How To Dog-Proof Your Garden: Protecting Your Pooch (& Your Plants)

Gardeners face a lot of challenges nurturing their greenery from seeds and shoots to full-grown plants: soil moisture balance, aphids, too much sun, too little sun, rabbits and squirrels. What many of them don’t realize is that the family dog can also be a troublemaker when it comes to the serenity and safety of the garden. In fact, they only realize the potential issues once a bed’s already been dug up and decimated by curious canine paws.

The good news is that having a yard that’s both dog-friendly and garden-safe is possible and easy to do. When you dog proof your garden from the first seedling onward, there won’t be a need to clean up, replant, and start again after a doggie siege. No matter how large or small a garden may be, there are ways to block off even the most intrepid of pups and safeguard the leafy treasures within.

Dog-Proofing Your Garden, Method One: Elevation

For small-to-medium sized dogs, simply moving a garden out of their reach may work well. Elevated beds are also a very popular gardening method in general, so finding tips and tools will take little more than a trip to a local garden center. Elevated garden beds typically raise small rows of soil to roughly waist-high, lifting plants and starters out of reach for even the most intrepid sniffer. 

Several varieties of elevated gardening options are available, giving both urban and country gardeners solutions for keeping their sprouts out of reach of paws and curious noses: 

  • The full elevated bed, which typically comes either trough-style or in a wooden frame-type structure. This is generally the most expensive option and will require the most amount of time to set up.
  • The planting bag/plant pot approach, which is a modified or expanded approach to container gardening. Air-permeable material bags or classic plant pots are used in rows or clusters to grow individual plants on decks, patios, or outdoor stairs.
  • The window box/rail pot style, which utilizes deck railings or window sills as a tether point for pots. If pots are hung over bare soil, water run-off won’t be an issue. If not, periodic cleaning may be necessary to prevent staining or wood rot below.
  • And finally, the indoor/hydroponics method, which uses small countertop water-circulating machines to grow a small amount of plants, flowers, or herbs, typically for culinary use.

Pros:

  • Both build-your-own and premade elevated bed options are available
  • May also help deter non-flying, ground-based insect pests
  • Less back strain when watering plants and easier to examine growth progress
  • Can potentially be moved as needed, depending on size, soil volume, and design
  • The right height will keep out small to medium dogs, depending on their “standing” height

Cons: 

  • Keeping plants watered is challenging, as water in elevated beds may evaporate more quickly
  • Initial cost of buying pre-made elevated beds, or cost and materials for DIY styles
  • May not match a home’s exterior aesthetics, or may not fit well in areas with enough sun
  • If they become too saturated with water, they may tip or become difficult to move / dismantle

Dog-Proofing Your Garden, Method Two: Fencing

One of the most time-honored methods of keeping out other four-footed intruders like rabbits and deer, fencing can help section off a garden to keep it safe from a dog. There are a variety of fencing options available for this method, and many are very affordable as well. The trick to using this method is to understand the dog in question, and to build a fence that will specifically thwart his usual unwanted behaviors. Here are several useful methods worth considering for concerned pet-parents with a green thumb:

  • For “diggers,” a stake-style fence will be needed, as he will just tunnel under panel-style, netted, or chain link fencing. A border of rocks, mulch, or other dig-resistant landscaping materials around the perimeter of the fence will also discourage him from testing boundaries.
  • For jumpers,” a netted-style fence is economical, and can be hung or staked out higher than traditional border or panel-style fences. The comparatively soft material also reduces the chance of injury if a dog does decide to attempt it: if he lands on the top edge, it will simply bow under his weight.
  • For pushers/nosers,” a sturdy design is called for – pre-made panel-style fencing reinforced by bricks or blocks on the back side will keep a determined canine out. For well-established, large, multi-year gardens, it may be worth looking into professional fence installation as well.

Pros:

  • Helps define the edges of the garden and delivers a pleasant landscaping aesthetic in the process
  • For DIY approaches, many affordable and efficient builds are available at local hardware stores
  • Allows a dog free rein of his yard without compromising garden security 

Cons:

  • Initial cost and effort of setting up the fence, as well as maintenance/fixing as time goes on
  • May require experimentation with different styles of fence until one is proven to work
  • Requires additional effort to move / expand / shrink if the shape of the garden is changed

Dog-Proofing Your Garden, Method Three: Distractions

Left to their own devices, dogs will often resort to destructive behavior out of boredom or separation anxiety. The backyard is not an exception! When a dog is left outside for long periods of time with nothing to do, the orderly setup of the garden provides a lot of enticement. He may want to chase birds and squirrels that frequent the garden, enjoy the satisfaction of digging in the cool, moist soil, or even sniff out interesting herbs and vegetables as he explores. He knows that his pet parent spends a lot of time playing (digging, weeding, and planting) in the garden, so it’s only natural that he’ll want to “play” too in their absence.

If garden-wrecking behavior stems from this boredom or anxiety, sometimes stopping it simply takes a bit of ingenuity. Time-demanding toys help keep him focused on something other than tidy rows of plants, and “decoy stations” throughout the yard can help as well. Below, some tried & true tips to keep Fido from getting fidgety outdoors in the yard:

  • Get a large bowl or ice mold and make a lickable toy: Fill it with a mix of low/no sodium beef broth and clean water. Submerge a few small dog toys (that will survive the freezing process, of course!) in the liquid before popping it into the freezer – a ball, a rope knot toy, etc. Once it’s frozen solid, bring it out to the yard and unmold the giant ice block on the ground so he can explore it. This will help him stay hydrated, cool, and distracted throughout the day.
  • Designate a special “digging area” far from the garden, filled with sand or clean top soil: Bury several dog biscuits or bones throughout the area and “help” him find the first one. By designating a space where he can be free to behave like a dog, digging and all, he’s less likely to be interested in the garden.
  • Make sure he has a cool, comfortable place to lay out and relax: Some dogs only dig in the soil of the garden because it tends to be moist and cool, and they’re simply trying to beat the heat. A sling style dog bed is a great choice for summer outside time, particularly when placed in the shade. The elevated design helps him stay off the hot ground and promotes airflow around his entire body to stay cool.

Pros: 

  • The materials required to make these distractions are easy to find in the home.
  • Encourages more interaction and bonding with your dog, rather than punishment/reward.
  • Won’t require much time, setup, or upkeep to implement.

Cons:

  • If boredom or anxiety aren’t to blame for his behaviors, the garden may end up paying the price.
  • Requires a significant amount of trust that he will stay occupied with his distractions.
  • Won’t prevent lesser (“invisible”) destructive behaviors, such as urine marking, which can hurt plants.

These three techniques can help keep dogs from digging up or destroying the garden, but combinations of two or more methods are more likely to have successful outcomes. There’s also the option of moving the garden entirely – e.g. from the back yard to the front or side yard, or vice versa. This is one of the more labor-intensive solutions, however, and should only be approached as a last resort unless a move was being mulled over anyway.