How to Have a Beautiful Garden and Pets
Is It Possible to have Pets and a Garden?
Some keen gardeners think it is impossible to have a beautiful garden and have pets.
Dogs can run across flower and vegetable beds, crushing and breaking plants. Many dogs like to dig holes and both dogs and cats will use the garden as a toilet and so leave poop for you to pick up.
So what do you do if you love pets and your garden? This is a question I have had to face. At the time, we never found much in gardening stores to help so we had to come up with some ideas of our own and those of other gardeners nearby.
Even if you don't have pets of your own, you might have problems caused by neighbours' cats. There are steps you can take to reduce damage and annoyance.
Our Pets and the Garden
I'd better admit right away that we now live in a flat (apartment) with no garden and our two dogs died in recent years. The picture above is of the garden we had before we lived here.
When we first moved to that house, the garden was dreadful and needed completely redesigning and planting. The two dogs were young, in fact, we got Henry, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, a couple of months after we moved in and he was just eight weeks old. Saffy, our springer spaniel, was a year old.
For the first few months, it really didn't matter what the dogs did in the garden because it all had to be dug over and many new plants put in. We kept some established roses and peonies and very little else, particularly as everything else seemed to be weeds.
While we were planning the new garden and digging up weeds with roots that went down to Australia, or so it seemed, we had to think how we would protect fragile, new plants from rampaging dogs.
Just to make it more difficult, we had two elderly cats who were stubbornly untrainable - just typical cats, really. We knew we could look forward to cat poop in flower and seed beds. Not only would this uproot young plants and probably stop seeds from germinating, there was the added challenge of avoiding plunging our fingers into buried cats' poop.
Damage was Limited in an Established Garden
Saffy, our springer spaniel, had already shown she liked to dig holes in the garden in our previous home. When she was a puppy, we allowed her to have one hole in among some shrubs so it was hardly noticeable. She kept her treasures in it - a large round, smooth stone, an old tennis ball, a leather dog chew and a slipper she'd chewed and run off with. There never seemed much point confiscating it as it was unwearable.
When we moved, we again allowed her to have one hole. She was scolded when she dug anymore and we very quickly filled them in or sometimes they were useful for a new plant - dogs do have their uses in a garden! When Henry arrived, he showed no inclination at all to dig holes which was good.
In our old garden, plants were well established and so Saffy didn't do much damage. She was always told off for going through flower beds though. She knew it wasn't allowed.
How to Cope With Dogs in a New Garden
The combination of a new puppy and a one year old dog and new flower and vegetable beds was difficult. Saffy didn't recognise them as prohibited places in the way she had in the old garden. She was used to close planting, not lots of space between tiny plants. Henry was too young to understand anything at all about the garden. He was busy learning to be house trained and that was enough of a challenge for a puppy.
We finally hit on the answer, low picket fences. We put these around every bed. Saffy could easily jump them but she learned that she was not allowed to do that. Henry couldn't jump them, his legs were too short. In fact, his legs never got long enough to jump high enough to clear them.
In the beginning, when Saffy showed some obstinacy about coming off the beds after she'd jumped a fence, I told her off and shut her in the house for 15 or 20 minutes. This quickly convinced her that jumping the fences was a bad idea.
Within a year, when the plants were established, we were able to remove the fences and the dogs knew they were not allowed on the beds. To protect corners, where they were liable to take short cuts, I used green plastic poles bent into a V shape and then stuck in the soil, pointy end upwards. They merged into the planting and so didn't noticeably detract from the look of the flowerbeds.
House Training an Adult Dog
- Blue Cross - House-training an adult dog
House training a puppy is relatively easy but if you have an adult dog that isn't house trained, you can successfully train it. Here's advice from the animal charity, The Blue Cross.
Dogs and their Toilet Habits
I am certain the best thing to do is to designate one small, out of the way area for your dogs to do their business. Then, of course, you have to train them to use it. This is easiest to do when you are house training them. You make the major part of the garden an extension of the house and a no-go area for poops and pees.
Training your dogs to to use a toilet area is a mixture of treats and ecstacy "Oh, what a GOOOD GIRL! What a clever girl you are."
When it's done in the wrong place, indoors or out, I always used a tut, shaking my head and a sad, resentful look at the offending dog. I never shouted at them or punished them. If you do, you can start a cycle of unpleasant behaviour like poop eating as a way of hiding what they've done.
My experience is that dogs want to please their owners, they don't want you to be unhappy with them. They hang their heads and look miserable when they know they've done something that's against the rules of the pack.
Female dog urine can leave brown patches on lawns which is unsightly. You also won't fancy sitting on the grass if your dogs urinate on it either. If they do everything in one place, then the rest of the garden is suitable for everybody to enjoy.
The one thing that is really necessary, even if you have a designated toilet area for dogs, is that you pick up all the faeces as often as possible - at least once or twice a day or it will become a festering stinking mess and the dogs won't use it.
Disposing of Dog Poop
Your garden is poop-free but you now have a bucketful of the stuff - what do you do with it? You don't like the idea of putting it in the trash but this septic system disposes of it.
I've never seen them on sale here in the UK as I'm sure I would have preferred something like this as a means of disposing of dog poop from the garden.
Cats are More Difficult
No matter how beautifully they pose for photographs, cats are definitely more difficult because they like to do things their own way and are harder to train than dogs.
The worse thing about cats is the way they use newly dug and raked soil as a toilet then bury it. How many of us have unsuspectingly plunged our fingers into cat poop when putting in a new plant? That is a disgusting experience.
I normally used garden gloves when working with the soil and so at least I didn't get it on my bare hands. When I sowed seeds, I would cover them with something like netting or chicken wire held down with stones to stop cats scratching them up and doing their toilet.
We once bought lion dung (seriously) from the gardening store, dried and bagged up. It was sold to spread over areas of your garden where you didn't want cats to poop. It sounded like a great idea. I spread it over a very pretty flower bed near the back door. The bad news was that the cats weren't bothered by it one little bit. The worse news was it smelled so bad, we kept well away from that flower bed until the rain had washed it away, several weeks later. We'd come out the back door and hold our breath until we got well past it. If anything, it smelled worse than cat poop! This was not one of our more successfully experiments.
Motion Activated Water Sprinkler
Most cats won't like getting a shower
I can understand that a sudden spray of water would make most cats decide the protected area was a bad place to poop or pee so this is likely to work. This device gets glowing reviews and five stars from the majority of people who left reviews on Amazon.com.
High Pitched Sound Deterrents
Some cats hate them, some aren't bothered
Some people swear that the devices with a motion detector and emit a high-pitched sound work like a charm. I guess they work with some cats but the one we tried (not available in the USA) was another waste of money because our cats ignored it completely.
Demonstration of Cat Deterrents
Pets in Your Garden
Do you allow pets in your garden?
© 2009 Carol Fisher