You can tell a lot about a dog's personality by the way he digs in your garden.
Take my dogs, for instance. Larry is like Peter Rabbit, with little white paws uprooting a clump of pansies as he shoots mischievous glances over his shoulder to make sure you're watching. Sticky, on the hand, can't stop herself; she digs in a guilty and very neurotic way, as full of self awareness—and self loathing—as a character on Girls.
Normally I like help in the garden—but not from these people. I mean, dogs. Lately I was noticing that whenever I was outdoors digging, so were they. It was driving me crazy. There were mole holes piled up all over the place even though we don't have moles. The digging had to stop.
Now, I don't know about your dogs. But if you tell Larry and Sticky to do something—or to stop doing something—they will pause momentarily, look up quizzically as if they don't speak English (although we know they do, based on the fact that we have to spell out such phrases as "go for a walk," "get your leash," and "do you want some cheese?" to prevent them from going into a frenzy), and then return to whatever they were doing. I think the word for this is "bratty."
They say, however, that little big-eared papillons like Larry and Sticky are highly trainable—papillons have been dubbed "most intelligent of the toy breeds," whatever that means—so I went looking for someone who knows how to persuade them to stop digging. I did some goggling (as my father would say), and learned to my surprise that their bad behavior was my fault:
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Larry aka Peter Rabbit in the garden.
"Your dog needs attention," warned the Humane Society's "Dig This" webpage. "Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you on a daily basis."
At first this seemed sort of ridiculous, given that my dogs get more attention than any other member of the family. They spend about 22 hours a day sitting on someone's lap or sleeping against someone's feet, and the other two hours begging for c-h-e-e-s-e. Dogs are pack animals, and Sticky and Larry are vigilant about keeping a distance of less than two feet between themselves and the nearest human member of their pack.
But then it dawned on me: every time I am in the garden, Larry and Sticky are going to be there too. It's like when you have a baby and for the next five years, that baby is pretty much attached to you. You have to retrofit the house so the baby won't stick a finger in a light socket or fall down a flight of stairs or drink nail polish remover. If you can baby-proof a house, why can't you dog-proof a garden? Make it safer for them, and also more welcoming; turn the place into a veritable Disneyland For Dogs where they will be so amused that they forget to dig. Here are the dog-friendly attractions I added to the garden:
Above: Sticky in the garden. (What's with the tongue?)
No. 1: Give dogs a job. We all like to feel like we have a purpose, and Larry and Sticky keep busy by patrolling the yard. Their job, they believe, is to keep the property safe from squirrels, bumblebees, and the occasional stray leaf that wafts to the ground without permission. To encourage Larry and Sticky to run around the perimeter of the garden where they can't trample plants, we laid paths.
No. 2: Have paw-friendly hardscape in your garden. Our paths are laid with pea gravel, which is comfortable underfoot for Larry and Sticky; no sharp edges and the surface never gets too hot even on sunny days.
No. 3: Make sure you have plenty of "varmints" for them to apprehend. As if. My dogs can barely catch a fly, but they believe they are fearsome squirrel-ers. This myth dates to the time they almost caught a sick, mangy squirrel that they treed in Central Park. This was about two years ago, but Larry and Sticky still talk about it as if it were yesterday. My garden has a lot of plants that attract birds and pollinators. Sticky and Larry spend a ridiculous amount of time bossily trying to run off bees and hummingbirds from the salvia and the roses.
No. 4: Create shady spots. Dogs get hot fast when they run around; you should have a cool shady spot under a tree or an awning where they can lie down and recover from all that hard work.