slugs and snails are deterred from crossing it by the tape’s tiny positive electric charge.

Protect young trees, especially if you have a male dog. Be sure to frequently rinse the trunk and soil with fresh water. Or, secure a copper or galvanized splash guard of appropriate height and circumference around the developing tree the first couple of years to divert unwelcome attention from your pup.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
The Perfect Garden Dog
Digging and weeding and vermin control, oh my!
Garden & Dogs

"Here,” my friend Jeanette said, shoving a plastic grocery bag at me. Limp daffodil foliage flopped out of the top. “They’re a gift from Pepper. She dug them up—again!—in the flowerbed by the back porch and I didn’t have the energy to plug them back in for the third time.”

Those of us who love gardening and love dogs have days like this. It’s tough to find a good garden dog, one who will hang out with you without trashing the tulips. Cats, spectators to the core, are better suited to the job. They can lie there for hours utterly content to simply be, occasionally exchanging a look with you that says: “Isn’t this the life?”

Not dogs. Dogs are participants. Idleness is anathema. If you don’t give them a job, they’ll find one on their own. Though I’d lived with dogs for years, I still didn’t really get that fact when Else, our German Shepherd, arrived. At six weeks old, she was little more than a ball of fluff with two big eyes and two big ears, one of which flopped sideways as though its crinoline stiffener had gotten wet. Since she was so young, I assumed I could mold her into the garden dog of my dreams, teach her to hang out with me, lazing about the place companionably. I didn’t suspect that she would view hanging out as dereliction of duty.

She was four months old that first spring when I gathered my tools and the two of us went out together. She trotted alongside with a relaxed, loose-jointed gait that made her look as though she had been put together with rubber bands. But her attitude, eager at first, grew alert as we went into the fencedin vegetable garden. When I stopped to survey the place, she sat down as though programmed to a perfect heel-and-sit. While trying to decide what to do first, I absently reached down to grab out a clump of errant timothy grass, self-seeded from the surrounding fields. Like furred lightning, Else clamped down firmly on my hand (gloved, thank goodness) and began to pull. I corrected her.

“No, Else. Leave it.”

She looked puzzled, slightly hurt. I reached for another weed; she chomped down on me again.

“No, Else. Leave it!” I insisted.

She sat down again, mystified. She was a team player. She was helping. It’s what German Shepherds do. They protect and serve—even in the garden. And it was obvious that as she looked around, she could see a lot of opportunities to serve. A vermin population needed keeping in check. Barn swallows needed discipline, accomplished through a series of deep-chested woofs during what looked like a game of quiddich played back and forth across the yard. And the compost pile clearly needed regular excavations. She saw her duty then and over the past eight years, she has done it assiduously.

But while she has plenty of jobs to occupy her, she remains convinced that she was born to weed. That’s probably because at heart, like most working dogs, she likes to work in tandem. I get that now. Fortunately, she has matured. She no longer grabs my hand the minute I go for a weed. She stands by quivering in anticipation, but not doing anything until given the order.

So when my daughter, Abby, and I revamped the weed-filled raspberry patch, we recruited Else. The patch was a mess. In addition to monster pokeweed and a miserable tangle of bindweed, we were dealing with saplings of invasive white mulberry that had sprung up.

We were a little daunted by the prospect before us, but Else, now part of our response team, was in her element. In the course of the morning, she helped yank out wads of bindweed and taught the pokeweed who was boss, but her favorite part of the project was getting rid of the mulberries. This was major weeding; the trees are deep-rooted even when young, and require digging. At each tree, Abby and I dug down to loosen the dirt and expose a length of long yellow taproot while Else waited, big ears erect and twitching, eyes riveted on the growing hole. When we reckoned there was enough root to grip, Abby deployed her.

“Okay, get it, Else!”

Legs splayed out like the platform on a drill rig, Else went at the root with gusto, growling as she yanked and yanked and yanked that thing out of its lair. After wresting it free, she brought it to Abby and spat it out at her feet, clearly pleased. Score one for the team. We did everything but high-five her.

Else will probably never be the garden dog of my dreams. She will never just hang out from morning to evening. She’s too committed to participation. But over the years, I’ve adjusted my expectations and methods. I make sure she’s had plenty of exercise and has done some kind of satisfying (to her) duty—ferreting out a mouse or rabbit, aerating the compost, playing another game of quiddich with the barn swallows, maybe doing a little more excavation behind the honeysuckle in her on-going quest to reach China. After a day spent participating, she’s learned to relax. Although she remains on standby, ready for deployment, she’s content to lie on the path at my feet while I sip a gin and tonic, the two of us watching the bees together companionably.

News: Editors
Invisible Perils in Parks

Park maintenance is normally not an issue that most pay attention to. We probably blindly trust that weed clearing is done with minimum impact to us and our dogs. Dogs especially, with their noses to the ground, can be more susceptible to the affects of harmful pesticides and weed killers like Roundup. Mark Derr wrote in a recent post on the perils of a dog park that aren’t visible to us. His park in Miami Beach is a place that seems to have gotten hooked on Roundup.

"By the turn of the millennium, reports were piling up associating exposure to Roundup with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, fertility problems, and Parkinson’s Disease, among others. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, well before we discovered Roundup liberally sprayed in the park but on the chance that these reports were pointing to something real, I raised a ruckus with the city and demanded that its use be discontinued.  I argued that even if weren’t toxic to humans, it was to amphibians and birds and thus should not be used in a nature preserve, which technically our park is."

But years after the ruckus was raised, Derr found that Roundup was still being applied to city parks…

"The city changed its ways a little.  Indeed, last fall, when I observed a man spraying a colorless liquid around trees and along asphalt pathways, I asked what it was, and he said, “Roundup.”  It is common to mix color with Roundup so that people spraying can easily see where they have applied it.  But in this instance, I can only assume the intent was to conceal, because Roundup is so addictive that the parks department, like its counterparts in other cities and its own citizens on their own property, cannot give it up.  Its potency and the myth of its safety make it impossible for them to renounce."

Derr writes about recent studies about just how harmful this chemical is. The use of Roundup, and other harmful chemicals, is certainly is a question that should be asked of our park’s departments. Do you know what chemicals are used in your parks?

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