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Pet Connection: If your dog likes to dig, work with it

Published: Tuesday, May. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7D

Animals and plants are always near me, by choice. But some plants are poisonous, and even animals that don't eat plants seem just as intent on otherwise destroying them by sleeping on them or digging them up.

That means I have spent a great deal of time protecting plants from animals, and vice versa.

This month, I'm giving up a suburban home for a very small farm, with room (and more important, zoning) for my two boarded horses, my chickens and ducks, as well as three dogs and a cat. There will be approved plants for eating – pasture! – and plans for a massive veggie garden, as well.

Right now, it's all raw dirt and broken-down fences. Both are going to change, and soon.

Fortunately, I've spent years balancing the needs and safety of animals and plants, so I know what to do. Fencing is a big part of the equation, but that's not all of it.

And since most people just want their dog to leave the landscaping alone, here are tips that can help make that happen for everyone, no matter how big your yard.

Exercise your dog

Dogs that don't get daily exercise are likely to expend that energy and cure their boredom by doing things people don't like – such as digging, chewing and barking. Dogs that are well- exercised are more likely to sleep while you are gone. When you leave, you should also offer your dog alternatives to choosing its own amusements: Provide it with a chew toy, such as a Kong stuffed with something delicious, like peanut butter.

Work with dog's habits

Observe how your dog uses your yard, and plan accordingly. For instance, many dogs consider it their duty to run the fence line, leaving a well-worn trail where many people might hope to put flowers.

Instead of fighting with your dog, go with its instincts. Place your beds and plantings away from the fence line, and let it do its guard-dog patrolling behind those plants.

Give your dog a yard of its own

A side "relief" yard where messes and digging aren't ever a problem can allow your dog to be a dog, especially when you're not around to supervise.

Redirect digging

You can keep many dogs from digging if you keep them exercised, limit their access to dirt, and make the digging experience unpleasant. Sometimes, putting the dog's own stools in the hole and covering them with dirt will deter it. Many dogs won't dig if their own mess is under the surface. Another option is giving your dog a dig zone. While hardly clean fun, it is good fun, especially for dogs that are happiest with their noses in the dirt and their paws flying.

Put special plants in safer places

Raised beds and hanging planters are the place to put your most precious plants. In borders, put the plants that can take being stepped on in front. Want a good dog-friendly plant? Mint is perfect. This plant is nearly indestructible and greets each assault with a wave of fresh mint smell.

Fences are your friend

While there's a lot you can do with yard layout and plant selection, if you're planning a dedicated veggie garden, pick a pretty fence to go around it. At my current home, a 4-foot fence that wouldn't be enough to contain my large dogs safely on the property is plenty high enough to keep them out of the tomatoes.

It'll be a long, long time before my new home has the gardens and plants I dream of. But with some basic guidelines in my head, there will be happier animals and fewer setbacks along the way.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Gina Spadafori



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