Harmonic Convergence – With proper introductions, cats and dogs can get along
By Dr. Marty Becker
and Gina Spadafori
Can cats and dogs get along? While cats and dogs scheming against each other is a comedic staple, millions of real-life cats and dogs live in harmony, and millions of people feel no family would be complete without at least one of each pet.
Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can be difficult, though, as anyone who’s tried to introduce them knows. There are some basic steps to getting both pets to at least call an interspecies truce.
Under no circumstances should cat-dog introductions be handled by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of circumstances. It’s also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cat. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run, attacking the smaller animal.
Introductions must be supervised and handled with planning, care and patience.
If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters, rescue groups or private parties looking to place puppies and dogs often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the pet behaves in the presence of one.
If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet’s obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash and be trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a “sit” or “down” position while on that leash.
For the cat’s own comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom) where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.
After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat’s room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use “sit-stay” or “down-stay” to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don’t force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses underneath the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.
Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat’s presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding with more treats and praise.
When the dog isn’t interested in bothering the cat, and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.
It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other’s company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest of your pets’ lives.
Common-sense pet care prevents disease
If you think about all the diseases one can contract from animals — from rabies to worms and more — it’s almost enough to make you want to go pet-free and wrap yourself up in plastic.
In fact, it’s pretty mind-boggling how many diseases and parasites can be passed from pets to humans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control helpfully supplies a pretty scary list of them. The CDC’s Healthy
Pets, Healthy People website (www.cdc.gov/healthypets) offers an in-depth examination of these so-called “zoonotic” health risks, and it includes special advice for people at higher risk, including those with immune-system weaknesses and those whose jobs involve working with animals.
At the top of the list of concerns would likely be rabies, a deadly disease more common in wildlife than in pets, thanks to decades of aggressive vaccination laws. Other worries are bacterial, with pets capable of transmitting salmonella, leptospirosis and campylobacteriosis, to name a nasty trio. Diseases caused by parasites include tapeworm, hookworm, roundworm, Lyme disease and giardia. And there’s even ringworm, which is really a fungus. Toxoplasmosis is a special concern for people sharing their lives with cats.
Pets are not the only source for many of these diseases — in many cases, improper food handling is a bigger risk. You can reduce the chance of your animal or bird companion making you sick by keeping your pet free of disease and by making sure all family members wash hands frequently when around animals. — Dr. Marty Becker
Dog can help child avoid weight gain
• With childhood obesity a continued concern, one study suggests that having a dog in the family can help to motivate kids to get moving. Among children 5 to 6 years of age, a family dog reduces the likelihood of obesity by half. Not only are children with dogs more likely to walk, but they’re also more likely to spend more time with the pet and less on the couch watching TV or playing video games.
?• The continued popularity of tiny dogs is driving the smuggling of puppies across the border from Mexico. On the California border, a task force of 18 regional law enforcement agencies is working to fight the smuggling of puppies across the borders in ways that are not only illegal, but cruel. Puppies have been found stuffed in car speakers, side door panels and under seats — and they’re often bound to prevent movement or noise. The puppies are also dying from contagious diseases and parasites, as well as poor breeding practices. Those puppies who live long enough are sold out of the trunks of cars in parking lots for cash — and many die after the sales from disease or poor care.
?• While pets do cost money to care for, their ability to lower stress is helping to get many people through economic hard times. According to dvm360.com, a survey of 400 pet owners reported that three-quarters of them were worried about finances, but 89 percent said their pets help them deal with the stresses of life. Most notably, the pet owners appreciated the steady and supportive presence of the animals in their lives.
— Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Pets Go Green, Again Easy Earth-friendly tips for animal lovers
By Dr. Marty Becker
and Gina Spadafori
Does a renewed interest in “green” products mean the economy’s improving? We’re not sure, but we’re still delighted to see retailers and pet owners again trying to reduce the “carbon pawprint” of pets.
Recently, the national chain Petco put on an event at its more than 1,000 stores to promote products that are more eco-friendly — an event in which the PetConnection team was involved. But, of course, it’s possible to do a lot with what you have by making a few good decisions.
Here are a few tips:
• Go for green products. When looking to buy pet-care items, look for items made from recycled materials (such as toys made from recycled water bottles or cat litter made from recycled newspaper) or from renewable materials (such as collars made from hemp or litter made from wheat, corn or even green tea leaves). Also consider switching to a pet food that’s made locally from sustainable or organic ingredients, a move that cuts down on the “food miles” (fuel used to move merchandise) and the waste issued from concentrated animal feeding operations.
• Meat protein is a must for carnivores — especially cats — but if you’d like a pet who can go completely green when it comes to food, adopt a bunny. They thrive on veggies, and will love your kitchen trimmings. (Not to mention, rabbit waste is great for supercharging the compost pile!)
• A few of the pet-product companies that have made an effort to “go green” include West Paw, Planet Dog, Castor and Pollux, and Earthbath — and the number is growing every day.
• Pay attention to packaging. Pet food, pet toys, pet supplies, pet cleaning and grooming aids, pet medications — pretty much all of these have one serious environmental problem: packaging. Look for alternatives, such as bulk buying that reduces throwaway containers, and use products that come in recycled and recyclable packaging.
• Toss with caution. Always dispose of drugs, pesticides, shampoos, chemicals and the containers they come in safely. Flea-control products, as well as many pet shampoos and dips, need to be disposed of carefully as well, according to federal, state and local guidelines. (As for those flea-and-tick products, don’t overdo it, and follow directions carefully.)
• Handle the “do” responsibly. Biodegradable poop bags are a must, otherwise the poop you pick up will still be in the landfill decades from now. As for scooping the yard, consider a “pet septic system” like the widely available Doggie Dooley or the new Doggie Doo Drain ($45; DoggieDooDrain.com). The latter fits onto your sewer clean-out and sends the mess to the treatment plant. Keeping cats from roaming keeps their waste in a litter box, where you can dispose of it properly. Usually, that will mean bagging and putting it in the trash. (Check with your local municipal authority for guidance.)
• Take a hike, or a bike. If you’ve gotten in the habit of driving to the dog park, consider that six legs in motion — yours and your dog’s — is good for you both. Put your walking shoes on, snap the leash to your dog’s collar and get your exercise in your own neighborhood. Walking (or jogging) is great, and if you want to add two wheels to the mix, look for accessories that allow you to safely take your dog biking with you. Be careful though: Exercise in the cool morning only, and don’t let your dog overheat.
• Don’t litter — and do adopt. Remember to consider adoption when it comes to choosing a pet. Great pets can be found at any shelter, and don’t forget to check out rescue groups as well — Petfinder.org can be a great resource for looking. And do make sure your own pet isn’t accidentally “littering.” Fences, leashes and neutering can all prevent “oops” litters.
These tips should give you a start on a greener life for you and your pet.
Pets – Make nail trims feline-friendly
Want to avoid a tussle when it comes to trimming the claws on your cat? Don’t trim them until you can massage your cat’s paws gently during lap time. As you massage a paw with one hand, offer an irresistible treat in the other. Make the procedure as pleasant as possible — for both of you.
Timing and size matters when you start nail trims. A relaxed cat is more likely to be a cooperative one. Go for quality, not quantity. Trim only one nail each day and take off only the tip.
If you cut down to the quick — the living tissue closest to the paw — it will hurt. And if you cause your pet pain, you won’t get much cooperation in the future.
So be careful, and be positive. If done carefully, your cat may not hold out his paw for a nail trim, but he won’t mind much if the whole experience is a pleasant one.
— Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
Human medication can threaten pets
• Medication meant for people, both prescribed and over-the-counter, had the dubious honor of being the top-ranked pet poison for 2009, according to calls to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (www.ASPCA.org/APCC). Last year nearly 46,000 calls involved medications meant for people. At No. 2 on the list was insecticides, with 29,000 calls. The most common poisoning problem with these particular products was the misuse of flea and tick medications, typically a cat made ill by the use of a product meant for dogs. Food items ranked third, with 17,000 calls about common food toxins, including chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocado and products with the sweetener Xylitol, a common ingredient in gum. Rounding out the list were plants, including lilies, which are extremely poisonous to cats, and the improper use of veterinary prescriptions.
• North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine requires all veterinary students to complete training in disaster response. According to DVM360.com, the students are taught to work with both people and animals in disasters and learn skills such as setting up mobile animal shelters located near emergency shelters for displaced people. They also learn how to respond to an epidemic in animals and stop the spread of disease that may jump to people.
• Rabbits rejoice! The first eight veterinarians to earn a new specialty certification in rabbits and other small mammals have completed their training. The new “exotic” specialists have extra training in treating the maladies of common small pets, not only rabbits but also hamsters, rats and other “pocket pets.”
• A gene in dogs has been linked to compulsive disorder. A 10-year study at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine found that Dobermans with compulsive tendencies had a higher frequency of a risk-associated genetic marker compared with normal members of the breed. The research may allow for earlier intervention for obsessive compulsive behavior, as well as treatment or prevention of compulsive disorders in both dogs and humans.
— Dr. Marty Becker and
Mikkel Becker Shannon
On the move Planning will make a change of address easier on your pet
By GINA SPADAFORI
Even in an off year, the housing market traditionally picks up in the spring, as families who need to change residences get moving so the children can be settled into the new neighborhood before the next school year begins.
But moving is tough on families, pets included. Animals always know when something’s amiss, even if they can’t understand exactly what’s changing, or why.
The key to moving pets is to keep them secure before and during the move, and to settle them safely and quickly into a routine afterward.
Cats are a particular worry at moving time because they form a bond not only with the people in a home, but also with the home itself. Because of their mobility, cats can be difficult to keep around the new home long enough for them to realize that this is where the people they love will now stay.
The family dog is a bit easier to deal with: Put his leash on and drive him to his new address. Show him his new, warm home and the securely fenced back yard. Unless the dog is a high-jumper of Olympic caliber, he’ll stay put while he adjusts.
Not so with free-roaming cats. The cases of cats returning to their previous homes are common for people who move short distances, and the instances of cats disappearing forever are just as common for families moving a great distance.
Confinement is essential when moving cats: It keeps them safe while they become used to their new territory and make it their own. Bring your cat inside, if he’s not already an indoor cat, before the movers arrive. Set him up in a “safe room” — a spare bathroom or bedroom is ideal — and leave him be. Provide him with food and water, his bed, a scratching post, litter box and a couple of favorite toys while the packing and moving is under way.
The cat’s ride to the new home is best undertaken in a carrier, especially for the cat who rarely sees the inside of a car.
At the new home, work the “leaving home” procedure in reverse: Put the cat into a “safe room” for a few days — until the movers are gone, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled — and then allow him to explore inside the house on his own terms after things calm down a bit.
Quickly re-establish a routine. Pick a time and a place for feeding, and stick to it for all pets.
If you’ve been thinking about converting your free-roaming cat to a house dweller for his health and safety, moving to a new home is the perfect time to accomplish this. In your old home, you’d be constantly listening to your cat demanding to be let out into the rest of his territory. In a new home, he hasn’t established any territory of his own yet, and you can make the new home his only turf by keeping him inside from day one.
If you don’t want to convert him, keep him inside for a couple of weeks, until he seems relaxed. You can introduce your cat to the new yard by accompanying him on short tours with a harness and a leash. But in the end, you’ll have to take your chances, open the door and hope for the best.
Moving is stressful for all, but taking a little extra care when it comes to your pets will help to move them safely and with a minimum of stress and mess at the new home.
Halter problems? Try a harness
Q: I’ve heard that head halters can cause serious injuries if used incorrectly. A too-abrupt tug could jerk a dog’s head, causing neck or spinal injuries, couldn’t it? — S.T., via e-mail
A: Anything’s possible, which is why I don’t recommend using a head halter with one of those long, reel-type leashes. The force of a running dog hitting the end of a 30-foot line does have the potential to cause injury.
In truth, just about every piece of canine equipment has the potential for problems if used incorrectly. Slip-chain collars can choke a dog or injure his neck. Breakaway collars, designed to release a dog who’s caught on something, can result in a dog being off-leash when it’s least safe, such as next to a busy street. And head halters can jerk a dog’s head around.
Dogs who don’t know how to walk nicely on leash end up not being walked at all — and that can contribute to obesity and behavior problems. The same people who came up with the head halter have more recently come up with a product I like much, much better: the front-clip harness, which is called the Easy Walk. There are a few different ones on the market now and they all work on the same theory: When the leash is clipped to the front of the harness (as opposed to the top center of the back), a dog’s own forward momentum is used to keep him from pulling.
I’ve been recommending this product for a couple of years now because it really works. It’s especially wonderful for people who run with their dogs and for making it possible for supervised children to walk even a big dog.
Mind you, it doesn’t train your dog not to pull on the leash. If you switch back to a collar, your dog will pull again. It’s a management tool, and a great one.
I have never liked head halters. They make even nice dogs look as if they’re wearing muzzles to keep from biting someone. And some dogs don’t like them, especially at first. But everyone I’ve recommended a front-clip harness to has come back raving about it. Again: It really works. — Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NO LITTERING! Kitten Season Doesn’t Have To Be Tragic: Spay and Neuter Now
By Dr. Marty Becker
We’re on the verge of kitten season now, which means we’ll soon be getting questions about feline pregnancy from people who often had no idea they’d be midwife to pets who are often not much more than kittens themselves.
Typical questions include: How long does a cat’s pregnancy last? (On average, 66 days.) Do I need to help my pregnant cat with delivery? (Yes, usually by leaving her alone.) How do I know if she’s close to delivering? (Watch for enlarged nipples and the secretion of a tiny amount of milk.)
The question we’re asked least often is the most important of all: How soon after my cat gives birth can she be spayed? (As soon as the babies are weaned — the sooner the better!)
Studies show that 80 percent of the cats and dogs in the United States and Canada are spayed or neutered. If your cat is not among them, here are a few facts to consider:
• A neutered tomcat is less likely to roam, less likely to fight (and less likely to cost you money to patch him up), and less likely to spray urine to mark his territory. He’s more likely to live longer, because the cat who’s looking for a mate is really looking for trouble. If a car doesn’t get him, infectious disease (spread by fighting or mating) or cancer may.
•A spayed female is a more attentive and loving pet, because her energy isn’t constantly directed toward finding a mate. (Cats are in heat nearly all the time until they become pregnant.) If you spay your cat, you protect her from some cancers, infections and from sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
“Spaying” and “neutering” are the everyday terms for the surgical sterilization of a pet. Neutering — or altering — is also used to describe both procedures. The technical terms for the two operations are “ovariohysterectomy,” for the female, and “castration,” for the male — which pretty much explains why “spaying” and “neutering” are the preferred terms.
Although these procedures are common, many people don’t understand what’s involved. Spaying is the removal of the female’s entire reproductive system: The uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries are taken out through an incision in the abdomen. Some veterinarians use stitches that have to be removed in about 10 days’ time, while others use those that are absorbed into the body. Recovery is fast, taking just a few days, during which you should limit your cat’s activities — no jumping or boisterous play.
In neutering, the cat’s testicles are removed through incisions in the scrotum, the pouch holding the testicles. These
incisions are generally left unstitched in this
relatively minor procedure. Post-operative care normally involves keeping the incisions clean and dry. Some veterinarians recommend keeping the cat inside (if he is not already an indoor pet) and using shredded
newspaper in place of
litter until the incisions close, which usually happens within three to five days.
Most of the people who write us about pregnant cats are dealing with “oops” litters, the result of not getting their cat to the veterinarian in time. We sure hope they’ll be calling to schedule an appointment for neutering as soon as those babies are weaned.
If you’re allowing your cat to have “just one litter” because you want a kitten, please adopt a kitten instead. You’ll find plenty to choose from at any shelter or rescue group. Many of them won’t find homes, so please help in any way you can.
Pet Facts – Cropping, docking still commonly done
• Of the more than 150 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, 13 commonly get ear crops, 48 have docked tails, and 11 have both cropping and docking. Ear crops seem more likely to disappear as a common practice sooner, as fewer pet owners choose to have their puppies’ ears sliced into an upright posture, and fewer veterinarians will perform the procedure. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping and tail docking when done solely for cosmetic purposes and has encouraged the elimination of these procedures from breed standards.
•The average price for hay is $3 to $6 per bale, according a poll on www.thehorse.com. Only 10 percent of respondents were paying less than $3 per bale, while 21 percent paid $6 to $9 per bale, and 8 percent paid more than $11 per bale. A bale of hay commonly lasts about two to four days per horse.
• Rather than using drugs to sedate a cat for minor veterinary procedures, a new process called “clipnosis” may be used to calm and immobilize the animal. The technique places clips along the back of a cat’s neck, mimicking the way a kitten is carried by the scruff by a mother cat. Clipnosis has not yet been widely recognized as a safe and practical method of immobilization, but it may be growing in popularity with a recent study. The trial on 18 cats who were clipped four different times over a period of months found that the animals were not stressed, and some even purred while “clipped.” None of the animals displayed signs of pain or stress during the process. The more the animals were clipped, the more tolerant they became of the process. One caveat: The procedure was not effective on cats who were already excited or agitated.
• Women make up 77 percent of graduating veterinarians. Family-friendly hours and the wide availability of part-time or fill-in work are among the reasons why the profession is appealing, according to DVM360.com.
— Dr. Marty Becker and
Mikkel Becker Shannon
Resting Easy – A Few Clicks Can Donate A Comfortable Bed For Shelter Pets
By Dr. Marty Becker
Part of my work as a veterinarian involves staying current on the latest in disease prevention and treatment, which means I go to a lot of conferences.
I also speak at a lot of conferences, which is what took me recently to Orlando, where the North American Veterinary Conference is held every year. While I was in Florida, I taped some public service announcements, and that’s how I learned of a need for pet beds in shelters.
When I was at the Orange County Animal Services shelter I saw a sparkling-clean facility with a loving staff, all set up for 250 pets but filled with 800. This situation is not special to Orlando, of course, for all over the country job losses and foreclosures are forcing many to give up their pets. At OCAS, as in many other shelters, there aren’t enough beds to go around. Some pets share what beds there are, but others sleep on the floor, without even the little bit of warmth and comfort that comes from being off the concrete.
I thought of the senior dogs and cats sleeping on hard surfaces, becoming stiffer and more painful every day, lessening their chances of being adopted.
I thought about skinny pets, cold pets, pets in drafts and on wet floors, all of whom would be healthier, happier and more adoptable if this one basic comfort were available to them.
Like all my readers might have felt, I can’t take all those pets home. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t help and couldn’t get others to help. That’s when it came to me: Let’s get these pets some beds.
In other words, let’s help shelter pets rise up, lie down and move out.
Turns out the people at the Kuranda company of Annapolis, Md., are already on this. These cot-style beds are popular with shelters (and pet owners, too, of course) because they’re easy to assemble, durable, chew-resistant and easy to keep clean. The company has a program where people buy beds and have them sent directly to any of hundreds of shelters. The cost for a donated bed is discounted 30 percent off the regular price.
In just a few days of sending the word out through our PetConnection.com Web blog, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts, the 100 beds OCAS had requested had been donated.
It’s a great start, and now I’m reaching out even more, to help pets in other shelters.
Can you donate a bed for
a shelter pet? It’s easy! Go
to Kuranda’s Web site
(kuranda.com) and click on “Donate a Bed.” You can then choose from dozens of shelters, sorted alphabetically and also searchable by state. When you’ve chosen your shelter, the site will display what kind of beds the shelter has requested. Buy a bed, and the company will send it to the shelter you’ve chosen. It’ll take you just a couple of minutes and a credit card.
I have no association with the company and didn’t know about the program before the folks at OCAS pointed it out. And of course, there are lots of other ways to help your local shelter, with donations of time, money or goods — and by adopting!
Whatever it takes, let’s do it. The need is great, and it only takes a little from each of us to help.
Grooming for Health Regular Coat Care Can Spot Problems Early
By Dr. Marty Becker
Beauty is more than skin-deep when it comes to your dog. Keeping your pet well-groomed not only gives you a clean-smelling companion, it also helps keep your dog more comfortable and allows you to spot health problems before they become serious, even life-threatening.
How important is grooming to your pet’s comfort? Consider a simple mat, so easy to overlook. Have you ever had your hair in a ponytail that was just a little too tight? A mat can feel the same way to your dog, a constant pull on the skin. Try to imagine those all over your body, and you have a good idea how uncomfortable an ungroomed coat can be.
Your dog need never know what a mat feels like if you keep him brushed and combed — but that’s just the start of the health benefits. Regular grooming allows you to look for lumps, bumps and injuries, while clearing such things as mats and ticks from his coat. Follow up with your veterinarian on any questionable masses you find, and you may detect cancer early enough to save your pet’s life.
For shorthaired breeds, keeping skin and coat in good shape is easy. Run your hands over him daily, a brush over him weekly, and that’s it.
For other breeds, grooming is a little more involved. Breeds such as collies, chows, Keeshonden and Alaskan malamutes are “double-coated,” which means they have a downy undercoat underneath harsher long hair. The down can mat like a layer of felt against the skin if left untended. To prevent this, divide the coat into small sections and brush against the grain from the skin outward, working from head to tail, section by section. In the spring and fall — the big shedding times — you’ll end up with enough of that fluffy undercoat to make a whole new dog. Keep brushing and think of the benefits: The fur you pull out with a brush won’t end up on the furniture, and removing the old stuff keeps your pet cooler in the summer and lets new insulation come in for the winter.
Silky-coated dogs such as Afghan hounds, cockers and Maltese also need constant brushing to keep tangles from forming. As with the double-coated dogs, work with small sections at a time, brushing from the skin outward, and then comb back into place with the grain for a glossy, finished look. Coats of this type require so much attention that having a groomer keep the dogs trimmed to a medium length is often more practical. In fact, experts say that the pets who shed the least are longhaired dogs kept trimmed short by a groomer.
Curly and wiry coats, such as those on poodles and terriers, need to be brushed weekly, working against the grain and then with it. Curly coats need to be clipped every six weeks; wiry ones, two or three times a year (but clipping every six weeks will keep your terrier looking sharper).
Good grooming is about more than keeping your pet looking beautiful and clean-smelling, although that’s certainly one of the pleasant payoffs. Regular grooming relaxes the dog who’s used to it, and it becomes a special time shared between you both. A coat free of mats, burrs and tangles, and skin free of fleas and ticks, are as comfortable to your dog as clean clothes fresh from the wash are to you. It just makes you feel good, and the effect is the same for your pet.
Some added benefit for you: Giving your dog a tummy rub after every session is sure to relax you (and your dog, of course) and ease the stress of your day. And for allergy sufferers, keeping a dog clean may make having a dog
Plan For Pet-Friendly Yard Exercise, Fences Can Keep Plants Safe From Dogs.
By Gina Spadafori
Every year more of my yard gets turned over to sustainable projects, from my pet chickens and their fresh eggs to an ever-growing collection of raised beds and containers planted with the veggies I love — and some flowers, too.
This year, I’m taking back a huge swath of lawn, fencing it off and having a contractor really go to town, doubling the size of my garden and putting in drip irrigation and mulched paths to save on weeding and water. The way I’m planning it, my yard will be beautiful and productive — and I’m doing this while continuing to share my life with my dogs.
And you can, too. That’s because dogs and lush gardens — whether productive or decorative — aren’t mutually exclusive.
You can’t just plant whatever you want where you want it and throw a bored, unsupervised dog into the mix. Instead, plan your yard to take your dog into account, and mind your dog’s needs to get him to leave the plants alone. The basic guidelines:
• Exercise your dog. A dog with too much energy isn’t one you want to leave alone all day in a nice yard — and yet that’s exactly what many people do. If you don’t take care of your dog’s exercise requirements, he’s going to take care of them on his own, by digging a hole to China or by removing the shrubs in your yard.
Dogs who don’t get daily exercise are likely to expend that energy and cure boredom by doing things people don’t like — digging, chewing and barking. Dogs who are well-exercised are more likely to sleep while you are gone. When you leave, you should also offer your dog alternatives to choosing his own amusements: Provide him with chew toys. You can make them more appealing by praising him for using them and by stuffing hollow toys — such as a Kong — with something delicious, like peanut butter.
• Work with your 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 hope to put flowers. Instead of fighting with your dog, go with his natural instincts. Place your beds and plantings away from the fence line, and let him do his guard-dog patrolling behind those plants.
• Consider giving your dog a yard of his own. At my house, the dogs are never let out in the main yard without supervision — and the veggie garden and chicken areas are fenced off — but they come and go at will into a side yard that’s just for them. A low fence covered with climbing roses hides from view both the dog yard and the chicken/veggie areas.
• Redirect digging. Some breeds were developed to dig, and expecting them not to indulge in it is unfair. You can find most of these digging dogs in the terrier group — the word terrier comes from terra, for “earth.”
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 deters them. 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 who 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. What are some dog-friendly plants? Mint is a good one. This plant is nearly indestructible and greets each assault with a wave of cool mint smell. Some lilies are tough enough to be stomped or sat on, as well, and your gardening center may have suggestions for others that are dependable growers in your region.
Dogs don’t know a wisteria from a weed, and they never will. That’s why it’s up to you not to leave them unattended around plants you want left alone. When you leave for work, limit your dog’s space for his safety and to protect your plants. Most of a dog’s time alone is spent sleeping anyway, so he doesn’t need to have the entire run of the house and yard. Outings — for jogging, walking, fetch or swimming — should be done with your supervision.
If your dog is allowed in your yard under your supervision only, the chance of his digging or chewing is just about nil — you can stop him before the damage is done. And you can enjoy your beautiful yard together.
I know at my home, we do.