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Guest Blogger: Cheryl S. Smith, on Dog-Friendly Gardens

Dogster, dogster, how does your garden grow? If you're like many dog owners, it might not grow at all, thanks to a certain furry best...

Maria Goodavage  |  Apr 15th 2010


Guest blogger Cheryl S. Smith enjoys beautiful dogs AND a beautiful garden. You can, too, if you know what to do.

Dogster, dogster, how does your garden grow? If you’re like many dog owners, it might not grow at all, thanks to a certain furry best friend who uses the lawn or garden for a urinal or a digging pit. But there’s hope! Dog writer Cheryl S. Smith, author of Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs, is here to help you with some of the most-common questions and concerns of people who have dogs and gardens. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You just have to have some of her wisdom — or her book — in your pocket.

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Dog-Friendly Garden Tips

By Cheryl S. Smith

When dog people talk about dogs and gardens, a few topics usually arise. Though my book Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs covers garden design with dogs in mind, breed considerations, fencing, training, products to use, plants to avoid, and more, when I’m out speaking, these are the most-asked questions.

pic_brown_spotQ: How can I keep my dog from making brown spots in my lawn?

A: This one often comes combined with a variety of myths, such as it’s only girl-dogs because their urine is more acidic or if I feed my dog tomato juice (or baking soda or other ill-advised items), it will neutralize the acid.

So, first, the culprit isn’t “acid,” it’s nitrogen. A high concentration of nitrogen, as is found in normal urine, burns the patch of lawn. Because female dogs tend to pee in one place and male dogs tend to mark, and thus spread their urine out more, females may have a greater impact.

In lesser quantities, nitrogen is an excellent fertilizer. So one thing you could do is apply water wherever your dog urinates. The end result will be that the patches of lawn that have been peed on and watered may actually be greener than the rest of the lawn. A researcher actually looked into this and determined that you could apply water as much as 6 or 8 hours after the fact and still effectively dilute the nitrogen.

Of course, that means you either need to know where the dog urinated or you have to water the entire lawn each day. A more practical solution may be to train your dog to use a specific potty area. If you’re starting with a new puppy, it just means going to the same location every time you take the puppy out to do his or her business, rather than wandering around the yard. If your dog is already housetrained, it would require the additional work of re-training to your chosen spot.

Also note that those brown spots may not be your dog’s fault at all. There is a fungal disease called fairy ring that looks amazingly similar to canine urine-created brown spots.

garden_snail1Q: I’ve hard that snail and slug bait shouldn’t be used around dogs, but I’m losing all my plantings to those slimy little creatures. What can I do?

A: Take heart, there is help. Traditional snail/slug baits include metaldehyde, which is extremely toxic. Hundreds of dogs die from metaldehyde poisoning every year. These products should never be used in any area accessible to dogs.

Several years ago a marvelous new product arrived. Based on iron phosphate, the product has no toxic effects on mammals or birds, even if eaten. But snails and slugs are attracted to it, and sicken and die once they consume it. The original manufacturer and product are Monterey Lawn and Garden Products and SluggoTM. Other companies now produce similar products, but I remain loyal to Sluggo in appreciation for Monterey Lawn and Garden bringing this life-saving product to us. You can’t have a more slug-friendly environment than a shady garden in the Pacific Northwest, and Sluggo has proven to be very effective.

You can find a variety of nontoxic products if you look for them. Insecticidal soaps and neem can be effective against insect pests. Lots of natural fertilizers are available. Check out Monterey Lawn and Garden, Sterling International, and Naturally Scientific, or ask your local nurseryperson for nontoxic solutions to your garden needs.

Q: I don’t mind a few brown spots on the lawn, but my dog is digging craters all over my landscape. Help!

A: Some breeds terriers and Dachshunds were designed to dig. At one time it was their job to find and kill vermin who often lived underground. Other dogs dig as a recreational activity, or to create a cool spot to lie down. Trying to stop the digging is extremely frustrating for both the human and the dog, and can lead to even less acceptable activities, such as barking constantly. Most digging problems can be resolved by providing your dog with an approved digging location.

A digging pit for diggy dogs can save your garden

You can just choose a patch of ground to let your dog dig, or you can create an actual digging pit. The one in the photograph was created out of leftover decking lumber. It is filled with a mix of sand and dirt, to keep it lose and well-drained.

To entice a dog to dig where you choose, bury some toys and treats. Go outside with your dog, run to the digging pit, dig up a treat yourself, and give it to the dog. Scratch in the dirt and encourage the dog to join in. Play with a toy after digging it up.

Keep this up for a couple of weeks. Don’t let your dog out in the yard unsupervised (this isn’t a good idea anyway). If he or she starts to dig anywhere else, run to the digging pit and entice the dog to you. Reward with a treat or play with a toy. After repetition, the dog will get the idea that this is the most rewarding place to dig, and will start making the correct choice.

Cheryl S. Smith is an award-winning writer widely known for her dog books and articles. Click here to learn more about Cheryl, her projects, and her dogs. She also has a blog, Dogs in Society, and is an Examiner who writes about travel and events for Washington’s Olympic Peninsula visitors with dogs.