Your garden is perfect - safe for your family and your pets - or is it?
In fact there are a number of garden hazards you need to protect your pet from - things that may not have occurred to you when you cheerfully tipped your puppy into your back yard!
Many of these will be the same as the ones which can endanger our children, but some are specific to dogs. Dogs will want to test with their mouths things which even toddlers would balk at! And some substances are ok for humans but can be fatal for dogs. So it’s important for you to read on and find out which these are.
The easiest time to teach your dog what he may and may not interact with in the garden is when he’s a puppy. So ensure that he’s never left alone in the garden. A simple way to do this is to have a puppy playpen. You can buy metal ones which fold up for storage, open out into a long zigzaggy wall for making a barrier, or make an enclosed space for containment. They’re great in the house too - or if you’re handy you can rig up some temporary fencing to do the job. If you put your puppy in a pen when he’s still very young he will believe that he can never jump out.
Now you can run into the house to get something without your puppy getting into trouble.
Always have lots of outdoor toys lying around that he can sink his teeth into - empty plastic bottles with the cap removed are a great standby. So his exploring can be limited to what you want him to sample and chew.
Here are some things you need to watch out for:
• Slugs, snails, and any bait to kill them
• Rodent bait and dead rodents. If you have a rodent problem you can put the poison into the centre of a long 3-4” pipe and site it on the rat run, well weighted with concrete blocks
• Small stones or pebbles from paths. Make sure your puppy doesn’t swallow them or you may become one of those headlines: “Vet finds 149 pebbles in puppy’s stomach”
• Cocoa mulch
• Cat poo: you’ll need to clear up after your cat or any visiting cats - though the arrival of the puppy will probably deter them from visiting your garden any more. Cats love freshly-turned soil for their latrine, so check those areas carefully. Apart from transferring parasites to your pup, there’s a possibility of you contracting Toxoplasmosis via your puppy’s mouth. This is of course very dangerous for pregnant women - so have someone else perform this task for you.
• Water features: make sure they’re fenced or covered with netting so pup can’t fall in
• Swimming pool - should have shallow steps so that any creature falling in can climb out again. A friend in the South of France made sure to have these built into his pool, as trying to fish a distressed wild boar out of your pool early in the morning is no fun.
• An old dog may need to wear a lifejacket in the garden if there’s a lot of water for him to topple into.
• Your fencing needs to be secure - no holes, no strangling or cutting hazard if your dog does try to burrow through or jump over. Small dogs have been stolen from gardens, so if there is public access to the back of your house, have tall, solid, fencing. I would split the garden with fencing, if it isn’t already divided, so that my dog had no access to the front of the house to develop the woeful habit of fence-running and barking at passers-by. Leaving your dog alone in the yard gives rise to the awful possibility of fence-running and boundary-barking. Not only will this drive you and your neighbours mad, but it will turn your flowerbeds into a trampled racetrack. Fence-running, once established, is hard to shift as the dog finds it so very, very exciting! As with everything else, it’s much easier to prevent what you don’t want from happening, rather than trying to mount a rearguard action and fix it after it’s been proven to be an exciting habit.
• Garden chemicals: become an avid label-reader. Some are deadly to dogs
• Plants and trees: you'll find a list for your own country online. Here’s a good one for North America. And here’s one for the UK. This one covers woodland hazards. And here's a general one on common poisonous plants.
• Digging is not inherently dangerous for the dog - but will rapidly destroy your garden! Some dogs love to dig, some never bother. If you have a digger, choose an area of the garden where he may dig, loosen the soil and half-bury some outdoor toys there. If he starts digging anywhere else you can distract him and race to the digging place and start digging with him. Some people like to use a child’s sandpit with a cover.
• Insects, snakes, and other beasties: you'll know what these are for your locality. Ensure your pup doesn't snap a wasp - you may have to get anti-histamines into him fast to prevent his throat closing. The same applies to snakebites swelling the face - which is a common area to get bitten. Vet!
• When your pup is young you’ll need to keep him with you in the garden. Gradually he’ll earn his freedom as he demonstrates that he’s safe out there. This could take many months. Enjoy your garden trips - see them as a welcome break in a busy day.
Life is too short not to enjoy some quiet time with your dog in the open air
• Always know where your dog is, right now. If your garden runs to acres then limit him to the area you can see clearly from the house. This is not just for safety from garden things. Who knows what mischief he may be getting up to if he’s out of your sight!
Exchange is no robbery
And if your dog has picked something up, there’s no need to go about yelling and shouting at him, grabbing his mouth and trying to force out what he has picked up. You wanting it so badly will escalate your dog’s perception of the object’s value, and probably guarantee that he’ll clamp his teeth firmly on it! And if you chase him he may well swallow the “thing” in his excitement. Which will entirely defeat the object!
Instead, teach him a simple “give”. You can do this with toys, as you swap with him - either for another toy or for a treat. As he releases the item into your hand you can admire it, and - as often as possible - give him back the thing he’s given you so he doesn’t feel aggrieved. Playing “Swapsy” should be an everyday game with your dog. Trying to snatch things away from him can precipitate Resource Guarding. Imagine how you would feel if you were studying a leaf you’d found on the ground in my garden, and I thundered over, shouted NO and grabbed the leaf out of your hand! You’d be careful to hide your find next time, and to block me or move away so I couldn’t snatch it.
Commonsense and constant early supervision will spare you any of the horrors of watching your dear pet slowly die as his organs shut down after ingesting poison, or having to be operated on to remove inappropriate items from his insides. Be especially careful if you visit the garden of a dogless friend, as they will be blissfully unaware of the dangers to your dog.