How to create a top dog-friendly garden

Bunny Guinness

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 that 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 [about R190]), 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 onto 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 deadly consequences. A client of mine, Terry, got a tip from an Australian friend who recommended adding two dessertspoons 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 45cm deep and 30cm square, lined the sides with ply, leaving the base bare, and put 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, 1.2m-high gate. As soon as the badger fence went in though, which is four strands of electric wire 30cm 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.

Having a refuge to hide in is important for dogs. We have recently bought Snuggle Beds (charleychow.com, from £65 [about R975]) 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 andquiet far more than I thought. And possibly a break from gardening. © The Telegraph

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