Get A Dog For Your Garden, Or Garden For Your Dog?

Do you get a dog for your garden, or garden for your dog? 

This is a light hearted post with a serious message underneath.  Let me tell you about our garden design difficulties!

Our garden difficulties

Robin and I hate grass.  It’s not our thing.  Well it is in the countryside where we like to walk, but not in the garden.  That’s for various reasons, which include:

  • It needs mowing every week, and we have far more enjoyable things to do with our time than mow the lawn
  • It gets brown patches on it from dog pee, especially from the girls.  Somehow, girl dog pee is more disastrous than boy dog pee.
  • In winter it gets wet, then muddy, and then there are muddy footprints all through the house.  That is unless you wipe their feet off every time they come in.  Wiping 12 feet gets very wearing after a while.
  • Dog poo gets lodged in the grass, especially when there’s a stomach upset and someone gets the runs!
  • The girls scamper around on it and rip up the turf
  • The girls occasionally also have digging fits
  • If you have a long garden (like I used to have in Essex) they go and ‘lose’ it in the far corners and you never find it (and then it smells in hot weather)!

Notice how only 1 of those points was anything to do with us, and 6 points were dog-related.

Let’s face it, if you own a dog, your garden will become a dog toilet and a dog playground.   There are things you can do to make this easier to manage, and that’s where our new garden design came in.

So it was out with the grass, but what to put in its place?

Here’s the list we came up with on what we needed from the garden:

  1. A surface that was easy to keep clean and poo-free.
  2. A surface that was entirely dog-friendly.
  3. Something which drained well.
  4. Something that would allow the girls to sunbathe if they wanted.
  5. Something that wasn’t easily spoiled or marked.
  6. A design that made the garden look bigger and wider.
  7. Simple, clean lines and no fuss.
  8. Easy to replace materials.
  9. Quality eg natural stone.
  10. Well designed but limited planting to limit pruning and having to sweep up leaves.
  11. A space we could sit in and enjoy.

And the thinking went like this:

No grass.  That was definite.  However the dogs love to sunbathe. Therefore a hard paved surface was out because we needed something the dogs would be happy to lie on.

We turned our thoughts to artificial turf.  Not astroturf, but proper turf-like turf. There are some great products on the market which really do look like grass.  It was something we considered very carefully, but eventually decided against for the following reasons:

  • The artificial turf only came in 4m wide rolls so we needed a seam in it somewhere.  As the girls can play rough and run fast, we were worried that the seam might get broken.
  • If they managed to tear the turf you can’t just replace a small piece like you can with an ordinary garden.  Artificial turf doesn’t grow together again!  It would be replacing a large area, at quite considerable cost!
  • The turf, being plastic, got very hot in the sun and too hot for the dogs to lie on comfortably
  • Artificial turf is usually laid without being fixed.  Generally it holds itself down under its own weight and the sand top dressing which is applied.  However we had visions of doggy play fights giving us big wrinkles in the surface!

After a lot of thought we went for a Japanese inspired gravel garden. It’s got paving and decking for us, and in between a large sea of fine gravel which the dogs are happy to walk on.  We put dog beds out when its sunny so they can sunbathe.  It drains well in the rain, and no brown wee patches.  Poo is easy to see and collect.  No more mowing for us and no more muddy footprints in the house!

Hurrah!  Problem solved!

It’s all about dog/human compromise

Designing your garden to fit the dog is about the best possible compromise.  What you’ll need to work out is how your dog uses or will use the garden before making adjustments.  You could section off an area for the dog to toilet in, leaving the rest of the garden free to be used when the dog is out there with you.  Some people pave over areas where the dogs run and play, and leave grass for human relaxation.

What is clear is that once you have a dog, some aspects of how you use the garden will change.

And some aspects of your existing garden you might want to protect.

Gardening can also affect the dog you choose

Yes it can!  If you’re very proud of your roses, veggie plot or herbaceous borders, it might not be wise to choose a dog that loves to dig.  Terriers (and some other breeds) will happily turn your manicured lawn into a series of trenches if they are not properly exercised.  They might anyway!

However many breeds are happy to chill out in the garden, and very non-destructive.  Older dogs are also often a good choice for keen gardeners.  They’ll simply come out and watch you.

How you adapt your garden will also depend on whether the dog will get proper daily walks.  If the garden is the dog’s running area, then you’ll need to consider paving (or artificial turf) as a low maintenance (mud-free) option.

So the question is do you get a dog for your garden, or garden for your dog?  Or can you do a bit of both?

I’ve been living with dogs now for 20 years. I can tell you that if you’re keen on gardening (as I was once), it’s important to choose a dog which won’t undo all your handiwork.  If you’re not keen on gardening, then you’ve plenty of choice – but you’ll still need to adapt the garden a little to make it work.  What you need is some help planning your dog.

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