Dog's Life: Home & Garden
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.
Warm Weather Flop Spot
A Disguised Seasonal Dipping Pool
Al Fresco Nibbles
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.
Keep Your Yard Foxtail Free
Wellness: Healthy Living
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
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
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
Spay/Neuter Your Dogs
Choose Foods Wisely
Make Waster More Eco-Friendly
For a more comprehensive guide to living green with pets … see more simple strategies for reducing your dogs’ paw print.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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
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
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
Garden organically, for the sake of both the planet and your dogs.
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
Digging and weeding and vermin control, oh my!
"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.
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?
News: Shea Cox
Dilution is the solution to pollution
It is a common misconception that "acid" in a dog’s urine is what causes the brown spots left behind on our lawns. However, the culprit is actually the high nitrogen content of the urine. Nitrogen is “the waste” in the urine and is the result of protein breakdown through normal body processes. Because a canine diet is very high in protein, there will be high levels of nitrogen, and you’ll be battling blemishes for as long as your pet uses the lawn for its place of business.
A repeated vet school mantra was, "dilution is the solution to pollution," and that concept holds equally true in the case of urine scald on our lawns. Therefore, the best way to help prevent brown spots is either by dilution or by addressing the external environment. Besides training your male dogs to pee through the fence onto your neighbor’s lawn (kidding!), here are tips to keep your lawn lush and green:
The most effective way to prevent grass scald is to the water the area immediately after your dog urinates. If you have easy access to a hose or a rain barrel, give the area a quick dousing. I also have a tub in my sink that I use to catch excess water when I’m at the sink; instead of letting it go down the drain, I collect it and use it to water my plants. This idea could be used to water the lawn as well, while remaining mindful of the environment.
Another intervention is the construction of a small graveled, mulched, or artificial turf area in the back or side of your yard. You can train your pet to "go to the back," and with positive reinforcement and praise, they will eventually and automatically head to that area to do their business. You can make this site visually appealing by placing potted hostas, ferns, or other greenery around the perimeter.
The kind of grass you put in your yard also determines how well it will tolerate dog urine. Fescue and perennial ryegrass are most resistant, and diluted amounts of urine (hosing down the spot like stated above) can actually act as a fertilizer. What are the least hardy of grasses? Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass are the most sensitive to urine scald. Another tip: if you fertilize your lawn, use a reduced nitrogen fertilizer.
Now a word for those over-the-counter medications that are touted to be "lawn-saving supplements." I personally (and strongly) caution against their use. Nothing you give your pet internally will safely stop urine from damaging grass, and the only appropriate interventions are those that address the environment- not the dog! The environmental changes discussed above may be more time-consuming work, but it’s a small price to pay if you wish to have both a lush lawn and a healthy pet.
These medications work by either changing the pH of the urine, or by adding salt to the body. And it should be reiterated: urine burn is a nitrogen problem, not a pH problem. When you use medications that alter the pH of the urine, you run the risk of causing urinary crystals or bladder stones in your pet. Certain types of crystals and stones thrive in the altered pH environment, which will create a much bigger problem than a lawn blemish. The other “lawn-saving supplements” are actually pills that contain high amounts of salt. This in turn causes your pet to drink more, thereby diluting its urine (dilute the grass, not the dog!). Giving your pet high amounts of unnecessary salt is not a good option, and this is especially true if your pet has underlying kidney or heart disease.
Another recommendation I have heard is the use gypsum salts and this is another option I caution against. Gypsum is calcium sulfate, and this material can cause eye, skin, oral, and respiratory irritation in our pets.
Since we’ll never be free from pee, I hope these tips have helped, and I’ll see you next week!
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
From our readers
The entrants in a recent Bark contest had some incredible cleaning tips, and we want to share them with you. The reigning champion of reader cleaning solutions was vinegar, and we agree—it’s versatile, it’s green and it works. But take a look at a few other DIY tricks to kick your spring cleaning up a notch.
Throw a few feet of cheap nylon netting in the dryer with your clothes and bedding. It grabs all of the pet hair. Shake it out and reuse it.
A great way to recycle dog hair is composting— I put some in my worm box.
Add a few drops of organic essential oil (lavender, peppermint, vanilla) to a cotton ball and suck it up with the vacuum. The cotton ball will give the carpet and room a nice, soothing smell with each vacuum.
When my front-load washer gets stinky from retained moisture, I add one cup of baking soda with the next load of wash. It reduces that smell, helps brighten the wash and is more environmentally safe than the major detergent brands.
I recycle shredded newspaper and office paper by soaking it for a few days. Then I form bricks, let it dry and use it for our woodburning stove. Free heat!
I take all my old shirts and tear them into different size rags—some for windows, some for floors, some for dusting. I also save grease from the deep fryer, soak the rags and light my grill or fire.
Wear rubber gloves and run your hands over the furniture. The fur comes right up.
The best way to remove dog fur from many furniture fabrics is to wet your hands and rub them along the furniture. Continue re-wetting your hands as they dry and removing the accumulated fur. It’s a snap.
When your dog pulls the stuffing out of her toy, don’t throw it away. Put it out in the yard for nesting material for birds and small animals.
Place your silverware in a dish lined with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Add two tablespoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of salt. Pour hot water over and let soak for a minimum of 30 minutes. Wipe clean.
For cleaning “gunk” from the walls and mirrors of our rental, we found that diluted white vinegar works great. —Veronica Adrover, Modesto, Calif.
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