How to recognise it
Signs of dog damage in your garden tend to be brown, discoloured patches on lawns, conifers and low lying shrubs. You may find dog faeces (although they are similar to foxes’ excrement so if there isn’t a dog living near you then foxes may be the cause). Some dogs also have a tendency to dig in gardens and can turn a perfect flowerbed into a cratered moonscape!
Why it’s a problem
The main problem caused by dogs in a garden is due to their urine which can kill leaves and lawns. It’s generally most noticeable on lawns where round, browned patches will appear.
Dog faeces are a minor issue for the garden (they can block the sun from lawns and cause dead patches) however the impact on people is more serious. As well as being very unpleasant they pose a health hazard to humans and other pets.
Digging dogs can also be a major nuisance as they will dig up plants in the process.
Where you are likely to find it
Lawns, conifers and low shrubs are most likely to be targeted with urine.
Faeces are most likely to be found on lawns or under shrubs.
Digging can happen anywhere in the garden.
How to deter it
If the dog is yours then training it to use one particular area of the garden to go to the toilet in (possibly a gravelled area if the dog is amenable to this) will isolate the damage.
Where you do not own the dog (for example if front garden plants are being damaged by passing dogs) then low fencing should be sufficient to deter dogs and encourage them to find a new spot. If your garden opens onto neighbouring gardens then a low fence or garden edging around your lawn should be sufficient to put off most dogs, particularly small ones. Using prickly, low growing plants (such as ground cover roses) can also put off canine visitors. Plant vulnerable plants away from pavements and paths.
Chemical deterrents and scaring devices (such as those which emit noises or spray water) may be helpful in the short term and may do enough to change the dog’s behaviour, however they tend to become less effective in the long term.
The digging tendency can be trained out of most dogs. Firstly you need to identify why they are digging: for example to get into next door’s garden where they have a pet rabbit, because the dog is pregnant and seeking shaded shelter, to hide their food or simply because the dog is bored. Once you have worked out why the dog is digging it becomes a lot easier to correct the behaviour and there are plenty of dog training experts who can help you.
How to get rid of it
If you spot the dog ‘in the act’ or urinating on a plant then pour a bucket of water over the affected area immediately afterwards, or turn a garden hose onto it, as diluting the urine should prevent it harming the plants.
If you own the dog then various treatments are available which claim to reduce the damage done by the urine. These are usually added to the dog’s water. We recommend you consult your vet before using any of these products to check they are approved and safe to use.
Dog faeces can be removed relatively easily enough. If you have dogs living nearby, or regularly passing your house, you might find it useful to keep some ‘poo bags’ in stock to remove them. You should try to remove faeces as quickly as possible as some of the infectious agents within them (eg parasites) will continue to breed and therefore it can become more hazardous to health over time.
Is it good for anything?!
Dogs are wonderful companions so, if it’s your dog causing the damage, then you are probably very forgiving. However, they can be no more than a pest if it’s someone else’s dog damaging your garden.
Other useful information
There are plenty of associations which can help you with all aspects of dog behaviour. If you are are an owner then ask your local kennel club or dog training association to recommend a good trainer near you. Your local vet will also be a good source of advice for dog owners. If you are concerned that a stray dog is causing the damage then please contact your local animal shelter or animal protection society. In many countries it is illegal to allow a dog to fowl a public area, so you should contact the police to report anyone who does not clear up after their dog.