We're not done with winter, but gardeners are already thinking of spring. And if you are a dog lover who also dreams of a beautiful yard, take heart: Dogs and lush gardens aren't mutually exclusive.
But you can't just plant whatever you want where you want it and throw a bored, unsupervised dog into the mix. Instead, plan your yard to take your dog into account, and mind your dog's needs to get him to leave the plants alone. The basic guidelines:
-- Exercise your dog. A dog with too much energy isn't one you want to leave alone all day in a nice yard -- and yet that's exactly what many people do. If you don't take care of your dog's exercise requirements, he's going to take care of them on his own, by digging a hole to China or by removing the shrubs in your yard.
Dogs who don't get daily exercise are likely to expend that energy and cure boredom doing things people don't like -- digging, chewing and barking. Dogs who are well-exercised are more likely to sleep while you are gone.
When you leave, you should also offer your dog alternatives to choosing his own amusements: Provide him with chew toys. You can make them more appealing by praising him for using them and by stuffing hollow toys -- such as a Kong -- with something delicious, like peanut butter.
-- Work with your dog's habits. Observe how your dog uses your yard, and plan accordingly. For instance, many dogs consider it their duty to run the fence line, leaving a well-worn trail where many people hope to put flowers. Instead of fighting with your dog, go with his natural instincts. Place your beds and plantings away from the fence line, and let him do his guard-dog patrolling behind those plants.
-- Consider giving your dog a yard of his own. At my house, the dogs are never let out in the main yard without supervision, but they come and go at will into a side yard that's just for them. A low fence covered with climbing roses hides from view both the dog yard and a separate vegetable garden. The layout's ideal; now if I could just find the time to get all the planting done!
-- Redirect digging. Some breeds were developed to dig, and expecting them not to indulge in it is unfair. You can find most of these digging dogs in the terrier group -- the word terrier comes from terra, for "earth."
You can keep many dogs from digging if you keep them exercised, limit their access to dirt, and make the digging experience unpleasant. Sometimes, putting the dog's own stools in the hole and covering them with dirt deters them. Many dogs won't dig if their own mess is under the surface.
Another option is giving your dog a dig zone. While hardly clean fun, it is good fun, especially for dogs who are happiest with their noses in the dirt and their paws flying.
-- Put special plants in safer places. Raised beds and hanging planters are the place to put your most precious plants. In borders, put the plants that can take being stepped on in front.
What are some dog-friendly plants? Mint is a good one. This plant is nearly indestructible and greets each assault with a wave of cool mint smell. Some lilies are tough enough to be stomped or sat on, as well, and your gardening center may have suggestions for others that are dependable growers in your region.
Dogs don't know a wisteria from a weed, and they never will. That's why it's up to you not to leave them unattended around plants you want left alone. When you leave for work, limit your dog's space for his safety and to protect your plants. Most of a dog's time alone is spent sleeping anyway, so he doesn't need to have the entire run of the house and yard. Outings -- for jogging, walking, fetch or swimming -- should be done with your supervision.
If your dog is allowed in your yard under your supervision only, the chance of his digging or chewing is just about nil -- you can stop him before the damage is done. And you can enjoy your beautiful yard together.
Help for the dog-challenged gardener
Any dog lover who aspires to having a beautiful yard needs to get a copy of Cheryl S. Smith's "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs" (Dogwise, $20). The book goes beyond the general suggestions to make specific recommendations that match up with the breed type of the gardener's dog.
Smith also offers suggestions to fix the bane of dog-loving gardeners: the dreaded yellow spot. Best recommendation? An out-of-sight potty zone. If that won't work, flushing the area as soon as possible with lots of water to dilute the urine will help.
Older pets perfect for older people
Q: I share your sentiments about the inherent dignity and wise eyes of older pets. I have worked in animal rescue for 30 years with our local humane society and on my own. It is so hard to convince folks to adopt those older cats and dogs.
To me, it is a no-brainer: Once the kids are grown and gone, what better pet for a mature person than a mature cat or dog? My compassion and love for all my pets grew even stronger in their elder years as I recognized that they would not be with me forever. Older animals have much to teach us about the aging process and how to do it with few complaints and much grace. Can you please pass along the word? -- J.R., via e-mail
A: You bet I will. Even though it's still hard for older dogs and, especially, older cats to get attention in the shelter, it seems that more people are now embracing the idea that an older pet can be the ideal companion. These animals are perfect for older, quiet households, and many adult animals are great for young families as well. After all, it's a lot easier to adopt an adult dog with the house-training done and good manners instilled. These pets are out there if you look.
Many people who'll consider pets from 2 to 5 years in age will balk at any pet over the age of 5. And that's a shame, because many of these pets are in the prime time of their lives, with many years of love and companionship to share.
Shelters often offer incentives to people who adopt older pets, by the way.
Q: Help! Two months ago I adopted a 5-year-old declawed female Siamese mix with long hair. My 12-year-old declawed female Siamese has yet to accept the new addition. We've had lots of flying fur, spitting, growling, etc.
I have used a spray bottle to separate the two, but she keeps stalking the younger cat. The new cat is in a separate room for safety, but I hate to keep her isolated. She is afraid to come out of the room and mingle with the family. Should I be patient or give up? -- P.C., via e-mail
A: Be patient. In fact, that separate room is the best place for the new cat. Outfit it with a place to sleep, a cat box, food and water dishes, and toys and a scratching post. Let her relax in her new environment for a couple of weeks. Don't even try to have the two cats together. Spend time with both in their own areas, and don't feel bad about the new cat -- cats sleep most of the time anyway.
The cats should never be forced together, but when everyone seems to be settled into their own spaces, you can experiment with leaving the door to the bedroom open for increasingly longer periods of time. Let the cats choose how much to interact, and don't get impatient if each chooses to stay put.
Although in some cases cats never will learn to get along, most cats will eventually come to some sort of agreement if allowed to choose introductions at their own speed.
Remember, though, that even cats who get along may not like to share. Separate cat boxes and feeding areas may always be necessary. In fact, when it comes to cat boxes, the rule of thumb is that you should have as many as you have cats, plus one.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Human drugs helping pets
Without being able to use drugs marketed and approved for use in human medicine, veterinarians would not be able to provide the best care for pets.
According to Dr. Duncan Ferguson, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia who specializes in clinical pharmacology, perhaps 90 percent of the drugs commonly used in veterinary practices are human ones, a figure that may come as a surprise to many pet lovers.
Ferguson says veterinarians are allowed to use these drugs because they've been accepted as part of standard practice, based on widespread documentation in research literature, textbooks and other professional forums.
Many pet lovers are amused when they hear about human drugs such as Prozac or Viagra being prescribed to pets, but it's nothing new. There may be differences, however, in why the medication is being used. Prozac, not surprisingly, has been used to treat a variety of pet behavior problems. Viagra, though, is sometimes prescribed in pets not for its commonly known human problem but rather to treat a pulmonary condition.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
PETS ON THE WEB
People, pets share more than love
If I think about all the diseases one can contract from animals -- from rabies to bird flu and more -- it's almost enough to make me want to go pet-free and wrap myself up in plastic. Almost? Well, not really.
But it is pretty mind-boggling how many diseases and parasites can be passed between species. Some basic precautions will keep your family healthier -- people and pets alike. To learn more, visit the Web site of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (www.petsandparasites.org). You can find all you never wanted to know -- and more -- on the subject, plus the information you need to know to keep the nasty stuff at bay.
The site is geared toward the owners of dogs and cats. In a way, that's too bad, because people with less-common pets, especially reptiles and rodents, need to know that their pets can make them sick, too.
Comfortable collar can be stylish, too
Your dog's everyday collar should be a buckled collar, either flat or rolled, made of fabric web or leather. Either a flat collar or a rolled collar will work fine on dogs with short or medium fur, but rolled collars are preferable on dogs with thick, long fur at the neck, such as collies.
Never leave a slip or choke collar on an unsupervised dog -- it's too easy for the moving ring to catch on something and kill your pet.
Fabric web collars are fun because of the incredible variety of colors and patterns, and because some dogs are more apt to chew off a leather collar. Other dogs may find a fabric collar irritating and may do better with leather. As long as the collar is well-made, both sturdy fabric and leather will last for years.
In recent years, quick-snap closures have become popular, especially on flat web collars. And it's easy to see why: Press in at the edges, and the collar's off easily for baths and changing tags. Press the tips together, and snap! It's on again.
Because they are so simply adjusted, web collars with quick-snap closures are ideal for growing puppies. Be sure to adjust it for a correct fit. The collar should be loose enough to work two fingers in between the material and the neck, but tight enough not to slip over a dog's head.
While some people may think that elegant canine collars are a recent development, it's simply not true. Those who can afford it have always put ritzy collars around the necks of their prized canine companions -- gold and silver, pearls and other gems have been part of the society dog's wardrobe for centuries. -- G.S.
BY THE NUMBERS
Dogs and dollars
Pets can be expensive to care for. Not including veterinary costs, here are the 2004 average reported amounts spent on dogs:
Parasite control: $64
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
Keep plants just for cat's pleasure
It's easy to grow an indoor garden for your cat.
Sow a fresh crop of grass seeds every couple of weeks in a wide, shallow planter. Alfalfa, rye and wheat seeds are ideal. You can find seeds from catalogs or nurseries, but be sure to choose those that have not been pretreated with chemicals.
Parsley and thyme are also popular and can be grown indoors for your cat's nibbling pleasure. You can also keep a crop of catnip or valerian on hand. Most people know about the amazing effect catnip has on some cats, but not many people know that valerian is another plant that tickles a cat's fancy. Plant both of these in cat-proof areas, or your pet may pull the seedlings out by the root. After the plant is large enough to stand it, trim off pieces for your cat.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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