I occasionally get asked to design a garden that the client’s dog can’t destroy. My stock reply: There is no real need for dog owners to create a special indestructible garden. The trick is to train one’s dog to NOT destroy garden areas. The client then cocks their head, in very dog-like fashion, trying to comprehend the the words I’ve just uttered.
Conway tells of interaction with his clients similar to my experiences. Essentially, we both believe that if you want a lovely, dog-free garden, then you’ll need to train your pooch to stay out of it. Yes, dogs like to run and dig and such. Basically, an untrained dog will not stay out of ANY garden. If you don’t want to train your dog, stick with turf grass.
I once was at a new client’s yard measuring and taking photos. Their border collie was out there with me, constantly bringing me his ball. I’d toss it across the 1/2 acre yard, and he’d bring it right back to me. On one toss the dog raced after the ball, but it bounced into the UN-FENCED vegetable garden area. As the dog got to the edge of the garden area, he slid to a stop and sat… staring intensely at the now immobile ball. Then he looked back at me. Then he looked at the ball. Then back at me.
I got it.
He’d been trained that the vegetable garden was strictly off limits—even to retrieve his precious ball. GOOD DOG! So I went into the garden (and he didn’t follow me into the garden), got the ball, told doggy he was a good dog, then threw the ball a different direction. Once again the chase was on.
Dogs are trainable. I experienced it for myself. It just takes a bit of work on the owner’s part to teach the dog what is allowed and what is not. And it amazed me that he obeyed his rules even for a stranger.
Back to design. There are a few things I usually suggest when designing a landscape that will be occupied by dogs. Create a pathway around the perimeter of your yard (I’m assuming a fenced yard). Dogs like to patrol, and they often do this patrolling at a run. Having a 2′ or wider gravel, playground wood chips, or sawdust path right inside the fence allows them to run around the whole yard keeping suspicious creatures at bay. If you have a bright sunny yard, you can try turf grass for this path, but if your dogs are out there a lot, they will wear down the grass, and you’ll end up with the dreaded mud. Pea gravel is great as are wood chips (fresh chips last much longer and stay dryer than bark mulch or compost). You can even try artificial (rubber/plastic) mulch if you are so inclined—or artificial turf grass. But my environmentalist mindset keeps me from fully endorsing these non-organic solutions.
In many places, your garden beds can edge right up to this new perimeter pathway, hiding it from your view, and the dogs will enjoy a little hide and seek. I also suggest several more paths cutting through densely planted ornamental garden areas and a turf grass play area. You can’t be totally against turf grass when you have kids and/or dogs. Limiting use of turf grass is a wonderful thing, and there are situations where it really is the best design solution. You can care for lawn organically. It can be a win, win, win (people, dogs, environment) situation. I also like to suggest a dedicated poo area. I have known dogs trained to poo exclusively in one area. This is not fantasy. And though it’s obviously possible to train a dog to stay out of a veggie garden, I usually suggest fencing them.
Bottom line: You and your dog CAN get along happily in your beautiful garden. It just requires training.