Mention dogs, and you have the immediate interest of every Beacher. Many of us (yeah, I’m one) love our dogs passionately. Some of us can’t stand the nosy, messy beasts.
I’m not going to get into questions of courtesy, noise, leashes and poop-picking-up here. My focus is on gardens, and it’s occurred to me that I’ve never passed on my hard-won wisdom about dogs – especially puppies – in the garden.
The puppy point of view
Puppies are flat out adorable, but the very young ones – up to about 10 weeks old, say – are still babies. So don’t expect much of them in the way of real obedience. At this stage, you can’t truly train Scooter, but you can keep him out of trouble and stop him from forming bad habits.
They’re gonna dig. They’re gonna chomp on things, especially those flowers waving so enticingly in the breeze. You may even catch your little pup finding a lemon-sized stone and shoving it around with glee. That’s because, like human babies, they’re exploring this exciting new world. And to do that, puppies use their soft little paws and grabby mouths.
So remember the universal puppy motto: “If it’s on the ground, it belongs to me. If I can put it in my mouth, I will.”
Seven ways to cope
They don’t stay fuzzy and frisky for long, so try to enjoy that time. Some do’s and don’ts to help you:
- Do actively supervise your young pup when she’s in the garden. You wouldn’t leave a baby human out there unattended, so don’t leave your baby dog, either. Pups are fast, too, so keep your eye on the little critter every minute.
- Don’t shout at a young pup when he decides to nosh on the nasturtiums. At this stage, he’s just following his instincts and scolding won’t have much effect.
- Do steer her away from trouble spots. Try keeping her on a light leash when you’re out in the garden together, so you can direct her to other areas.
- Do distract him from whatever mischief he’s getting into. A favourite toy or special treat waggled at him will help get his attention away from that tempting trellis.
- Do praise her in a ridiculously happy voice whenever she does anything right.
- Do remove him from the garden, as a last resort. My part-border collie puppy got intensely focused on what he was doing, and nothing would distract him from bouncing on my springy euonymus. So I was taught to calmly take him to his crate for a time out. Relocating him broke his concentration and let him know that if he got too unruly, playtime ended.
- Finally, do give your pup lots of exercise. They’re little bundles of energy, so throw sticks, toss balls, play hide and seek. Let them roughhouse with other puppies (not with you, which could encourage nipping). Every experienced puppy owner knows “a tired puppy is a good puppy.”
Puppy-proofing your garden
Young pups don’t have very big brains, and they aren’t very well-coordinated. Avoid heartache (and vet costs) with this checklist.
- Are there poisonous plants in your garden? It’s surprising how many common plants can make your dog sick – or worse. Rhododendrons, daffodils, castor beans, tomato leaves (but not the red veg) and lilies of the valley are just a few examples. See lists at ansci.cornell.edu/plants/dogs/index and aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison/control. As for pesticides – why risk your dog’s health for a weed-free garden?
- Is your garden safely fenced? Puppies can fit through the tiniest spaces. Make sure there are no gaps or holes.
- Is there a water garden or pool that a curious puppy could fall into? They can panic if they find themselves in deep water. Little ones can tire and drown in even a small ornamental pool if they can’t climb out. Add ready-made lattice, chicken wire or small-mesh wire fencing around water hazards.
- Do you have a deck or steps that a roly-poly pup might tumble from? Make sure deck railings are spaced so your puppy can’t slip through. Add temporary barriers until she’s bigger. And little puppies don’t handle steps very well, so consider using a puppy gate for a while.
- Are there sharp materials in your garden, like ornamental fencing or glass ornaments that could shatter? Again, temporary fencing is the answer. And don’t forget to keep clippers, hoes, rakes and similar metal tools out of puppy territory.
- Does your garden have hidden areas behind trees or sheds? There’s an amazing number of things pups can find in places like those – food garbage or dead birds, for example. Block those hidey-holes off.
Yes, bringing up baby dog is a lot of work.
But think of the rewards: unquestioning devotion, undemanding companionship, an ever-ready exercise buddy and, if all goes well, a creature who’s happy simply to be alive.
Mary Fran McQuade is a local writer specializing in gardening and lifestyle