Let me say right off, that if you don’t want to spend time with your dog, then I don’t have any ideas for you. Dogs are not home decor. They need interaction of varying sorts. If the dog belongs to someone else in the household, hopefully your relationship with the dog owner includes mutual concern for each other’s property. If so, there may a way for a cooperative approach. Finally, I am not an expert on all dogs. Your dog will likely have quirks and strengths that my dog doesn’t. You are the person in the best position to evaluate that and creatively apply any ideas.
Here is my short, practical list of ideas that should help you keep your dog from ruining your garden:
1. Treat your dog like a companion. That means spend a significant amount of time with it. A dog that feels a bond responds much better to training.
2. Find a good training approach. I ended up using the Koehler Method, which is taught in my area (near Boise, Idaho) by Scotch Pines Dog Training. If you want to do it yourself, the very practical book, The Koehler Method of Dog Training, written by Mr. Koehler, now available on kindle. It is as much about training the owner as the dog.
3. Spend time out in the yard with your dog. This is an extension of the first item. The point is, you can’t expect your dog to know how to act in a certain environment if you are not there regularly to train it.
4. Train with purpose and firmness, but not with rage. If the dog is feeling your superior position, that is fine; however, if all it can think about is whether or not it is going to die, it might not pick up on the lesson right. That being said, there are times when instilling a high level of fear is what it takes, like when my husband had to tackle and body slam my dog to get her to stop eating the sprinkler heads every time they activated. It only took doing that about twice and she never did it again.
5. If you desire a certain behavior, consistency is necessary. Lack of consistency prompts the dog to keep looking for that one time that it can get away with something.
6. Exercise your dog. A dog that doesn’t get good exercise gets pent up and acts crazy when let loose. Sure, it might act crazy sometimes anyway, but this will happen less if it can let off steam in a healthy way.
7. Have clear, short commands. Refer to item 2. One command I use with my dog is “That’s far enough.” It is admittedly on the long side for number of words, but she knows that she hasn’t done something wrong, she just needs to not proceed further in that direction. It is different from “stop”, because I developed it when wanting her to use a certain area of the yard for her latrine.
8. Similarly, know what you are going to do if a command is disregarded or a behavior displayed. This helps the dog learn and helps you take control of the situation.
9. Go in attendance when your dog needs to relieve itself. Do this as long as it takes until it appears the dog understands the borders where this is allowed.
10. Clean up dog messes regularly. This keeps the dog from having to branch out into new territory for this issue. This is one of the chores that supports my hypothesis that every activity we like comes with some unpleasant or tedious factor that needs to be done. One of my sons gave me one of those special rake and long handled bin sets for “pet waste removal” a year ago. This is not the exact model I have, but just like it: Four Paws Large Dog Rake Set I would have never bought it myself, thinking it was just an unnecessary extra tool. Now, I recommend them. It really makes this job easier is several ways, not the least of which are that it is significantly better than using a plain shovel and it doesn’t tweak my wrist the same way.
11. Have regular pathways in your yard, especially through areas that might otherwise block the dog from convenient access. These don’t have to be fancy. I have some that are of inexpensive pavers that go through a large garden area in a sunny center of the back yard. My dog uses them all the time.
12. Have defined borders on landscaped areas the dog should not go into. Again, it can be just an edge to the lawn or walkway, but it has to be recognizable.
13. Don’t have the dog retrieve from the garden areas even while playing, like if you accidentally throw the ball or frisbee into a flower bed. In these cases, a simple “no” or “stop” usually worked for me if she instinctively began to run. Then, I could retrieve the item and be more careful next time. If she didn’t listen, she would get disciplined back to the spot where she should have responded.
14. If you give the dog a bone or chewy things, watch for a while to see what it does with it, then respond if needed. Lack of supervision until good habits are ingrained is one of the main reasons for lack of progress.
15. Do not discipline the dog for being a good dog. For instance, if it sees another dog coming into the yard and rushes over to confront the intruder where it stands, this is not a bad thing. Your dog is doing its job and protecting its territory and your property. Similarly, if another dog is aggressive toward your dog, make allowances for it not being quite as careful about where it steps. Mostly, though, if trained it will probably be careful to its own detriment. I have seen my dog try to wrestle and run with a visiting dog that was somewhat larger than she and which did not know the boundaries. The visiting dog tore through everything and gained considerable advantage quickly, which caused my dog some stress. In this case, I stopped them, both because of my garden and my dog! If it had been an uninvited and mean dog, I would have called my dog to come into the house with me, which I am 99% sure she would obey.
16. Check up on your dog’s habits once in a while. We can all use a bit of booster training to keep us on our toes.
If you do these things, I predict you will not have to resort to odd smelling substances or long periods of having your dog caged. Think of your dog like a toddler who never grows up, and it may help you gain the perspective you need. Similarly, show it loving limits, and it in return will love to be with you and do what makes you happy.