Brawny may be getting up in years, but he can still dig holes with the best of 'em.
The 10-year-old golden retriever lives with his human family, the Gavins. Their half-acre back yard in St. Petersburg, Fla., is Brawny's domain, and he marks his territory in a creative way: He buries things.A new cordless telephone. Shoes. Two Coke glasses from a neighbor's garage sale. A baseball mitt. Plastic gallon jugs. A lunchbox with the name Steve on it. (There's no Steve in the Gavin family.)
"He literally digs up the whole yard," says Kathy Gavin. "Our landscaping is horrible. Mulch is history around here."
It's tough, the Gavins have found out, trying to have a dog and a nice yard. The very things dogs like to do most - digging, chewing, running - are guaranteed destruction for a landscape. The pet owner who wants to keep a dog in the same yard with flowers, shrubs and grass faces an endless battle.
The Gavins tried to train Brawny not to dig by filling his holes with water and sticking his nose in it. They put chicken wire and mulch over the holes. They farmed him out to a relative's house for a few months "so we could get our yard back in shape."
And the struggle goes on ... .
Most recently Bryan Gavin is putting decorative rock in their planting beds. He hopes that might deter Brawny's digging. But he knows it probably won't.
"I'm concerned he'll be out there with a jackhammer and a pickax," he says, laughing.
There are many reasons dogs dig (loneliness, boredom, hormones, tunneling, the search for a cool place to sleep, for example). All are listed in the new booklet, "Gardening with Dogs."
The desktop publication is a collaboration between Brenda Beust Smith, The Houston Chronicle's gardening columnist, and Frances Burke Goodman, a dog obedience trainer. Their booklet is a ray of hope for every pet owner whose dog is wreaking havoc in the yard.
Your dog and your garden can co-exist, say Smith and Goodman. To prove that point, they offer practical solutions.
The secret, they say, is two-fold. First, you have to understand why your dog does the things it does. Then you have to design a landscape that will please both of you.
Basically, you have two options: You can divide the yard into two parts, one exclusively for the dog and one for you and your garden. Your dog stays in its area (usually behind a fence) and the shrubs stay in theirs.
To sweeten the deal, they say, you can furnish the dog's area with some canine-pleasing features; a sand pile for digging, a wading pool for cooling off; and elevated platform to sleep on and a favorite chew toy. Instant Disney World for dogs!
That solution worked well for David and Margaret Abbey of St. Petersburg, who wanted to discourage their 75-pound golden retriver, Dancer, from trampling vegetables and flowers in the garden.
"We took her favorite corner of the yard and fenced it off," says Margaret Abbey. "It's under an oak tree, so it's shaded, and grass never grew well back there, anyway."
When the Abbeys are home, they let Dancer roam throughout the yard. But when she's left alone, they put her in her run, rewarding her with a doggie treat.
"She loves it in there," Margaret Abbey adds. "And now our vegetables don't get tromped."
The second option is to landscape around the pet, if you want it to have the run of the whole yard. This is tricky. It involves watching the dog's patterns and activities - where it runs, where it sleeps, where it digs - then moving plants (and sometimes grass) out of harm's way.
At Kim O'Brien and Rob Morey's house in St. Petersburg, wood decking has replaced lawn. The couple finally gave up trying to coax grass to grow where their dogs ran.
"It was a no man's land," O'Brien said. "Just dirt and mud. So we decided to put the deck down."
This spring, the O'Brien-Morey pets have begun to explore the planting beds. Olive, an Australian shepherd mix, is fond of sleeping in the petunias. The couple plan to stop that by outlining the beds with green-coated wire fencing. Their other tactic is to spray the dogs with water whenever they plunge into the shrubbery.
"I nail 'em on the back of the head with a mister bottle," O'Brien said. "That works pretty well."
"Gardening with Dogs" offers other hints, including:
- If your pet tends to run along the fence line, you can mulch that track with pine needles, leaves or hay (something soft that won't hurt its paws). Then plant low shrubs on the inside of their path to camouflage it.
- If your dog gnaws on shrubbery, you might want to landscape only with plants that can tolerate regular "pruning" and avoid those that have roots close to the surface, such as azaleas and camellias.
The booklet also includes ways to refill and cover holes already dug by your dog, plus strategies to deter an escape artist who tunnels under fences.
- For further information: "Gardening with Dogs" can be ordered for $6.95 from River Bend Co., 50 Briar Hollow Lane E, Suite 620, Houston, TX 77027.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)