Pet-Proofing the Yard

Whether we have our own pets to deal with, those of our neighbors, or a unloved stray, pet problems in the landscape are sure to have concerned you at one time or another. Dogs delight in digging, and cats use your flower bed as a litter box. Both can trample and destroy even the toughest plants. Wild animals, like deer grazing on our shrubbery or woodchucks getting fat in our well-tended vegetable gardens, are almost bearable compared to dogs and cats. After all, the former are wildlife. Wild is what they will always be, and there is a certain amount of tolerance that is associated with this fact. But our own pets? There must be something we can do.

If the problem is with your own dog, more options are open to you than in other situations, because of the control you have. There are several things you can try, but before we get into the methods, we must mention that digging is a behavior problem and the best way to attack it is to know why. Do you leave your dog alone for long periods of time? He may be digging because he’s bored. Do you own a terrier? Some dogs are natural diggers (“terra” means “earth”) and it’s an inherent part of their nature. Since you own and know your dog, you can discuss these things over with your veterinarian.

That said, here’s what you can do in your landscape. First, a sure-fire but expensive method: build your dog a kennel. It doesn’t have to be fancy; even a sturdy chain-link, fenced-in area will do, provided the dog can’t jump over it and hurt himself or others. The idea here is to make a safe place for your dog where he can dig to his heart’s content (sand is always fun) and where there are no plants.

Another method is based on creating a barrier. This can work both for your own pets and for others that wander by. Use a bird bath, large landscaping stone, or decorative fencing to keep dogs out of particular areas. You can even create a living barrier with “uncomfortable” shrubs like roses or barberry.

Unpleasant odors can sometimes work. A products like Repel looks like sawdust, it really stinks, and you sprinkle it around plants that you don’t want to be trampled. Success has been reported with these products, but after several rains they need to be reapplied, and the odor will be offensive to you, too.

Cats present a different problem. They like to dig and “do their duty” in your flower beds. Odors can work for them, too, but with the drawbacks mentioned above. Since they scratch in the soil, a barrier just beneath the surface might do the trick. For instance, if your cat always seems to go in one particular spot, cut pieces of hardware cloth, chicken wire, screening, or even heavy foil. Place these around the affected plants. Cover lightly with soil or mulch, and wait to see if the problems go away.