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By Marty Hair

RISMEDIA, July 17, 2008-(MCT)-The dog owner barks out the order: “Get the squirrel! Go get it!”

Two determined border collies and one spunky shih tzu race through openings in the shrub border of boxwoods, hollies and cedars.

Just inside the fence, they run on their own dog path mulched with pine bark, which Christine Dickinson has made for them around the perimeter of her Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., backyard.

With the dogs running on the path, heavy paw traffic doesn’t degrade the rest of the landscaping, which Dickinson started developing about 10 years ago, about the same time that she acquired border collies Peyton and Marcy. Iggy, the shih tzu, is 1 year old.

Her goal: having dogs and an attractive garden.

“I really wanted a nice yard,” says Dickinson, whose property was featured on a local garden walk in June.

Learning and Compromise

Creating a garden that is aesthetically appealing to humans and safe for pets is a challenge, involving compromise and learning.

Because dogs have different levels of activity and appetites, responsible owners research lawn fertilizers and plants. They avoid anything that, if consumed, would be toxic or too appealing.

And dog-lovers must occasionally look the other way when impatiens get squashed and petunias trampled.

“We stick to things we know will be hardy and still safe for them,” Dickinson says. This is good, because, as she speaks, Iggy is over by a clump of dwarf fountain grass, reaching up for a mouthful. Dickinson, a physician who is director of nuclear medicine at Mt. Clemens Regional Medical Center, worked with landscaper Harold Michaux on design and plant selection. Leaving spaces between shrubs so the dogs could run between them has reduced damage, Michaux says.

Besides the pet-friendly back yard, Dickinson’s dogs have a fenced run at the side of the house. A pet door leads to their own tiled mudroom, where there is a dog bathtub.

A fence should be the first thing installed in a yard that will be home to a dog, says Alice Marczewski, a veterinarian at Jefferson Veterinary Center in Detroit who is also a gardener and pet owner.

She also recommends looking closely around the yard to see what potentially toxic plants are already there. For example, nightshade, a common poisonous weed, should be removed in yards with children or pets.

Even parts of plants that are edible for people may harm pets. Marczewski treated a dog that got sick after gorging on tomatoes. Pay attention to what pets find interesting and edible, including mulch.

“People should not landscape with rocks or with mulch that smells good,” Marczewski says.

Deborah Silver, owner of Detroit Garden Works and a garden designer, shares her backyard in Pontiac, Mich., with Cardigan Welsh corgis named Milo and Howard. A formal space with evergreens and a rose garden, the garden will be featured on a walk July 19.

“It is organized so that they can run around the yard and not get into something and mess it up,” Silver says. She suggests pet owners use edging as a visual deterrent to discourage dog traffic, or build a separate pet run.

Dog-Friendly Lawns

Nearly 40% of U.S. households include at least one dog and there are about 74.8 million owned dogs in the country, according to figures cited by the Humane Society of the United States.

That means a lot of people are trying to figure out how to do the dog-garden dance. The Oregon Garden in Silverton, Ore., has a demonstration plot called the Pet Friendly Garden, where people learn how to fashion pet playgrounds with edible plants, paths, water and shade. In Colorado, the Denver Botanic Garden runs classes on pet-friendly gardens.

Lawn care is a common concern. Dickinson hires a lawn company that uses organic products. In Royal Oak, Mich., Dr. John Simon of Woodside Animal Clinic said he gets more calls about pets with gastrointestinal problems in the spring when people use lawn fertilizers with herbicides.

To reduce pollution and protect people, especially children, from exposure to toxic chemicals, Ontario, Canada, recently banned the use of pesticides, including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, for cosmetic purposes. The ban is expected to take effect in 2009, a spokesman for the Ontario minister’s office said this week.

As a fan of earth-friendly lawn care and the owner of two mixed-breed dogs named Heisman and Kavik, Kim Poznanski of St. Clair Shores, Mich., opts for corn gluten meal, which contains nitrogen and works as a pre-emergent herbicide.

It’s one of many adaptations dog-owners can make. The trick to garden-dog coexistence has been “consistence, training and compromise on my part,” says Poznanski, who has trained dogs and volunteered with the Michigan Humane Society. She is also a master gardener.

Fences helps her dogs stay in bounds, and Poznanski favors native plants because “if they can stand up to buffalo, they can stand up to my dogs.”

The bottom line is to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude, she says: “Some things, you just gotta let go.”

How Dogs and Gardens Can Coexist

If you are considering getting a purebred dog, research the breed’s characteristics. Some breeds do more running and digging than others.

Fence the backyard or a space within it so dogs can run freely and safely. Inside her fenced yard, Christine Dickinson’s dogs have a fenced run area, half covered with gravel and half with pine bark mulch.

Leave an open, mulched space between shrubs and the fence since many dogs like to run there, says Cheryl Smith in “Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs” (Dogwise Publishing, $19.95).

Limit the planting of toxic or especially appealing plants to areas the dogs can’t reach, such as the front yard. To learn which plants to avoid, do an Internet search for “poisonous plant dog.”

Many dog owners use shredded bark mulch. Avoid mulch made from cocoa bean hulls, which many dogs will eat because of its strong chocolate fragrance. Cocoa mulch may contain caffeine and theobromine, stimulants that can cause dogs to become sick or worse if eaten in quantity, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says.

To minimize lawn burning from dog urine, encourage dogs to drink plenty of fresh water, and train them with praise and treats to eliminate in one specific part of the yard, suggests Kim Poznanski of St. Clair Shores, Mich.

© 2008, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.