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Dogs in the Garden!
by Fred Davis, MG, Hill Gardens of Maine (To view other articles, click:


A recent email question about a home remedy to repel dogs

Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Now this is a subject about which I can personally relate! What could possibly be more disconcerting than to witness a neighbor's un-tethered, undisciplined, digging, rampaging, club-footed dog (or multiples thereof) tearing through weeks or months worth of hard work, time and care not to mention expense wreaking havoc in your flower beds? What could be worse than stepping in a fresh mound of doggie-poop on the way to your own, private, once-relaxing and inspiring garden nook? Broken branches, trounced bedding plants, ripped-up or totally dead patches of lawn, broken labels, even threatened guests all too common in these days of measurably lowered levels of neighborly-responsibility even in rural areas.

This time I thought I'd share a recent question on the subject and my response. A gardener named Cindy asks: How do I keep dogs out of my flower beds? Brief and somewhat lacking in detail, to be sure but because I've been there this one struck a deep and resounding chord!

Unleashed, undisciplined and untrained dogs of all sizes have been the exasperating and frustrating bane of gardeners since the two hobbies were aligned centuries ago. Fences and leashes seem to be the most effective, though some gardeners have been driven to near insanity and have been known to employ sticks, whips, shotguns, traps and poisons as (unacceptable) alternatives. Even I was tempted to employ a rather sharp spade on the toothed-end of a challenging and threatening dog-intrusion a couple of years ago.

I've trained our sheltie, Harry, to walk only (only) on the paths....and relieve himself only (only) away from the garden back in the weeds and woods. Visitors to our more-or-less public gardens are always impressed sometimes amazed at how he never sets foot on tilled earth, even to retrieve a ball or toy thrown there. Several have visitors asked, "Can you teach my dog to do that?" He was 3 years old when I introduced the concept of unconditional love and unquestioned obedience....and this phase of his training was complete in less than a week. (Harry had been roughly treated as a young dog, then generally neglected during his second and third year, when we found him. If this pitiful wretch his condition when we first met him could learn, any dog can learn. Harry is gone, now.

Now, a neighbor's dog...that's an animal with a different wag. While you can't train him (the dog...not the neighbor; well....maybe the neighbor could be trained), you can make your garden environment very unpleasant from a dog's point of view. They detest the odor of citrus (try offering a piece of orange or lemon peel to a dog and witness for yourself the immediate revulsion). Most large pet shops and well-stocked garden centers carry aerosol sprays of citrus or with a citrus-like component for use in repelling dogs (and occasionally) cats. While pricey and only temporary (rain or sprinkling washes it off and time weakens its effect), the material will at least discourage most average dogs.

A carefully constructed and well-tended electric fence would also act as a deterrent to dogs as well as larger, less-domesticated animals. Ours is a 30-mile Agway charging unit on a quarter-mile of wire. Very hot; very effective. While originally installed to prevent browsing by vast herds of deer, it has occluded wandering dogs as well. (Speaking of electric fences, I've discovered what has, for the past several years, been a totally-effective design that is no taller than 36-inches. . .one which no deer has ever stepped across. Two moose tore it down the first winter, but deer won't come near it! Here's Fred's design of a highly successful deer fenceit works for those big dogs, too!)

Back to the subject of uncontrolled dogs, most communities have "leash-laws" though they're rarely enforced and animal control officers. You might consider contacting your local authority and letting them know a problem exists. You're paying their (albeit meager) stipend...why not use their services? A local or regional "campaign" to tactfully encourage pet owners to accept responsibility for their dog's or cat's (or multiples thereof) actions and influence on the rights and turf of others might also have a long-term impact on the quality of your (and your community's) gardens and property if not the personal safety of you and your family. The trick, of course, is to somehow convince the dog-owner and the authorities, if all else fails that a problem, threat or annoyance exists. No simple task in some cases.

Even after all that's been said, I could write volumes about dog-owners who, under the guise of "exercising" their pets, allow them to wander with impunity and indiscretion about the yards of neighbors - can you believe it. . .neighbors. . .befouling paths, disfiguring shrubs and destroying patches of lawn. Someone recently proposed a nickel deposit and refund on cigarette butts; how about a fine for every dog-poop not cleaned from a neighbors premises, or an enforced law allowing recovery of the cost of repairing damage to personal property by irresponsible pet owners? That would stir some controversy!

A bit more information on the subject of deterring garden-intruders can be found in "Archives." Look for "Repelling The Rascals."

Here's a recent email (1/30/06), probably from California, asking about homemade dog repellants:

Subject: repelling dogs

I'm looking for a home remedy mixture to spray on the ground to repel neighborhood dogs and keep them from "pooping" in our yard.  Can you give me any suggestions or ideas?  Thanks for your time.  J."

Response: Dogs, being dogs, are attracted to just about anything that smells....well....foul or rotten...or really unpleasant to humans. Like dog poop or its persistent residues, dog urine or its persistent residues......or anything dead or its persistent residues... you probably get the picture (and, consequently, the answer to your question).

On the other hand, those objectionable and tenaciously-persistent odors might (and I emphasize might) be masked by an equally strong and persistent odor of clean....fresh....but nothing that smells of food (virtually anything except tar, metal, plastic, or glass). Think: citrus.

Most large pet stores sell (at outrageous prices) a citrus-based spray that stands the best chance of maybe (emphasizing maybe) discourage a dog that's generally more mentally challenged than the average canine.

I personally think you're trying, in a rather futile sort of way, to douse a huge forest fire with a thimbleful of water.

A fence might do the trick, though. So, also might a frank but forceful exchange with the offending dogs' owners. Good Luck!


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