How to create a dog-friendly garden

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Border control: train puppies not to dig up beds using hand signals and cross looks

Border control: train puppies not to dig up beds using hand signals and cross looks
 Photo: Alamy

My dogs definitely use the garden, or more specifically the sun loungers, more
than I do. My canine companions are an asset as, not only do they come
gardening with me, encouraging my endeavours, but they often join in as I
drag bits of tarpaulin across the grass or shoo chickens off the lettuces.
They keep furry pests at bay, with rabbits, mice and rats being dispatched
on a daily basis in peak seasons.

Designing your garden so it is dog-friendly and training your dog to be garden
friendly is key if you are to remain best pals. I have designed proper dog
gardens with agility courses for a large company that makes dog food, but at
home where they have us for company there are no designed spaces for them.

Our two Jack Russells are small enough to have a cat flap so they can come and
go at their leisure and at night stalk foxes that come too close to our hens
or bins – a task they seem to relish. Regular bones are a huge source of
entertainment and nutrition, but do rather detract from the lawn.

Then there are toys. According to dog psychologist Bill Gibson
(connorslegacy.co.uk), a good trick is to show the dog the toy, make it sit
then hide the toy in the garden and then tell the dog to find it. Keeping
dogs entertained is important. They like to be given regular jobs to do too,
collecting papers for instance. I think top of my list would be to find my
trowel – I am forever losing these.

You can buy bubble machines (doggiesolutions.co.uk, £12.74), which blow
thousands of meaty-flavoured bubbles that will keep dogs busy at the press
of a button.

Dogs that run across or hunt and dig in borders definitely need training in my
book. It is amazingly quick and easy to train them, whatever their age. Over
the years I have taught many breeds “border control”, from border terriers
to bull mastiffs.

According to Bill, though, I have been heavy handed. My technique is to take
the puppy gardening and start weeding a border. I step onto the soil and
puppy follows. I say “No” firmly and gently put it back on to the grass or
paving. By the end of a half-hour session it has picked up the idea and we
move to other beds. Only when it is in a mischievous mood or a cat runs
across the borders is it tempted, and that phase disappears with maturity.

Bill says hand signals and cross looks are better; physically moving is too
bullying and voice commands encourage barking. I will try his technique next
time.

Digging is another trait that they like and I definitely do not. Certain
breeds such as border terriers seem to be very prone. The best technique I
have heard for this is to have a designated patch for digging, which you use
to bury a favourite toy or bone. Hopefully, they quickly get the hang of it
and they do more digging than you.

Other anti-social habits are leaving piles of poo on well-trodden paths,
bitches peeing on lawns resulting in brown circles and dogs lifting a leg on
a favourite plant specimen with deathly consequences. A client of mine,
Terry, got a tip from an Australian friend who recommended adding two
dessert spoons of tomato juice to his large dog’s food each day. Apparently
it changes the nitrate balance and prevents the brown circles where dogs
have urinated. You can also put Dog Rocks (dogrocksus.com) into their water
which has a similar effect, though our dog just kept fishing them out.

As for poo, the same client dug a pit about 18in (45cm) deep and 1ft square,
lined the sides with ply, leaving the base bare and puts a lid on top;
despite having two huge dogs it never fills or smells.

Handling dog poo means you could pick up worms, Toxocara canis, the egg stage
of which can live in the soil for years. Many people who pick up the worms
(or eggs) have no symptoms, just very occasionally you can contract a
serious eye disease or show symptoms of fever, vomiting, coughing and other
unpleasant effects. To prevent this, carry out early and regular worming of
the dog plus good hygiene.

Another tip from Terry is an outside washing point by his back door for his
large, long-haired dogs. A cold water supply with shower head and a drain
saves on floor washing and the smell of wet dog.

Fencing is often required and again I have let my dogs down on this. One Jack
Russell, Grace Jones, loves to explore. She can easily scramble up a chicken
netting -covered, 4ft-high gate. As soon as the badger fence went in though,
which is four strands of electric wire 1ft high, it stopped both badgers and
Grace. We lift her over it daily when we walk her, and when larger friends
come by and pop over it, she will not.

Bill says, though, that electric shocks cause anxiety in dogs and should not
be used, but both dogs seem to be as happy as Larry to me and I certainly do
not want the badgers back.

If you want a serious dog garden, Bath Cats and Dog Home opened a sensory
garden to de-stress rescue dogs a few weeks ago. There are medicinal plants
growing there on the advice of Caroline Ingraham (ingraham.co.uk), who
specialises in zoopharmacognosy. These plants include hops (calms the mind
and selected by hyperactive stressed dogs) and St Johns wort (a sedative and
pain reliever).

Steve Hill, the head of welfare and behaviour, said the results have been
amazing. The dogs self-select what they need. The garden has a bamboo
forest, sand pit, pond, caves, bubble machine, medicinal plants and even a
mirror with an essential oil dispenser.

Having a refuge to hide in is important for dogs. We have recently bought
Snuggle Beds (charleychow.com, from £65) which are cushions that dogs go
inside. I have never seen them take to anything with such speed and
regularity. They obviously relish dark, peace and quiet far more than I
thought. And possibly a break from the gardening.

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