Petscaping 101: Don't let your garden go to the dogs

Smart and smart-looking solutions for pets and the people who love them

Faltz Landscaping
Artificial turf (shown here) is a nontoxic and durable grass alternative. No lawn means no lawn maintenance. And for pet owners, that also means no more dead grass, mud-spots, holes and hard-to-clean pet messes. Designed by James Faltz of Faltz Landscaping, Inc. Photo courtesy of Faltz Landscaping, Inc.

Story by Mara Severin

You love your dog. You love your garden. Your dog loves to dig up your garden. It's a love triangle for the ages. But you don't have to choose between your furry friends and your floral ones. With advice from Alaska's professionals, you can have your garden and Fido too.

From romping retrievers to escape artists: Different dogs need different digs

Do you have a Houdini-like hound? One that can escape any enclosure? Or a tenacious terrier who, given time, could dig his way to China? Or do you have a rambunctious, romping Rover who just wants to retrieve? In any case, you need to understand your dog before you make a landscaping plan.

For many dog owners, the first thing to consider is containment. For an escape artist, this will mean adequate fencing. But adequate doesn't have to mean Alcatraz, says Jon Cobb, operations manager of Green Acres Landscaping. Even the sturdiest chain-link fencing can be made to be very attractive. "You can get black vinyl-coated chain link that just disappears into the landscape," he says. Chain link also comes in a variety of heights (for jumpers) and is especially effective to deter digging, because you can bury the link without it rotting away. Trimmed in wood, chained link can "create quite a modern design without that industrial feel," he says.

As for camouflaging your containment system, there are a number of creative options. "You can create a perimeter landscape with free-flowing beds," suggests Cobb. "It can make the fence all but disappear."

Tania Krawchenko of Inspiring Spaces Alaska suggests combining a hedge with the fence to "soften" the look of your pets' enclosure. "Something like Alpine currant can help the fence blend beautifully into your space," she says. Or, if you prefer a more open look, she suggests installing a lower fence with a trellis on top for height.

For a smaller, more docile dog that is rarely unattended, "a tightly planted hedge – like cotoneaster – would be a good choice," says Corey Mason, landscape architect at Faltz Landscaping. "If your dog isn't a runner and just needs some boundaries there are so many great options."

And remember, no matter how tall that fence looks when you install it in summer, imagine what it will look like when the snow starts to pile up. You don't want to build a fence in June that your dog can step over in January.

Green Acres
Here's a landscape that adults, children and dogs can enjoy together. Isolated terraced retaining walls help protect landscape beds from traffic. The use of weather-treated wood is a softer kid- and dog-friendly alternative to stone or concrete. And a sandbox offers a fun play area and can discourage unwanted digging in flower and plant beds. Designed by Green Acres Landscaping.
All work and no play makes your Jack Russell a dull boy

Watching your dog at play is one of life's great joys so you'll want to provide lots of room to let dogs be dogs. But, says Tania, "you have to set the ground rules." Literally. The ground your dog plays on is one of the biggest decisions you'll make. "If your pet is rambunctious and loves to fetch, you'll need a clear area for throwing and the surface has to be pet friendly," says Tania.

For some, a traditional lawn is the obvious choice. But even this decision needs to be made carefully. "If you choose grass, then it has to be a heavy-duty rye grass mix or a Kentucky bluegrass suitable to areas with harsh winters," Tania explains. And be prepared to repair patches from time to time, she says. "That just comes with the territory."

Another option is a high-quality artificial turf. "There are a number of different finishes and heights and they can be environmentally sensitive," she says. Plus, no lawn means no lawn maintenance.

But dogs need more than space. They need something to do in that space when you're not there playing with them. An oversized tire cleverly mounted between decorative planters can be a fun toy to romp through as well as a whimsical bit of "recycled art work," says Tania. A sandbox for your dog to dig through can provide a fun activity and can discourage your dog from unwanted digging in flower and plant beds. Lastly, Tania recommends a viewing platform for the dog to perch and look beyond his domain.

Inspiring Spaces
An oversized tire cleverly mounted between decorative planters can be a fun toy to romp through as well as a whimsical bit of recycled yard art. Designed by Inspiring Spaces Alaska.
Putting the fun in function

And what if your dog is less "fetch" and more "stroll and patrol"? You may not need an open lawn area at all. "Space out small pathways with stepping stones," says Jon. "Give your dogs a path of least resistance," he says. "Most dogs will typically try to take the path."

Tania calls this path a "desire line." "Consider the natural path of your dog and incorporate his natural route into the space," she says. "Consideration to everyone is key in successful design."

And the results can be beautiful. "You can create planting beds with woodland paths throughout," says Tania. "It's like walking through a small park. The yard will have more interest all year and will integrate with our Alaskan surroundings."

Another way to add interest without adding grass is with rock landscaping, says Jon. "You can use a smaller pea gravel that's real soft on the paws," he says. "You can blend that with larger sized rocks and boulders – use different colors and textures," he says. "It's a way of blending form and function."

Taking care of business

Of course, whatever you plant or install will be much lovelier if your dog is not relieving himself on or near your favorite spots. "There should be a designated potty area for your dog," says Tania, and a patient owner willing to teach their dog to use it.

"You can create a raised stone planter using birch logs or driftwood with an edge treatment," says Tania. She suggests an area that's raised a minimum of 6 inches – a height that makes the area easier for the dog to identify as separate and his own. For added aesthetic appeal, "you can place plantings that screen the area," she says. "Tall woody shrubs like spireas and dogwoods do well."

In any event, keep your plants watered, says Jon. "You can dilute the effects of the urea in the dog's waste that is so destructive to the plants," he says.

You also should keep your pets well-watered, notes Tania. Encouraging your dog to drink lots of fresh water also dilutes the harmful effects of his urine. A fresh water fountain can be a safe and attractive option for your yard.

When you and your best friend agree

A thoughtful design can reward both you and your dog. "Our environment changes the way we feel emotionally," says Corey. "And it influences the way we act." In other words, a busy, happy dog isn't digging up the garden or planning his escape.

Imagine if you could ask your dog what he wants when he goes outside: A place to play in the sun? A place to rest in the shade? Something nice and cool to drink? Something beautiful to look at? In other words, exactly what you want. So go ahead and make your best friend happy. After all, you know he'd do it for you.