Love Your Dog, Love Your Garden

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Being a Vet, gardener and dog lover as well as an environmentalist, I realise more and more how true it is that we are all connected and that everything we do has an impact. My observations of people, pets and gardens certainly highlight our interconnectedness. Over the years, I have seen many dogs with neurotic issues such as lick granulomas, aggression, separation anxiety and excessive barking. These problematic behaviours often stem from lack of attention, boredom and low confidence. Prevention can be easy with a little bit of training and a dash of mindful gardening, all of which will benefit the whole family.


Awareness of place in the pack

A dog that knows his place in the hierarchy of the family feels a sense of confidence and security which makes him a safe and friendly dog. There are several ways to enhance this sense of well being. Basic training using positive reinforcement at opportune times is essential. Step one is being in control of his food. He must sit and wait while you put the food down and only get up to eat when you say he may with a clap, clicker or verbal command of your choice. All dogs and humans can learn this and everyone in the human family should do it, especially the children.


It is best not to make a big fuss at mealtimes because this teaches our dogs to “eat to please” which can contribute to excess weight gain. In the beginning, giving small treats when leaving the property and a whistle/treat/pat when coming home will quickly train him not to run out when you open the gate. A contented, trained dog is far less likely to behave destructively when left alone and will rather spend his time looking after your home.

Happy gardening with dogs

Happy dogs enjoy going for walks every day and also get a lot of exercise doing the job they love most which are defending your home. Keep this in mind when planting along the boundary- leave a meter gap for a runway along the fence which can easily be kept clear. Before planting, take into consideration the natural paths the dogs take. Some people like to pave those paths if necessary or redirect the flow of dog traffic using barrier plants or pot plants. Although designing your garden in a way that allows their running and barking fun means there should be no need to put barriers in place to protect your plants. An excited, sizable dog ploughs through most barriers, which can be frustrating for you and often harmful to them.

A dog’s perspective

A dog on guard needs a good view of passing traffic – preferably the entire perimeter but at least at some strategic places and especially the gate. If you have a solid fence or wall around your property, it would be ideal to create windows at their level. Being able to see out and interact with the outside world is important for mental stimulation which counteracts boredom and associated issues. It also gives her a sense of security and confidence when able to keep a good lookout. A raised area like a deck is ideal for a dog bed. Mine love to lie on the trampoline!


Those digging dogs!

Some dogs love to dig and can easily be encouraged to dig where it suits you by burying bones in those areas. When they dig in inappropriate places you can place some of their doggy poo in the hole before refilling. They learn very quickly this is a no-dig zone.

A dog’s perspective

If you have a garden big enough for a dog or two, then a compost worm farm is another very useful endeavour. Normal compost bins with the little door work very well when well positioned. Composting worms have no problem digesting doggy doo, converting it quickly and safely into nutritious plant food along with everything else. This means you never need to put it in a plastic bag and into the black bin ever again. Win-win all round. If this is not for you, another option that works well is a Bokashi bin, which will also take things that the worms prefer not to, such as citrus, onion or chillies as well as any non-vegetable kitchen waste. When the bin is full, the contents can be safely buried in the garden to form compost under the ground. This can be left there or dug up to be used at a later stage. You can deposit the compostable poo bags into a worm farm or bokashi bin.  Pets are an integral part of our ecosystem which means the more we can integrate them in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, the happier and healthier our communities.

More about Dr Belinda Roxburgh

Dr Roxburgh is a qualified veterinarian, an avid gardener and part-time hypnotherapist. She is mother to two children, two dogs and two cats and works part-time at the Cape of Good Hope SPCA where she spends most of her time in theatre performing surgery. You can contact Belinda by email at

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