Landscaping with Fido

Fresno BeeOctober 2, 2007 

Karen Basso lives on about a third of an acre in Fresno, Calif. As a Fresno County Master Gardener, she obviously loves to garden. But she also loves her two dogs.

But can they coexist in the same space? Can she have a top-notch yard, with a colorful variety of plants and not have to worry about whether her pets will be snacking on it? Or, worse, them getting sick from eating the plants?

And no, getting rid of the dogs is not an option.

"My dogs are part of my family," said Basso, a 60-year-old registered nurse.

Basso and dog experts say dogs and well-crafted yards can coexist on the same property. It just takes some planning, patience and dedication on your part.

Basso likes to use Bermuda grass in her yard. "It takes the poop, pee and running," she said. "That's just my opinion."

You can garden with and for your dog, said Cheryl S. Smith, a dog trainer in Port Angeles, Wash. "You just have to take some things into consideration when you garden."

KNOW YOUR DOG

When you start planning your yard and already have a dog, keep the dog's breed in mind, said Smith, author of "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs" (Dogwise Publishing, $19.95).

Smith, who has two dogs, said if you have a guard dog and "you plant to the fence, they will trample over that (area). So you leave them some room by the fence to patrol, and they're happy."

Her 9-year-old border collie mix, Nestle, is a herding dog who likes to run in circles, she said. So, she made sure there was plenty of space between her gardens for the dog to run around.

Some plants also are more suitable than others for yards that will include dogs.

"When I make a garden where the dogs are going to be in, I try to choose plants that will stand up to the dogs, that won't break when they're running though the garden," Smith said.

For example, "a lot of the clumping grasses take being rolled on really well," she said. "A lot of ornamentals do well, and ground covers. I have Creeping Jenny. It just crawls along the ground. It gets walked on, peed and pooped on. It doesn't care. It's perfectly happy."

SOME PLANTS TO WATCH FOR

Some plants are toxic to pets if they're ingested. Here are a few plants Ed Loebach, a veterinarian and quality assurance medical adviser at Banfield, The Pet Hospital, in Portland, Ore., suggests you be cautious about.

Sago palms: Can cause liver problems.

Rhododendrons: Can have a gastrointestinal effect.

Yews: Can cause sudden acute cardiac failure.

Oleanders: Have cardiac toxicity.

Poinsettias: Can cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal distress.

"As always, check with your veterinarian if your pet is showing any signs of illness or lethargy," he said. "Let your veterinarian know if you suspect a plant may have been ingested, so that they can determine if the plant was a concern or not."

To learn more about other toxic plants, go to

Even if a plant isn't actually toxic, letting your dog eat it isn't recommended, Loebach said.

"If your pet eats enough of any plant, it can irritate his or her stomach even if it's not poisonous," he said.

Edible gardens for dogs are possible by growing fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, your dog favors, Smith said.

"They'll eat them right off the plants," she said, adding that grazing should be fine, but don't let them eat "quarts and quarts" of it.

To discourage your dog from going into areas you don't want him to be in, you will have to train him to avoid those areas. But visual reminders, such as borders of rock or fences, also can help, Smith said. If your dog loves digging, try planting in raised beds or containers.

"They can't knock them over and can't get in them," said Basso, who will be teaching a class on gardening with dogs in October.

Besides poisonous plants, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and mulches also can cause problems for pets and should be used with caution and as directed by the product labels.

"I'd be very careful about herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers," Loebach said. "Once these are spread on the garden or yard and you've waited the length of time the manufacturer recommends, they are safe. ... Check the labels. If they say to wait 48 hours before allowing children and pets back into the area, then wait that length.

"But they can be toxic, and at the very least very irritating if consumed in large enough quantities, such as if your dog chews into the box, bottle, or bag of concentrated product.

"Always store pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer in locations that (children and pets) can't get to."

FUN FEATURES FOR FURRY FRIENDS

You don't have to be cautious everywhere. You can include some fun features for your four-legged friend.

Besides a path he might enjoy running on, how about a digging pit?

"Dogs like to dig, especially terriers and dachshunds," Smith said. "People say, `My dog is digging. How do I stop it?' If you do get him to stop, you might get frustrated barking instead. So what you do is give him a place where it's legal to dig. It should be about twice as long as as your dog and at least as wide as your dog is long. It also should have at least a foot of loose sand and dirt; the more the better."

The pit can be in the ground or above, similar to a planter box. You will have to train your dog to dig at the pit.

"When you start out, you hide some treats in the dirt," Smith said. "You take him there and help him find it. That will get them all excited."

Building instructions and examples of digging pits are in her book.

Another idea is a tunnel, if you have the room. Use pipes about 2 feet in diameter that can take the weight of dirt, Smith said. Place the pipe on the ground in an area with room for the dog to run around. Cover the pipe with dirt, creating a mound but leaving the ends open.

"They're allowed to run through or on top," she said. "When it's sunny, they'll go lie in the tunnel."

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