Protect Your Planting From Animals Large and Small

June 24, 2013

We often have customers and most recently, bloggers who are planning landscaping projects but wonder how they’ll keep their large breed companions from destroying all their hard work.  I’m not an authority, but I would like to share some ideas that work for Lucy and me.

First off, Lucy is an 98 lb. Akita. I grew up with large breed dogs and was fully aware of the issues involved with being their companion. The first thing I did was to enroll Lucy in obedience school at an internationally known training facility. I quickly learned that this class wasn’t about teaching her obedience - it was about me learning to communicate with her. This was done with a little tool that many people would think is cruel. I thought that way once. The tool was a German manufactured pinch collar (that German part is important). When used properly, it’s teaching the dog like its mother would, by pinching the flabby part of their neck. The entire time you’re training with the pinch collar, you give vocal commands and ideally the result would be that you wouldn’t need the pinch collar for very long. Lucy came through the class with flying colors, and I was simply the class clown.

Aha! You probably think that obedience training would be the solution. NOT! She is still just as hard-headed and stubborn as the day we brought her home. She does, however, walk great on a leash! That does me absolutely no good when I want to keep her out of my beds.

About four years ago, our neighbors cut down some understory trees and shrubs that blocked the visibility of our backyard from the alley. We had some space to install shrubs and ornamental trees that didn’t get too tall (overhead lines, don’t you know!) that would restore our backyard privacy to some extent. The problem was that these same neighbors had a large breed dog and Lucy would run the fence line with her friend. Eternal optimists that we are, we planned and planted our small shrub border. We figured that we would cross the Lucy bridge when we got to it.

We finished the planting, and it didn’t take long for us to encounter the Lucy problem. Her friend invited her to run and she took off like a flash, right into our newly planted shrub border. I simply told her to get out of the bed and she did. Seemed to be a little too easy for my thinking. But, as we emphasize at Possibility Place Nursery, no project is complete until the beds are fenced to discourage critter damage while the plants are young. That doesn’t necessarily include our large, four-legged companions. After all, we all know that 3’ chicken wire surrounding our planting space is not going to keep them from unauthorized entry. The fencing helps keep the most antagonistic of critters (the rabbit) out of your shrubs and by doing so, keeps your pet out too (because it’s just plain boring if you don’t have an antagonist). If your furry friend is anything like Lucy, they also take a great deal of interest in other critters that the fence won’t keep out. Critters like, squirrels, mice, voles, toads, baby birds, adult birds, and even bees. Yeah, right, that chicken wire really kept her out of the bed. Every once in a while, she would like to show us just what that fence meant, little to nothing as far as she was concerned. I make it sound as if I have the worst behaved four-legged companion in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The chicken wire is installed and remains in place for about two years or so, just until the plants are established. If they do get trampled on later, they will survive. The fence, in this case, acts as a boundary and it reminds your friend that he/she isn’t welcome to explore your planting site. If Lucy decides that the fencing around my beds is for the birds, I like to employ the use of a persuader. That being the good old spring rake or broom. I generally grab one of those items and remind her that she needs to clear out. She usually flies out the other side and I never make contact because she’s just too fast. By the time I do reach her, she’s moved on to bigger and better games.

Training and fencing are good places to start in keeping your dog out of your planting site. I’ve found that the best solution, by far, though, is just being there when they’re out and about in the yard. This is something that we started for a totally different reason. We have an aging cedar fence and Lucy was certainly strong enough to break the boards and embark on unauthorized adventures. She was almost successful a couple of times. So, one of us started going out with her whenever she went out and by doing so, we were able to discourage her from jumping the chicken wire fence and exploring the planting site. It became a really nice way of spending time together. We were there to gently remind her of her boundaries and she was there to keep us company.

This photo was taken last summer when the shrub border was three years old. We removed the chicken wire fence, the plants are thriving, and Lucy peacefully coexists with the shrub border. Any damage caused within this bed is now caused by the critters we kept out, namely the rabbits.

Go ahead, plan that project and follow through! It is possible to have both a successful landscape project and a large breed companion. It’s just going to take vision, some creativity, a little patience, and a big sense of humor.