They Dig It!

2 golden retrievers in small area of a large yardI recently had extensive landscaping done in Cali’s yard. In naive hope of keeping the dogs out of the new beds, and to provide them stimulation and fun, I had a digging pit put in.

Don’t get me wrong: They love it! It just doesn’t keep them out of the beds … or keep them from digging in the lawn (at least not yet).

2 golden retrievers dig in a sand-filled pitThe digging pit lets them follow their noses to find buried treasure. It is fun and lets them do natural doggy stuff (dig, make a mess, eat stuff they find) in a way that doesn’t cause conflict with their human.

If you live someplace where you see lots of free-roaming cats, it would not be a good idea though … the sand might draw the wrong kind of crowd. While we have many roaming neighborhood cats, not a one has been seen in the yard since Cali and I moved in. It appears that Cali made some sort of agreement with the cats early on, and our yard is a cat-free dog and bird haven. (Actually, that’s not quite true: There was one cat, once, in the yard, stalking the birds at the feeder. Cali chased him out and, I don’t know what she said, but that cat has not been seen since, not even in the back alley.)

Our digging pit is far enough back in the yard that any sand on the dogs’ paws and coat drops into the grass as they run back to the house. There is some spillover into the yard, but so far, it’s not too messy.

The digging pit is only interesting when stuff is buried in it, though, which requires the human to keep it going. I bury, they uncover; as often as I bury, they will dig. So there’s always some pressure to come up with stuff to bury. I bury dog biscuits, bones, and tennis balls. No soft toys or small or soft treats. I admit that I do not keep up my end of the deal every single day.

The pit has failed in its mission to keep the dogs out of the new beds. There are too many enticing smells in there, apparently. And (see above), often, the pit lacks buried treats to find.

It does not help matters any that Cali is convinced that there is buried treasure in the yard. There’s a particular spot next to my garden shed where she cannot resist digging. She digs; I fill; she digs, etc.

We’re working on all of that: The lawn is green; the dirt is soft. The landscaping is still new and exotic. The blackberry bushes draw the girls in with a few late-season berries, tantalizingly close to the ground. For the moment, the dogs are winning most of these battles.

I have high hopes for spring, when I will seed the bare patches on the lawn, block dog access, and keep them entertained in their digging pit until they forget all about how much fun it is to dig in the grass and get their paws good and muddy. Yeah, right.

Newly planted shrubs and mulch in a newly landscaped bed

The Garden Is Going to the Dogs!

Cali, under the blossoming cherry trees, with her tennis ball.

It’s February in Montana, so reading an article about planning a “sensory garden” for dogs was a nice escape from the cold. Since Cali has staked her claim to the back yard of our house, though, and much landscaping is needed, it’s also great inspiration.

The first piece of advice is to watch how the dog uses the space — where she hangs out, where and what she sniffs. That’s easy. Cali’s favorite spot is under the cherry trees and next to the raspberries. In the summer, her favorite spot is in the raspberries, harvesting and eating as many berries as she can reach. But even in the winter, she’s most likely to be found in that corner of the garden.

Then, plan ways to enrich the garden for her enjoyment and mental stimulation. This means stimulating all of her senses.

Foremost for dogs is, of course, smell. Plant things that she enjoys sniffing. Ideally, plant several plants and flowers that will bloom and grow at different times of the year. Here in Montana, that’s a fairly small part of the year, so other senses will have to dominate in the winter.

For visual stimulation, the author of the article suggests rocks, logs, items of different heights to create variation.

To stimulate hearing, she suggests running water, wind chimes, or rustling plants. Those wouldn’t really work too well in a Montana winter either, but in our somewhat urban neighborhood, there is plenty of aural stimulation.

Cali surveys her yard from the deck
When not under the cherry trees, Cali enjoys her perch on the deck

Taste is a tough one. I have always discouraged my dogs from sampling the garden plants. Timo, my first dog, loved lemon verbena and once ate every single leaf from a small plant. The plant did not survive the assault, but Timo and the larger one coexisted happily for many years. As a puppy, Jana enjoyed harvesting strawberries and blackberries in our garden. Cali enjoys the cherries and raspberries in season, of course. But the suggestions of verbena, thyme, and other safe and appealing plants are worth considering.

Finally, tactile stimulation is essential. Cali loves to dig; I have thought about creating a digging spot for her in the garden. Another suggestion is using a variety of textures — grass, mulch (check and check) and paths made of stones or crushed granite, or even sand. We can definitely work more of that into our landscaping.

A final suggestion is creating opportunities for the dog to run around. When Cali has friends over, they do create a sort of circuit, looping into the cherry-tree corner and under the clotheslines.

Some other things to consider:

  • Know which plants are toxic to dogs and avoid these.
  • Use raised beds, pots, or plant borders to steer dogs away from no-go zones, like the vegetable patch. Interestingly, though Cali dug up all our baby tomato plants the day we planted them, she never bothered the vegetable gardens after that, even though she loves cucumbers, and the cukes were well within her reach. She quickly learned that the raised beds were my turf.
  • Consider your dog’s age and activity level. For some dogs, simple agility equipment or things they can climb or jump onto are a good addition.

The garden can be very appealing to humans, too. But too many yards are designed only for the people in the family. Since Cali spends exponentially more time in our yard than I do, it’s only fair to create a place she will enjoy fully!

Still Life: Girl with Tennis Ball

Cali and I recently moved to a new home. It has a yard. I’m not sure whether Cali has actually noticed anything but the yard. She wants to spend all of her waking hours in the yard. And with close to 16 hours of daylight these days, that’s a lot of hours. She’d sleep out there too, if I’d let her. What does she do out there? I’ll let you see for yourselves in a series of still life photos:

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