If you are enthusiastic about having a nice looking yard but are also an ardent dog lover, these two passions are often in conflict. Massive dig holes can appear in a matter of minutes; delicate flowerbeds are often trampled; branches of a young sapling are appealing chew toys; burn spots from dog urine often mar a beautiful green lawn; and, a dirt-bare path may appear along the perimeter of the yard from your conscientious dog doing border patrol. The key to good landscaping with a dog in the family is compromise.
Know the Breed
The first step in achieving this compromise is by understanding the nature of your dog’s breed. For example, small terriers are often diggers. What better fun can there be than going after garden moles? Large terriers love to run along a fence in guard mode much like Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers. High-energy dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, can trample a beautiful flowerbed in the blink of an eye.
There is often more than just a nice lawn in an appealing landscape. If your dog is of the type to monitor the property perimeters, then try to keep any plant material at least 18 inches inside fencing or walls. You can then plant evergreen shrubbery inside this reduced perimeter, which eliminates viewers from seeing the dirt path created by your patrolling pooch. Keep the shrubbery closely trimmed, above the height of the dog facing towards the fence. Alternatively, consider raised flowerbeds or container gardens along this inner edge.
A prone dog in a brightly colored flowerbed makes for a great picture but it is unhealthy for the underlying plants. You can protect your vulnerable flora by installing thick, short, rounded stakes just below the foliage.
Most dogs up to the age of two tend to be chewers, even if it is not natural for their breed. There is an amazingly long list of plant material that can be toxic; visit the ASPCA’s web site for a list of toxic plants. Some common toxic plants are: Azalea, Cherry, Honeysuckle, Lilies, Oleander, and Yew.
While a dog’s proclivity to dig might be helpful during the spring when new plantings are being added to the garden, it is not helpful for achieving a safe and beautiful landscape. Dogs often dig because they are bored, they are trying to get cool, or they are just having some fun. Consider creating a designated dig area for you canine and train them to use it. When you find your dog digging in a spot that doesn’t need a hole, lead them to their dig area and praise them if they start to dig. Try to place the dig area in a cool, shady spot of the yard.
Burn Spots on Your Lawn
Regardless of the breed, all dogs are likely to cause unsightly burn spots on your lawn. A scientific study at Purdue University showed it is pure folklore that it is the PH of the urine that causes the burn problem. Instead, it is the concentration of the nitrogen in the urine that is at issue. Urine from dogs and cats removes excess nitrogen from the body via the kidneys. This nitrogen is the result of protein breakdown and as meat eaters, dogs have significant protein requirements.
There are several ways to attack this problem.
One is to train your dog to relieve himself in a designated area, which doesn’t need to be unsightly. Use mulch, pea gravel, or other smooth-edged gravel as a base covering and then add landscape ornamentation, such as a birdbath or stone figure. Container gardens may also be placed around the area for additional color.
Because it is the concentration of the nitrogen at fault for these burn spots, dilution of the nitrogen will reduce the problem. Research showed that if the area of the lawn used for elimination can be watered within eight hours, the burn spots do not appear. (If watering occurs after twelve hours, the spotting continues to be a problem.)
A change in diet is also helpful. This does not mean that you should use acidifying or alkalizing supplements, because PH is not the issue. In fact, these supplements increase incidents of bladder stones or infections.
Because most dogs get insufficient exercise to warrant the amount of protein they are eating, it is being broken down into their waste, i.e., as nitrogen, and is just being dumped onto your lawn. In addition, not all protein is created equal. The higher the quality, the more digestible it is. The more digestible it is, the less waste–nitrogen–that is eliminated. Consider switching to a premium food product; typical grocery store brands of dog food do not contain high-quality protein.
More frequent walks is another solution. Although, using your neighbor’s front lawn instead of yours is not the answer. Find a park or wooded area. These walks also increase the dog’s activity level, thus using more of the protein that the dog is ingesting.
Having dogs and also having a nice backyard is certainly achievable, and is worth the effort. But like many things in life, there is usually a compromise to be made.
Also, check out the infographic “How to Pet-Proof Your Garden,” provided by Home Advisor.
Feature photo of dog in hydrangea bush is copyright Cindy Thibault, @fromwagstowhiskersinc