How To Keep Dog Away From Your Garden

This is a subject about which I can personally relate! What could possibly be more disconcerting than to witness a neighbor’s un-tethered, undisciplined, digging, rampaging, club-footed dog (or multiples thereof) tearing through weeks or months’ worth of hard work, time, and care — not to mention expense — wreaking havoc in your flower beds?

What could be worse than stepping in a fresh mound of doggie-poop on the way to your own, private, once-relaxing, and inspiring garden nook? Broken branches trounced bedding plants, ripped-up or totally dead patches of lawn, broken labels, even threatened guests — all too common in these days of measurably lowered levels of neighborly responsibility — even in rural areas.

How To Keep Dog Away From Your Garden

This time I thought I’d share something on the topic of how do I keep dogs out of my garden and flower beds? Brief and somewhat lacking in detail, to be sure — but because I’ve been there — this one struck a deep and resounding chord!

Leashes and Train the Dog

Unleashed, undisciplined, and untrained dogs of all sizes have been the exasperating and frustrating bane of gardeners since the two hobbies were aligned centuries ago.

Fences and leashes seem to be the most effective, though some gardeners have been driven to near insanity and have been known to employ sticks, whips, shotguns, traps, and poisons as (unacceptable) alternatives. Even I was tempted to employ a rather sharp spade on the toothed-end of a challenging and threatening dog intrusion a couple of years ago.

I’ve trained our retriever, Willy, to walk only on the paths and relieve himself only away from the garden — back in the weeds and woods.

Visitors to our more-or-less public gardens are always impressed — sometimes amazed — at how he never sets foot on tilled earth, even to retrieve a ball or toy thrown there.

Several have visitors asked, “Can you teach my dog to do that?” He was 3 years old when I introduced the concept of unconditional love and unquestioned obedience, and this phase of his training was complete in less than a week.

(Willy had been roughly treated as a young dog, then generally neglected during his second and third year, when we found him. If this pitiful wretch — his condition when we first met him — could learn, any dog can learn. Willy is gone, now.

Now, a neighbor’s dog, that’s an animal with a different wag. While you can’t train him (I mean the dog and not the neighbor; well, maybe the neighbor could be trained), you can make your garden environment very unpleasant — from a dog’s point of view.

Using Aerosol Sprays To Repel Dogs

Dogs are attracted to just about anything that smells, doesn’t matter they are foul, rotten, or really unpleasant to humans. Like dog poop, urine, persistent residues, or anything dead or its persistent residues, you probably get the picture (and, consequently, the answer to your question).

On the other hand, those objectionable and tenaciously persistent odors might (and I emphasize might) be masked by an equally strong and persistent odor of clean and fresh, but nothing that smells of food (virtually anything except tar, metal, plastic, or glass).

Most large pet stores sell (at outrageous prices) a citrus-based spray that stands the best chance of maybe (emphasizing maybe) discourage a dog that’s generally more mentally challenged than the average canine.

They detest the odor of citrus (try offering a piece of orange or lemon peel to a dog and witness for yourself the immediate revulsion). Most large pet shops and well-stocked garden centers carry aerosol sprays of citrus — or with a citrus-like component — for use in repelling dogs (and occasionally) cats. While pricey and only temporary (rain or sprinkling washes it off and time weakens its effect), the material will at least discourage most average dogs.

Constructing Electric Fence

A carefully constructed and well-tended electric fence would also act as a deterrent to dogs — as well as larger, less-domesticated animals. Ours is a 30-mile Agway charging unit on a quarter-mile of wire. Very hot; very effective.

While originally installed to prevent browsing by vast herds of deer, it has occluded wandering dogs as well. (Speaking of electric fences, I’ve discovered what has, for the past several years, been a totally effective design that is no taller than 36-inches. . .one which no deer has ever stepped across. Two moose tore it down the first winter, but deer won’t come near it! Here’s Fred’s design of a highly successful deer fence—it works for those big dogs, too!)

Complain to Local Animal Control Officers

Back to the subject of uncontrolled dogs, most communities have “leash-laws” — though they’re rarely enforced — and animal control officers. You might consider contacting your local authority and letting them know a problem exists.

You’re paying their (albeit meager) stipend…why not use their services? A local or regional “campaign” to tactfully encourage pet owners to accept responsibility for their dog’s or cat’s (or multiples thereof) actions and influence on the rights and turf of others might also have a long-term impact on the quality of your (and your community’s) gardens and property — if not the personal safety of you and your family.

The trick, of course, is to somehow convince the dog-owner — and the authorities, if all else fails — that a problem, threat, or annoyance exists. No simple task in some cases.

Even after all that’s been said, I could write volumes about dog-owners who, under the guise of “exercising” their pets, allow them to wander with impunity and indiscretion about the yards of neighbors – can you believe it. . .neighbors. . .befouling paths, disfiguring shrubs and destroying patches of lawn.

Someone recently proposed a nickel deposit and refund on cigarette butts; how about a fine for every dog-poop not cleaned from a neighbors premises, or an enforced law allowing recovery of the cost of repairing damage to personal property by irresponsible pet owners? That would stir some controversy!

Constructing An Effective Fence To Curb Dogs and Deers

I would love to further discuss how to build an effective dog fence that is really working to curb dogs, deers, and other large animals to go into my garden.

All those nibbling, browsing, tromping-around deer! All those big, really stupid, club-footed, urine-spattering—and sometimes snarling—dogs. We don’t want either deer or someone else’s uncontrolled and untrained dogs to come into our gardens and sabotage our crops!

So…what’s to be done? Shall we throw our hands up in defeat and frustration? Or shall we fight back? (!) Not being quitters, we decided to do something to keep both types of critters out of our gardens and propagating beds. Here’s our solution: a short, not-terribly expensive and, so far, completely effective electric fence——one that really works!

First, understand that any deer worth his or her salt can stand on one side of an electrified wire fence six feet tall and, with little effort literally pop straight up into the air, clear the top wire…and land on the other side—with no more consequence than the expenditure of a few calories.

But… and this is a big but—they simply cannot (from a standing start) leap up a little over three feet, go across another three feet…and land safely on the other side.

Mine is a double fence….spaced three feet apart and only three feet tall. Remarkably, those seemingly stupid deer are smart enough to instinctively know they can’t jump the horizontal distance…and also know that they don’t want to get caught between the two sets of wires.

And, thankfully, they’re just stupid enough to not be able to reason out that if they backed off and got a running start they could actually make the leap successfully.

Fact is, they’ll often slowly approach the outer wires, get to within a couple of feet, stop, sniff the air and curl their upper lip, then turn and walk away…because the charger on our fence is really hot (a thirty-mile fence charger on about a quarter-mile of wire). They sense the electrical field even before they touch it. Deterrent enough, most of the time.

deer fence

The stakes are metal for durability so insulators are necessary to keep the wires away from shorting out. Stay away from flimsy plastic or fiberglass rods. They just don’t hold up.

Four-foot stakes are driven in about a foot in a double row approximately three feet apart, every fifteen or twenty feet—all around the area to be protected. An insulator is installed about 18″ from the ground, with a second at the top of each stake (or at 36″ high if the stakes are taller than needed).

deer fence insulation

That makes gaps of about a foot and a half between the two wires. Most farm supply stores sell devices that can be used to create insulated gates. They’ll tell you how to install them. The picture below, on the right, shows fence insulators.

deer fence gate

That may be the only “flaw” in my system. In that condition, any really large animal (like a moose or wayward cow, for example, blunders into—and through—the fence, it’ll get tangled in wires and probably pull several sets of posts right out of the ground. Not making several turns of wire around the insulator…but rather letting it just pass through will allow the wire to stretch, eventually, break…without jerking stakes out of the ground.

Moose, by the way, seem to know little about the dangers of electrical jolts; it just seems to make them mad…and they keep going in a straight line. So, when a moose rips it down or all apart…that’s when to throw your hands up in defeat!

What about dogs? To make the fence work for (or against) medium to large size dogs, use three wires a foot apart, the lowest one a foot off the ground. Most dogs are intelligent enough to quickly learn that getting too close to a piece of colored wire is not the comfortable thing to do.

Words of caution:

You’ll need to keep the weeds, grass, and tree or shrub limbs trimmed away. Yes…I know there are “weed-burner” fence chargers but you won’t want to be responsible for starting a grass or forest fire…or be responsible for the cost of putting it out.

NEVER attach regular AC house current directly to an electric fence! Purchase an approved electric fence charger from your local hardware or farm supply store instead. Killing or severely injuring animals—wildlife, domesticated pets, or humans—can land you in serious trouble with the authorities. It can also be the flash-point for the beginning of a never-ending (if not bloody) feud between previously friendly neighbors.

ALWAYS attach brightly-colored warning signs to wires all along the run. They’re cheap…and if they’re not required by law, they should be.

You might also warn your youngsters (especially boys) that it’s not wise to relieve one’s self anywhere near one of those hot wires! It hurts just thinking about it!

When the fence is finally ready to turn on, it’d be a good idea to hang small pieces of aluminum foil or non-rusted tin from the middle and top wires—smeared with a dollop of cheap peanut butter. Deer cannot resist it…and can detect the tempting odor from quite a distance.

The result: they concentrate on the odor of something good to eat instead of the electric field, walk right up to the irresistible delicacy, stick out their tongues, get zapped in a really sensitive spot…then leap back and run off into the woods or neighbor’s yard. It may not work for some dogs…but I’ve never seen one who’ll turn its nose up at peanut butter.

You’ll have to watch for fallen limbs, built-up snow that grounds out the bottom wire during winter, and anything that can electrically bridge the gap between a “hot” wire and the metal stakes. Like a big, wet slug or caterpillar.

One final note: It’d be best to install the fence before the deer establish their feeding habits or preferred trails. And if a deer somehow gets inside…you’re in trouble. Open the gate, don’t frighten the animal, walk slowly around to the outside until you’re opposite the now-open gate, cross through and try (try) to steer it out the gate.

Does it work every time all the time? Well….a qualified yes. Occasionally a deer—terrified by oncoming, horn-blowing traffic on the road out front—will come charging off the road in the dark, now blinded by car headlights, and literally run through the fence. Can’t do much about that. And once—only once, mind you—a particularly nimble-footed and clever deer actually stepped between the wires. We had to show it the way out.