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Lisa Unleashed: Dog-Friendly Gardens Really Do Exist

Published: May 20, 2018

This past weekend I really wanted to plant my raised vegetable beds with tomatoes, herbs, lettuces, and onions. But it was just too wet and cold. Each year when I get the plants, and set them down next to the beds before planting, inevitably my male dog comes over sniffs the pots, lifts his leg and “waters” the chives and parsley. What’s a dog owner to do?

Each year I tell myself I’m going to erect a fence so the dogs can’t get near the raised vegetable or foundation flower beds. Canine watering is not something I encourage, it just happens. This time of year I have to put a slip lead around Linx’s neck and bring him to the dog kennel before he has a chance to “water” the hostas, hydrangeas, and holly bushes. Hostas are his favorite. I think they are the right size for him, just tickling his belly as he walks over the whole plant to water them. These hardy shade plants don’t seem to suffer much from the liquid invasion, they keep coming back year after year. Others have not been so lucky. My female dog Adele has her own garden issues, from eating mulch (not good) to creating perfect circles of yellow grass among what used to be a lush lawn. Fences, I think, will solve all these issues.

Garden Design

If you have a nice fenced-in yard already and want to add flower or vegetable gardens, it’s best to do an evaluation of your dogs before designing a new garden. Start with a little detective work. Take your dog out into the yard and observe its favorite play spots and resting areas. Start to design around proven dog activities. Are they terriers, earthdogs, or diggers? Or maybe high-energy herding dogs or prey-driven hounds? If you are lucky, they are relaxed dogs that don’t dig, bark, or run around much. Although, I’ve never seen any dog completely void of those behaviors. Keeping your dog’s needs front and center will help you include areas in your garden like digging pits, large open areas for running, or shady groves for the canine lounger in your family. Worn travel routes can be easily turned into mud-free paths with stone or brick coverings. Keep in mind, dogs who want to chase and hunt will bolt after a chipmunk, even if it means plowing down your daffodils.

By far the best solution would be to have a dog door from your house into a dog-friendly zone, a fenced-in smaller, hardier “hardscape’ that neither diggers nor hunters can do much damage to. This area can be filled with dog-friendly perennial hedges or bushes and a majority of hardscape materials like flat rocks, slate paths, and pavers — no lawn needed here, unless it’s a little patch of crabgrass that can withstand the “go potty” traffic.

In a larger backyard, if you want to start a garden, the less formal the garden the easier it is to maintain if plants are going to be damaged by dog traffic. Author Cheryl Smith, “Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs” suggests English country or cottage gardens. These types feature tiered plantings in large areas that cover the whole ground. Makes it harder for a dog to go busting through the foliage. And she adds, that if your dog does damage to any portion of the beds it’s less visible to the casual observer. So skip the formal circle patterns and garden art and stick to clumps of stuff, maybe even a small wildflower meadow.


The old saying, “Fences Make Good Neighbors” couldn’t be more applicable to dogs, especially ones that bark. And mine bark. They bark because their instinct as moose tracking dogs from Norway tell them to when they see large (or small) game. They may track it silently, but when it moves, they bark, alerting the hunter that the game is over here. If your dog is a barker and sounds off anytime it sees a wild critter (we have squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, foxes, and deer in our backyard daily) a solid fence-like stockade makes a great border along a shared property boundary. Plus, it’s great way to keep the peace in the neighborhood.

Inside a larger fenced-in yard using ornate wire fencing in sections with cleats that you can stick into the ground is a nice portable way to section off certain areas while you are planting or growing. I make mine about three feet tall, just high enough to discourage jumping to the grass that is greener on the other side. I find anything smaller than two feet is just an invitation to investigate for a medium-sized dog.
In a perfect world, your dog should be trained to do a down stay in a shaded area while you work in your garden or enjoy a meal on the patio. Yes, there are dogs who do this! I don’t live in a perfect world, so I have recently set up a secondary, smaller, portable fenced-in lounge area inside the landscaped backyard. It’s near the soon-to-be patio area. I like this option because my dogs can be near me while I’m gardening or dining outside and I don’t have to worry about where they are, or what they are eating or digging up. Happy Gardening!

Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses and hounds at You can reach her at

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