We’re going to talk about how to keep dogs out of garden areas and how to keep your own dog off flowerbeds, and your lawn. We’ll look at how to have a nice garden during that puppy stage.
There is joy to be had in a lovely garden, just as there is joy to be had in sharing your life with a dog. Sometimes attempting both can be challenging, but it can be done.
There are various methods you can use, and we’ll look at each in some detail.
Why keep dogs out of garden?
There is nothing puppies enjoy more than a bit of ‘freestyle’ gardening.
Most young Labradors think that a rose bush looks a lot better when it has been uprooted and dragged around the garden a few times.
And of course, digging up your prize carrots is always a good way for any Labrador puppy to start the day. In fact, digging of any kind is a source of joy to many dogs, not just puppies
This can come as quite a shock to a first time Labrador owner.
Why you might need a dog deterrent..
If it is your own dog that is causing the problem you might think that you shouldn’t need dog deterrents or barriers. Surely by six or seven months old you should be able to leave your puppy unsupervised for a few minutes, without him destroying your shrubbery?
After all, not all puppies dig up the yard as soon as Mom or Dad turn their backs. Your neighbor’s puppy probably has no enthusiasm for landscape gardening at all.
Some puppies are positively angelic outdoors. Which makes the owners of the naughty ones feel as though they are doing something wrong.
I can reassure you that for the most part they are not doing anything wrong at all.
Destructive behavior in puppies left unsupervised outdoors is so common as to be considered normal.
In the photo above, you will find my own puppy, Rachael, relaxing in the mess she has made on our patio, after being left to her own devices for rather too long.
Different ways to keep dogs out of flower beds
So, your dog is normal. That’s the good news. But it doesn’t change the fact that you don’t want a dog, any dog, digging in your flower beds or rooting around in your vegetable patch.
Naturally, as the owner of a young tearaway, you are looking for a quick and effective dog deterrent solution. A command, or training method, which will keep dogs out of garden areas, and off flowerbeds, and which puts a stop to the destruction and naughtiness.
Most importantly, you want to be able to let the dog into the yard without watching him like a hawk every second he is out there.
We’ll examine the main ways in which you can prevent your little piece of paradise turning into a moonscape
- Altering your garden design
- Training your dog
- Dog proof barriers
- Dog repellents and deterrents
Altering your garden design
The option that some people choose, is to make some changes to the design and style of their garden.
One of the problems for dogs, is determining which areas are out of bound to them. This is much more difficult if the boundaries are blurred or not physically obvious.
The point where grass ends and flowers begin might be clear to you, but it isn’t clear to a puppy. Raised flower beds with a solid boundary help dogs to make these distinctions.
Putting plants in heavy raised tubs can help reduce digging, so can replacing grass with paving or pebbles. You can get great ideas for designing gardens that are home to dogs on Pinterest. We have a pinterest board dedicated to the topic
Training your dog
Training is certainly an option. Dogs can be trained to remain in one particular part of a garden while avoiding others. But it isn’t as simple as teaching a dog to ‘sit’, and it requires that you are there, supervising, during the training process.
If you plan to undertake this kind of training, you will need to monitor your dog continuously while he is outdoors for some time to come, and to spend several minutes a day, two or three times a day, on training sessions
Here’s a Kikopup video that will give you an idea of what’s involved.
This is useful training. But it’s also training that is best suited to those who are normally out there too when the dog is in their yard or garden.
If you ultimately wish to leave your dog outdoors completely unsupervised, relying on a trained behavior is not something that even I as a relatively experienced trainer, would consider doing.
Barriers and other dog deterrents
We mentioned raised flower beds earlier. These may deter dogs from straying accidentally onto your plants, and help you as you train your young dog to respect the flowers while you are in the garden together, but they are not a dog proof deterrent.Raised beds are not going to stop a determined digger from mounting an attack on your roses.
Prickly edging plants may deter some dogs from stepping on the flower beds. I’ve seen mulching with rose pruning suggested, but I personally would worry about dogs getting thorns in their pads.
Protecting your plants with permanent barriers is likely to be an unappealing option. Both because it is hard to build attractive barriers around flower beds that are actually dog proof, and because it is a lot of work.
With a puppy, you may decide a better option is to compromise with some temporary fencing – wire netting for example – around your flowers, and to accept that your yard isn’t going to win any competitions for ‘prettiest garden” this year.
If it’s an older dog that is causing problems, a simpler option might be to fence off a part of your yard specifically for the dog to play in. Creating an exercise yard, or dog playground area of some kind. These can be quite attractive and again, Pinterest is a good place to go for inspiration.
Okay, so if none of those appeals to you, that leaves us with dog repellents.
Let’s find out what a dog repellent is, whether dog repellents or dog deterrents really work, how safe they are, and where you can find them.
A dog repellent is something that a dog finds unpleasant and will choose to avoid. We are not looking at hand operated training devices here, but rather at repellents that you can set up and leave.
The idea is that the repeller sits in the part of the garden that you wish your dog to steer clear of. And that it will work in your absence so that you don’t have to watch over your dog the entire time he is outside.
Remember that in order to act as a deterrent, the device must create an environmental trigger that a dog dislikes and may find upsetting. This is not something to undertake lightly or with a nervous dog or one that lacks confidence in being outdoors.
Dog repellents for gardens fall into three categories
- Dog repellents that use sound
- Dog repellents that use water
- Dog repellents that use a smell or odor
Dog repellent sound – ultrasonic dog repellers
A number of US patents have been filed for animal repellers that work by emitting a short wave high frequency sound. The idea being that humans cannot hear sounds over 20,000 hz (known as ultrasounds) but animals can, and will try to avoid them because they find the sound unpleasant.
That’s the theory.
Devices aimed at the home owner for use outdoors in the yard or garden generally consist of a small square or rectangular box. These are mounted on a spike which can be pushed into the soil in your flowerbed or lawn.
The question is, do these devices actually work? And the answer is unclear. A number of studies have been carried out using these devices on mammals, over the past several decades, with mixed results.
In 1990 two experiments were carried out on a group of dogs using three different electronic units. In the first experiment no device repelled all the dogs but aversive behavior in some dogs to two units, was noted. In the second experiment (with modified equipment) one unit had an immediate effect on nearly all the dogs, with half reacting aversively.
Ultrasonic repellers were also tested on White Tailed Deer in 1998. Some were fitted with strobes, and some were not. Only the repellers fitted with strobes were successful at repelling deer from feeding stations.
A study carried out on cats using an ultrasonic device showed a modest deterrent effect. The aim was to reduce cat intrusion into a garden, and the authors of the study noted that the magnitude of the effect of the device increased over time and concluded that it could be further improved by more careful positioning of devices.
On the other hand, a study on kangaroos in 2003 concluded that an ultrasonic device marketed as a kangaroo repellent had no effect on captive eastern grey kangaroos, or red kangaroos. And another study published in 2007 tested on dingos concluded similarly that the ultrasonic device studied had no measurable deterrent effect.
A more recent study, carried out on badgers at feeding stations in the UK concluded that ultrasonic devices may even have attracted badgers to the baiting stations!
It appears that we are still getting very mixed results as to whether these ultrasonic dog repellent products actually work.
So what do the manufacturers of these ultrasonic animal repellers, and their customers, have to say about the success of their products in repelling dogs and cats?
Most of these products seem to be manufactured in China or Taiwan, and unfortunately the manufacturers’ websites lack information or links to sources that back up their claims for their products.
We can however read customer reviews on these products.
Here are some of the products available today and what reviewers seem to think of them. The ones with the best reviews all seem to incorporate some kind of flashing light in addition to the high pitched sound that they emit
Best ultrasonic dog repellers
The Hettak Animal Repeller is a green box that you locate in your yard and which claims to repell all manner of animals from your garden.
It’s waterproof and solar powered, can be plugged into the mains or run from a battery which is not included. It can be attached to a fence or wall and has a good proportion of positive reviews. You can read those reviews here
The Pestzilla outdoor animal repeller is a ‘box on a spike’ type of repeller and claims to be particularly powerful. It incorporates additional flashing LED lights –
From the White Tail Deer study, we can see that strobe lights did have an effect on deer. Whether they would bother dogs, is a question that remains unanswered, but the majority of Pestzilla’s customers seem happy. Check out the reviews here
Another repeller that received a high proportion of good reviews was the BestGreen.
This model also combined LED lights with the ultrasonic noise. Here are the reviews
Don’t scare your dog!
Okay, those are some examples of ultrasonic animal repellers that are claimed by the suppliers to be effective on cats and dogs.
But here’s the thing to remember.
If devices like this work, they probably work by frightening the animal away from the device.
Dog repellent spray – water
Dog repellers that use water are similar in design to the ultrasonic deterrents in that they are attached to a spike that you push into the ground. They are also triggered by the motion sensors with detect an approaching animal.
Instead of the device emitting a sound, it emits a jet of water. This means that the device needs to be attached to a water supply. A garden hose is connected to the water inlet, and the trigger operates a valve that releases the jet.
Studies have shown that water jets can be effective at frightening some types of birds away – herons for example – which may appeal if you have a garden pond whose fish population you want to protect.
And in the badger study we mentioned above, water jets were also tested and found to have some effect. Though not a very strong one. The devices did reduce food intake at the feeding station but not badger activity overall.
Bear in mind though, that there is less motivation for your dog to approach a flower bed than there is for a wild badger to tuck in to a free dinner. So in theory, it should take less to stop him.
As you can see, the water repeller is a rather more substantial piece of kit than the ultrasonic repellers we have looked at and needs a water supply.
Many people are buying and using these for repelling wild animals such as deer or the neighbor’s cats. And it is debatable how well the work on water loving dogs like Labradors. Though of course taking a dip in your favorite pond is not the same as being squirted in the face.
Again, the risk with using an aversive like this is unwanted effects. A dog that wont swim on the beach because he has developed a fear of water spray for example. It could happen.
Dog repellents that use smell or odor
There is evidence for the limited effectiveness of certain chemicals or odors as dog repellents. But when using these solutions, there are factors to be aware of.
Outdoors, any kind of chemical that you apply has the potential to both
- Have some effects on the surrounding area
- Break down and become ineffective soon after application
Provided that you are aware of these two issues, dog repellent sprays that keep dogs of the flower beds using unpleasant odors may be something you’ll want to consider.
Two such repellents are methyl nonyl ketone and cinnamic aldehyde. In laboratory tests these chemicals reduced damage by dogs and cats to garbage bags by 70-80% and in the field by about half that amount.
Most of the products available to the public however, contain natural ingredients – substances that dogs don’t particularly like such as eucalyptus – but the reviews suggest that they are not particularly effective.
Repellent sprays with names like ‘liquid fence’ and ‘critter ridder’ sound appealing but may have limited effects, partly due to the nature of ‘being outdoors’.
If you want to try out something like this, you might be better off creating your own home made concoction. A lot of dogs dislike citrus fruits like lemons. A few lemon slices around your roses might just do the trick.
Or you could try placing cotton wool balls soaked in vinegar or ammonia around your precious plants.
How to keep dogs out of garden – summary
As you may have discovered already, some unsupervised Labrador puppies can cause a great deal of damage if left to their own devices out in the yard.
There is no foolproof way of controlling what a puppy gets up to when you are not there, and purchasing an ultrasonic or water emitting device for your yard may be something of a gamble.
Remember that there is some dispute as to whether the devices currently on the market for repelling animals using sound or smell, will actually work. And that these devices, while not harmful, do rely on aversives to achieve the desired result.
Most modern trainers believe that using aversives in animal management should always be a last resort as side effects can be unwanted and unpredictable
If you decide to give an ultrasonic repeller or spray a try, do let us know in the comments how you get on!
When you are considering whether or not the devices (or home remedies mentioned here) work, it’s worth remembering that most of the studies carried out on these devices use feeding stations to attract the animals to the device in the first place.
At a feeding station there there is strong motivation for the animal to put up with the aversive effect of the device.
Digging up flowers is not usually as motivating to a dog as food, and it is possible that the device will fare better in this situation than it would in a trial. Despite that, we feel that the alternatives are a more desirable option
One alternative to devices is to ‘train’ your dog to stay in one part of your yard and away from another part. But while I am all for training in general, when it comes to relaxing and enjoying your garden, it is often better to avoid trouble, than to treat the problem as a ‘training issue’
Sometimes the best option is to wait out this phase. For the most part, the secret to nice flowerbeds and a fruitful vegetable plot in a garden that is shared by a Labrador under twelve month’s old, is usually more supervision and/or restriction.
Just as we need to move rubbish bins out of the way (or use puppy proof lids) in the kitchen when dogs are left alone there, so we need to take steps to restrict a puppy’s opportunities for mischief outdoors. Put up a few barriers, or move things around a bit.
This may seem like a big deal now, but it really is worth it.
After Rachael’s escapade last summer, we moved our courgettes and tubs of geraniums etc to another part of the garden.
Her passion for digging subsided over the next few months and at six years old now, she rarely digs anything up. I say rarely, not never. Just occasionally, if I leave her outdoors unsupervised for too long, she will appear at the back door, tail wagging furiously, with a small, bedraggled plant in her mouth, and a “look what I found for you” expression on her face. But these occasions have all but disappeared.
By the time your dog has passed his second birthday, he will probably have lost much of his passion for landscape design. You will hopefully be able to relax and give him free run of your garden.
Until then, you will find life a lot simpler if you put a temporary fence around your vegetables, move your tubs and planters where he cannot reach them, or fence off a part of the garden for your puppy to play in.
When it comes to puppies, it is a good idea to pick your battles carefully. This is one that you may struggle to win.
More information on puppies
The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.
References and further reading
Ward A et al. “Deterrent or dinner bell? Alteration of badger activity and feeding at baited plots using ultrasonic and water jet devices” Applied Animal Behavior Science 2008
Nelson S, Evans A, Bradbury R. “The efficacy of an ultrasonic cat deterrent” Applied Animal Behavior Science 2006
Edgar J, Appleby R, Jones D “Efficacy of an ultrasonic device as a deterrent to dingoes (Canis lupus dingo): a preliminary investigation” Journal Of Ethology 2007
Bender H. “Deterrence of Kangaroos from Agricultural Areas Using Ultrasonic Frequencies: Efficacy of a Commercial Device” Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2003
Bellant J, Seamans T, Tyson L. “Evaluation of Electronic Frightening Devices As White Tailed Deer Deterrents”. University of Nebraska 1998
Mary Bomford and Peter H. O’Brien Sonic Deterrents in Animal Damage Control: A Review of Device Tests and Effectiveness
Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006)
Blackshaw J et al. “Aversive responses of dogs to ultrasonic, sonic and flashing light units” Applied Animal Behavior Science 1990
Wolski T, Ritter R, Houpt K. “The effectiveness of animal repellents on dogs and cats in the laboratory and field” Applied Animal Behavior Science 1984
Littauer G. “Frightening Techniques for Reducing Bird Damage at Aquaculture Facilities” PDF
Lehner P, Krumm R, Cringan A. “Tests for Olfactory Repellents for Coyotes and Dogs” Journal of Wildlife Managment 1976