We’re getting a puppy (that’s him on the left). Which is incredibly exciting – but also unsettling. While my family counts down the days before the little fellow is old enough to leave his litter to move in with us, I’m standing out in the garden wondering if the fence around the vegetable garden is high enough; whether I can train The Puppy to respect (and not eat) the chickens; and how likely it will be that he sticks to the paths or forges his own through my beautiful garden beds? (I think we all know the answer to that.)
Yes, I am preparing for losses and disasters, but I also know how to cope because I’ve done it before. Our 14 year old border collie bounced into our lives at eight weeks and both the garden and the gardener were initially flattened. But then we regrouped, and the tips I picked up in the process are what I’m about to share and what I plan to use when The Puppy arrives. So if you’ve a new puppy or an inadvertently destructive older dog at home, maybe you’ll find something useful here . . .
Delicates. Until The Puppy settles into being a calm and predictable fellow, I know I’ll need to be strategic when growing my garden treasures. I’m not going to lovingly plant bulbs knowing that the efforts will end in frustration – trampled or eaten (itself not a good thing, they can be toxic). Instead I’ll tuck those daffodils into pots along with anything else precious, and then raise the pots out of reach on the outside table. I’ve already lifted this mix of Primula and Nasturtium up off the deck.
Digging. We gardeners do it all the time, and when The Puppy and I are sharing outdoor time together in the months to come, he will watch me do a lot of it. But the catch is, I don’t want him to dig. If you don’t want to find freshly planted seedlings lying limply where they shouldn’t be, don’t let your dog watch you plant them. And when you do plant something, mulch it thickly straight away to deaden the allure of freshly disturbed soil. If you don’t want your dog to dig a hole to bury its fresh chew-bone, offer it to him indoors or in the dog run. If all else fails, you can make clever use of paving: this shot (above) is of a softer treatment than a harsh slab; the one below with its fake turf would also do the trick.
Playtime. My family can’t wait to play with The Puppy. They’ll want to throw the ball, encourage him to leap and run and be adorably boisterous. Which is absolutely fine as long as I can convince them to have their rough play time in the park opposite where we live. If you have the opportunity, this may work for you too, encouraging crazy-play somewhere that can stand up to it, even if it’s just your own driveway.
Poop. It comes with the territory and if you don’t work out a system for dealing with it on a routine and regular basis, it’s going to reduce the pleasure (and health benefits) of being in the garden. I wear gloves, and I use garden clogs so I don’t track anything inside. Oh, and don’t compost the poop, as the worming tablets you give your pet will kill off your compost’s microfauna.
Stakes and Toughies. I often use this combination when working in other people’s gardens. If they’ve invested funds to have a new landscape, they obviously don’t want their pets destroying it. So when I plant, I tend to do two things. I strategically incorporate tough plants – things that will stand up to a bit of a beating, like this Dietes grandiflora (above). I place these along path edges and at sharp bends where anyone might be tempted to cut across. And secondly, I add in some stakes. The stakes need to be chunky enough to convince the dog to take the path of least resistance, and they need to be close enough together so that flopping down on the plantings isn’t an easy option. (You can see them in the shot below, the tips painted yellow for safety but now faded.) Eventually when the dog learns that garden beds are a no-go zone, the stakes can be pulled out.
Supervision. It’s almost a given that if you leave your dog out for long periods unsupervised, you’ll come home to a nasty surprise. At least in the first few months, I’ll try to be outside with The Puppy, gardening and playing – it’s a healthier arrangement all round. But if you can’t be there, you can organize things so that the puppy’s safely tucked away inside in a puppy-proofed room like the laundry or in a dog run outside. I have a dog run by default thanks to inner urban living and the sideway access between my house and neighbor next door. It already has a gate each end, and when I add in a dog house, fresh water and a few toys, it will be a safe place for The Puppy. I spotted this (below) recently – it’s the sort of open fence barrier around a safe space that would make a good-looking dog run.
Zoning. In the same way you close the pantry door to stop a toddler pulling everything onto the floor, you need to zone your garden so that there are areas that are ok to go, and others that are out of bounds. I have gates dotted about to keep small children and dogs out of the shed and all its dangers. I’ve a lovely picket fence around the vegetable patch (below) to keep the chickens out and this will hopefully work for The Puppy too.
This is our old dog who sleeps in the sun. She has no idea what’s coming (The Puppy). Nor does my perfect garden. Oh well…