Dog may be man’s best friend, but how about his lawn’s?
Challenges abound in the search for harmonious relations between human, canine and greenery. A dog might tear up your flower patch or dig under a bush. It might wear the grass away along frequently traveled paths until there’s nothing there but compressed dirt. It could eat your grass, and then puke it up who-knows-where. It could run away.
And, of course, as Mike O’Rourke, a manager at Black Diamond Garden Center, put it: “Peeing is going to be an eternal problem. If they go on the same spot repeatedly, you can say good-bye to that grass.”
All that without even considering cats.
But canine companions should not despair: All these problems are surmountable with planning, foresight and dogged dedication.
Not that the complications presented by dogs are unformidable. Mr. O’Rourke describes a common ailment of yards with canine residents: dogs constantly running the perimeter of the yard until it’s nothing but a dirt path.
“Most dogs are territorial — and they don’t like birds and squirrels in their yard. So they’ll be running the perimeter constantly to keep them out.”
A poodle isn’t going to do much to a lawn, of course. But bigger dogs? There’s no withstanding them.
Even the heavy-duty Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue Grass, used along “expressways, turnpikes and highways,” is no match for anything larger than a small dog, despite being “almost impervious” to everything else that menaces grass. And Kentucky 31 is a “lumpy” eyesore, so its strength comes with significant drawbacks.
Faced with the prospect of a sterile, muddy rings around your yard, you can do one of two things: change your dog or change your lawn.
Mike Roehrs of Bowling Green works to design dog-friendly landscapes in addition to breeding Field Spaniels.
“That is very often a case of under-stimulation: You need more toys, things for them to do,” he says. Failing that, “you can try to create stone paths where they’re usually running, so it doesn’t tear up as easily.”
Mr. Roehrs also suggests prickly, hardy plants such as roses to deter rambunctious dogs.
But this behavior is far from inevitable.
“I would personally never allow a dog to do that,” said Bonnie Flowers, a dog trainer in Dundee, Mich., and member of the Toledo Kennel Club along with Mr. Roehrs.
“You can have a dog who knows, ‘OK, I can chase a squirrel to the garden,’ but that’s it, or ‘I can chase the squirrel maybe up the tree, but that’s it.’ It’s whether the dog knows the rules. The rules are the rules, but you just to have define them and be there to reinforce them.”
Behavior, behavior, behavior is ultimately the key to dog-lawn comity: both knowing your dog’s instinctual behavior and shaping it.
Getting an early start helps, because behaviors learned early are hard to shake.
“It’s something you want to start — just like a child — early on,” Ms. Flowers said. “It’s much easier for me to walk into someone’s house and teach their 3-month-old puppy these behaviors than their, say, 12-year-old dog.”
“I always tell dog owners: ‘It’s a 9-pound puppy right now, and it might be cute on a rainy day to let them just run out to the front door step and pee,” Mr. Roehrs said. “But do you want that dog urine smell there in the heat of the summer when it’s a 50-pound dog?’”
With proper training, dogs can even be taught to go in one specific patch. Some owners mulch a spot on their yards to serve as a dog outhouse and spare their grass the ravages of highly acidic dog urine.
Other behaviors, like breed-specific traits, are inevitable.
“If you don’t want holes in your yard, don’t buy a terrier. That’s what they do for a living, pretty much.”
A dog’s life
Luke Skywalker (no relation to Anakin Skywalker, his feline house-mate) has a habit: He can’t stop munching on leaves.
“Ever since we got him, he’s been scooping them up everywhere he goes,” said Holden Geyer of Toledo, Luke’s owner.
Luke is a 3-year-old miniature pinscher-“pit bull” mix, and on a unseasonably chilly Friday afternoon, his “35 pounds of pure muscle” hurtled across the yard to go after falling tree nuts, nibble at the bushes whose leaves hung close to the ground, or jump up to lick a reporter.
“We tried to pull the leaves out of his mouth, but he just kept doing it, so it was just like — O.K., if that’s what you want to do, throw up if you want.”
Luke hasn’t thrown up yet to the best of Mr. Geyer’s knowledge, though he often seems on the verge.
“Some dogs will graze just because they enjoy the taste,” said Brooke West, a veterinarian at the West Toledo Animal Hospital. “It’s a preference.”
Cats, on the other hand, have a much clearer reason for their own leafy habit:
“With catnip, it’s ... kind of like marijuana for humans, but without as negative a connotation. It just mellows them out, makes them happy, and it’s also a really good digestive food,” Dr. West explained.
Mr. O’Rourke says catnip is very easy to grow — “almost like a weed” — but only a semi-perennial, so a hard winter might require more planting.
Catnip only affects cats, so you can plant it in your garden without fear of it turning into a neighborhood drug den for raccoons or possums.
Ultimately, there are no bad dogs or bad lawns: just bad combinations.
“If you desire to have a super pristine lawn and these Victorian gardens,” Mr. Roehrs said, “You have to ask yourself: Is my lifestyle conducive to having a dog, and, if so, what kind?”
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