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.
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.
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.