Kate WallThe defeat and despair of gardening with dogs

At the moment my love for my dogs and my love for my garden are in serious conflict. A conflict that my poor beloved garden seems to be losing.

The dog tunnel through my garden

The dog tunnel through my garden


Dog Number 1 was bad enough, but we adapted. I gave up certain areas, like along the fence where she ran up and down with the neighbours dog. This left a tunnel through the wilderness that the kids love crawling through dressed in camouflage.

The garden next to the chook pen had to be fenced. In an effort to get into the chook pen this poor garden full of new gingers and delicate tropicals got smashed to smithereens. A year later I am still trying to coax a recovery. Probably my fault though, I left the fence down one time and now we are back to square one. That’ll learn me!

Apart from that Dog No 1 and I have an understanding of sorts about the garden. I don’t let her have bread and she won’t dig my plants up to bury it. And I won’t grow sweet potato of any variety as it is too yummy for her to resist digging it up and eating all the tubers.

Then along came Dog no 2.

My garden, if it can still be called that, is in shock. Most days I am too scared to go out there and look and I am in danger of becoming a depressed, indoor person who once was a gardener.

DID YOU DO THAT?!! This was our lawn a short while ago

DID YOU DO THAT?!! This was our lawn a short while ago


These two darling and affectionate dogs have romped, dug, smashed and pooped to new heights and reduced my garden to new lows.

Of course it doesn’t help that the scrub turkey nesting next door has taken to walking up and down the fence line deliberately teasing the dogs. There goes that garden bed. Then it stands on the roof of the chook pen taunting them. There goes everything planted in that vicinity!

The possums love to sit in the tree just out of their reach and as the dogs jump around trying to get them, they have smashed all the terracotta pots of succulents in my son’s cubby. We are now repotting into tins and metal containers that don’t break. And ever so grateful we are to succulents for turning broken leaves into new plants!

In reality if I can’t adapt my garden to cope with the dogs, we will never co-exist happily.
I am going to have to accept my losses graciously and evolve as a gardener.

My water pot for Louisiana irises got mistaken by the dogs for a paddling pool..

My water pot for Louisiana irises got mistaken by the dogs for a paddling pool..


I don’t really like plants with nasty thorns, I mean, I didn’t. I am now snapping up all I can get my hands on. Perhaps a few nasty jabs to the nose will deter them from adventuring too far into the garden. Oh no, just found my spikiest agave flat from a dog sitting on it, I guess adapting to liking spiky plants is not necessary after all.

Instead of crying about what I have lost when I find a new hole in the garden (some with half buried teddy bears in them!) I put something new and larger in that hole. Sometimes I even find the dug up plant in time to rescue it and find a safer home for it. Small plants now need to be carefully placed if they are to have any chance of survival.

Not even bromeliads are safe. They have eaten the really nasty ones that scratch through gloves, sleeves and cast iron. The dogs love the slight stink of the water in them and love to chew them to bits. I do not understand how their mouths are still intact!

One of our broken pot succulent creations...yes I have a 7yo boy!

One of our broken pot succulent creations…yes I have a 7yo boy!


We are getting good at making those smashed pot succulent gardens you see these days, now that we have so many smashed pots.

I am learning to dog proof my garden, just like we child proof our homes when young children visit. Large rocks around the edge of the garden make it much harder for the dogs to tumble from the lawn and squash the garden, so I’m adding more of those. Old gates painted dark green are being hidden in the gardens to redirect dogs away from the more delicate plants. Pots are being moved – up out of reach, away from beside access ways, and if possible, turned into hanging pots.

Lights are being left on in the evening to stop possums coming too close before the girls go to bed (inside!). I am learning to hold the hose so the dog doesn’t need to jump on the plants to drink out of it when I am watering (the irrigation doesn’t work since they have bitten all the nozzles off).

But most of all I am trying to be flexible and opportunistic. The weather can change suddenly and be harsh, so having a tough garden is not a bad thing. Finding ways to keep my garden tough and pretty is not so easy but I am getting there and learning a lot in the process which can only make me a better gardener.

More I am appreciating hardy plants such as seaside daisy, which can take a bit of wear and tear.

I am working with the tracks in the garden – if I respect that they are dog pathways, hopefully the dogs will stick to them and that helps define where I can plant safely.

The garden is meant to be a place the family interacts with and enjoys. My dogs are family and they really enjoy my garden! Happily they keep the turkeys out – they make a worse mess, and they are not part of the family.

I remind myself this is just a phase – the dogs will grow out of the puppy stage eventually, and we will find a new equilibrium in the garden which works for all of us. For all the damage they do, I will still have a garden to restore. Gardens are wonderfully adaptable things and to win this one I need to be adaptable as a gardener.

A client has not been so lucky since her attempt at keeping a tea cup pig. The pig was very much part of the family, but when it reached 100kg and refused to wipe it’s feet before going inside, it was time to find a new home for the pig. A year later and nothing has regrown in the empty patch that was a garden pre-pig. Not even nutgrass……


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Kate Wall

About Kate Wall

Kate has gardened since she was a child. Gardening as a profession came almost by accident - after volunteering to rescue flooded gardens and working in over 100 gardens, she felt her trial by flood had directed her to her true calling, and she has gardened professionally ever since. Kate is primary care giver to approximately 20 gardens concurrently (including her own), in addition to consulting, garden makeovers and creating new gardens. She lives and works in Brisbane, Queensland, and is passionate about gardening to suit our sub-tropical climate.

19 thoughts on “The defeat and despair of gardening with dogs

  1. Hi Kate

    A great article. Reminded me of gardening in Brisbane with my two dogs and some persistent scrub turkeys a few years ago. Great memories, thank you.


  2. Kate,
    You are not alone. I garden with a 75 pound lab who loves to roll around on my plants and flatten them. Also, he has a habit of seeking out my choicest plants and taking a dump right in the center of them. I probably have about 200 hostas in my yard and there is big pile of dog turds in about half of them. Still, it’s hard to imagine being out there working in the yard without my canine friend, always nearby. Stay strong!

  3. oh Mary! I wasn’t really brave enough to mention that aspect, but yes it is not the same when your treasured plant is covered in dog poo! better that than being dug up I remind myself….(as they lay under my desk farting) but for all they are impossible not to love

  4. Kate,
    I feel sorry for your doggies. Do you take them out for a run in the bush with a dam or a creek or to the beach at low tide for a joyful splash. Provide them with a kiddie pool of water to flop in on these hot days?. We take our active dogs out many times a week. We listen to them and cater to their needs and look for solutions when they tell us they are bored or hot.

    • yes Lorraine, twice a day!! These active girls get lots of adventures out, lots of toys, their own paddling pool. They are not bored, just not mindful of plants!

  5. Love the photo of your girl, ‘cooling her heels’, she really does look pleased with herself.

    I ended up putting a narrow concrete dog path against the inside of the front fence, and moved that garden forward. I got to look ar the plants, and the dog got to look at her street. An unexpected bonus was never again having to clip her nails, they stayed nicely trimmed by the concrete.

  6. I totally fail to understand the urge that some people have to own a dog, cat or any other sort of pet, especially in the light of the destructiveness related here by Kate. But, after all, it’s their decision. But what makes me really angry is that pet owners impose them on others. Dog poo on the pavements, dogs barking all day long, etc.

    • jojojr, although pet ownership in general is not on-topic for this blog post, I will jump in here and say that there are lots of thoughtless and inconsiderate people in the world who impose on others, and only some of them are pet owners. Like smokers who pollute our air and toss their butts; parents who drive everywhere (and especially their children) increasing our carbon footprint and clogging up our roads; rude people who have loud parties night after night… the list goes on and on. Unlike these other annoyances, pet ownership also has positive benefits of lessening depression and increasing social contact for many people, particularly the elderly.

    • a love for animals, like a love of gardening can benefit us in so many ways, but means something different to us all. You are right, it is my choice to share my garden with 2 very loving and wonderful albeit destructive dogs, however regardless of what we choose to do, we do all have a responsibility to be thoughtful to others and a little bit of community mindedness can go a long way

    • jojojr I am one of those who is an ardent animal lover. Be it koalas in my trees, or my dog or cat.
      My dog is well behaved. He has learnt from a puppy the rights and wrongs of acceptable garden behaviour. He even knows what ‘get off the garden’ means!
      I think that a lot of the problem is the breed of dog; fortunately we have chosen the right breeds because our dogs have all been well behaved in the garden. And both the dog [Horatio] and the cat [Leroy] love being in the garden as we work.

      • That gives me hope Alison! my dogs are 11 months and 2 years, and although they know what get off the garden means, they are still very young and easily distracted. With age I am sure it will all get easier. I have also decided to put shade cloth along the side fence so they can’t see the turkey walking up and down taunting them there! I openly admit that I am new to having dogs in the garden so I am learning how to coexist as much as they are

  7. Oh Kate
    You do have my sympathy.
    At the moment I am contending between 4 chooks, 5 ducks and 2 active dogs.
    The vegie garden is now fenced off from the birdlife if I want to actually eat the vegies, rather than supplement their nutrition. Funny how the clucka tucka and the kale I grew for them is just not seen as enticing as my tomatoes, lettuces and spinach!!
    Doggers have decided that as long as I throw the ball ad nauseum they will not tear about while I am at home, because that’s when they attention seek. I have lost quite a few laundry baskets and plant pots because little blue likes to run helter skelter around the back yard with pot/basket in his mouth with a ball inside. I think he likes the noise. And the tunnel along the fences, through the gardens…I can relate
    Still, I think their destruction is probably preferable to that which the rats do in eating my eggplants, dragon fruit and paw paws. grrr

    • yes Bren, the things we do hey! but life without both the garden and the animals we love, just would not be a life fully lived would it!

  8. Well, Kate, you have my heartfelt sympathy ! we have 4 dogs, of which 2 are full-blown mastiffs (sweet & gentle dogs, but real bulldozers in the garden). I tried garden paths, dog repellents, cacti, electric wires, the watering hose, whatever – the only thing that works is fencing off the garden beds with 1.20 metre wire mesh & buring that mesh firmly (! – they are great diggers…). This not only saves my plants, but also the life of the few possums that manage to come into our garden. Looks a bit daft, but my hope is that once the plants have become full-blown shrubs, trees etc. I may be able to remove the fence. The other alternative is to paint the wire mesh eg in Bleu Majorelle and use it as a design feature – I haven’t made up my mind what’s better, and the better half need to be consulted as well (although she calls me crazy anyway and would have concreted & graveled the entire garden for ‘low maintenance’ and the benefit of the dogs – argghh).

  9. thank you Florian – I relate to every word! Although my other half wants to remove the lawn and make it garden – no way! I can cope better with the dogs digging up the lawn than I can with them digging up my garden

  10. Dogs and gardens can mix. I have 3 digables, sorry dogables and it takes portable fencing, racing track pathways (keeps weeds down), moving the garden in from their property supervision work, v. large plastic pots plus premium mixes, forget the grass (over plant self seeding perennial & rocks), provide a large turnaround spot on the racetrack and enjoy the fun and games.
    I don’t leave them outside in the elements often. It takes time for them to choose a race track, so build around it….. a year later all in harmony (well mostly). Never plant when they are around! Bingo, it will be found.

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