WITH the UK dog population reaching a record 12.5million off the back of the pandemic puppy explosion, your garden space is a much-needed haven for your dog to train and play. But is your pooch digging up plants, peeing on the lawn and turning your sanctuary into ruin with a mountain of toys, slimy tennis balls and chews?
Here, television dog behaviourist and trainer ‘Dogtor’ Adem Fehmi lays down the lawn and order when it comes to keeping your garden safe and your dog happy.
Water features look great — they’re also good for keeping dogs cool and offer a source of drinking water. ‘Avoid using chemicals or cleaning products in ponds or water features. I have pump-activated solar fountains, which are good for the environment and offer watering stations not just for the dogs but for other garden wildlife to drink from. Shallow doggy paddling pools are also great for drinking and cooling hot paws in the heat — plus you can recycle the water for the plants at the end of the day.’
To protect the lawn from unsightly urine stains, designate an area in the garden to be their toilet area. ‘It needs to a spot that’s clean, tidy and away from distractions that might tempt them to explore. But make sure the spot is not too far from the door so it’s accessible. Once they have peed there, give them a treat or affection. Keep it relaxed and calm — scream like they’ve won the EuroMillions when they do a wee and they’ll forget to poop and may then do it indoors. If they do pee on the lawn, don’t make a fuss, just wash it down straight away with a watering can to remove the scent and deter them returning, as urine can kill the grass.’
Throw some shade
Shade is crucial for a dog on a hot sunny day. ‘I have planted some fruit trees at the bottom of the garden to create shade for my three dogs. For a patio or balcony, a dwarf tree in a pot will do the trick. A shade sail or umbrella are also useful to get out of the elements.’
There is a long list of garden plants that could be harmful for your dog — foxglove, spring bulbs, hydrangea, daffodils and bluebells to name but a few. While most older dogs won’t eat poisonous plants, says Adem, puppies are more likely to get into trouble. ‘But if they are eating plants, it’s probably because they are bored or stressed. So rather than digging up every potentially harmful species in your garden (which is expensive, wasteful and not great for the environment) focus on keeping your pup engaged with play and training instead. If it does go near something harmful, engage its nose with a treat or throw a ball to keep it from harm’s way rather than shouting.’
Designated play areas
If you don’t want your dog to dig up your lawn, they need to be mentally stimulated, says Adem. ‘Create foraging areas (away from harmful species) amongst more robust plants or in longer grass by hiding treats for them to find with their nose instead of their eyes. If you don’t have that space, use food dispensing toys like Kongs and lick mats to keep them occupied. Some dogs love chasing a ball around, but don’t leave balls and toys in the garden as slugs crawl on them which could give them lungworm — put them away each night.’
Dogs need boundaries in more ways than one. But the first one is to secure your garden so they can’t escape. ‘We assume a fence is a safety line like a lead, but make sure there are no gaps as dogs can squeeze through the smallest of holes. And ensure the fence or hedge is tall enough as bigger breeds can jump. Check the gate lock fastens properly so the dog can’t nudge it open with its nose.’
Go chemical free
Toxic chemicals don’t just kill pests and weeds, they can also be harmful for your dog. ‘A curious dog might eat a snail — not great if that snail has just ingested some toxic slug pellets. Use organic pest control — crushed eggshells around vulnerable plants work well to deter slugs and snails. Don’t used weed killer on your lawn and avoid adding chemicals or cleaning products to water features in case your dog takes a drink.’
If your dog is territorial and barking at the postman or the Amazon driver, scatter some training treats to divert the dog’s attention. ‘If that doesn’t work, pop the lead on when you see the van drive up, and praise them with a tasty treat for not reacting. If they have a tendency to be predatory, distract with a tasty treat and praise them for not chasing cats or wildlife that come into the garden.’
Delicate flowers and shrubs can get trashed, especially if you have a boisterous dog who likes to run through the borders. Strategic planting will protect fragile fauna from clumsy paws, says Adem. ‘Raised borders or large containers are a great way to keep delicate plants from getting trampled. To protect existing borders, plant oriental grasses at the front of the beds. The dog will enjoy brushing up against them, but they will also act as a barrier. A moat of tough lavender hedges is another great way to keep your dog out of your borders and away from any toxic plants.
There’s nothing more frustrating — or potentially dangerous — than a dog who goes into a frenzy when the lawn mower goes on. ‘Help your dog relax around noisy garden machinery like lawn mowers and hedge trimmers via a gentle introduction. Get someone else to give your dog a long-lasting treat to keep them occupied while you switch on the lawn mower in the far distance. Once they get used to the noise, they won’t be so scared.’