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This post was originally published on April 19, 2019, and was updated on March 17, 2020.
I’ll never forget the summer morning when I came out to find a nearly perfect tomato on the vine. After babying the tomato plant all season, I finally had my first viable fruit!
I planned for a delicious salad that afternoon, complete with a vine-ripened, still warm from the sun, freshly picked tomato.
I made the salad with fresh veggies from my garden patch—greens, radishes, shredded carrots, and herbs—and then went out to pluck the gorgeous tomato. But I was too late; my dog had got there first.
I learned the hard way that garden twine is not an effective deterrent to keeping determined dogs like Mikey, my black Lab/Springer spaniel mix, out of the garden.
I was annoyed at first, but then I just laughed. Mikey taught me that dogs enjoy fresh tomatoes. Now I know! But there are lots of other good reasons to dog-proof your garden.
Like the time my young Rottweiler had a case of the zoomies on my freshly planted, but unfenced, bean patch. I had just spent all afternoon prepping and planting those seeds and left for a few minutes to get a rake in the garage, and there she was, gleefully running through everything.
And even when nothing’s planted yet, somehow fresh soil attracts dogs like cats to a sandbox, and I’ve found more than one steaming pile waiting for me in the morning. Composted manure in the garden is great for plants, but fresh dog (or cat) feces are a big “no” when it comes to gardens. (And a stinky pain to get off your shoes, too.)
Of course, lots of dogs love to dig, and some dogs even eat dirt, so if you want to protect your precious plants from your pack, dog-proof garden fencing is the way to go.
As an added benefit, a well-constructed dog proof garden fence can keep out other unwanted visitors such as rabbits, raccoons, skunks, or squirrels, depending on the material (and if they can climb it), and even your backyard chickens (who can decimate a garden with their pecking and scratching in no time flat).
A “No Pooping” sign would come in handy if more dogs could read. But my dogs never learned, so I sometimes use pet-friendly, humane dog and cat garden repellents around ornamental plants, particularly plants my dog likes to chew on. Depending on the weather, however, these can be hit or miss.
When growing vegetables, you want a sure thing, and dog-proof garden fencing is the best, most reliable option. I’ve learned that most dogs, regardless of breed, will respect a 24-inch barrier. If your dog is particularly active, athletic, or a giant breed, 30–36 inches should do it.
Here’s how to make a dog-proof fence at home:
- Decide what material you want for the fence. This can be a roll of inexpensive chicken wire at the garden store, or pre-fab a wooden lattice panel.
Framed trellis panels that are often used as tall supports for climbing vines make great fences when placed longways around a garden and supported with posts.
Wire mesh “rabbit guard” fencing is one of my favorites for protecting my garden. The wire mesh is more closely spaced at the bottom of the roll, so rabbits and other small garden-wreckers have a much harder time squeezing through.
Chicken wire, aka poultry netting, is made of thinner wire than other types of fencing. It’s easier to shape to meet your needs, but it can be frustrating to wrestle with if you want to protect a large area. My favorite use for chicken wire is to staple it to an existing wooden fencepost (or wire it to a metal one) to keep small animals from passing through.
- Measure your garden length and width. You’ll want to get support stakes or posts to hold the fence up. Plan on one post every four feet. Get posts that are six to eight inches taller than your fence, so they can be firmly set in the soil. Step in fiberglass posts are easy and inexpensive, or you can get metal posts or wooden stakes—wooden stakes are best if your fencing material is wood.
- Take a trip to your local home and garden store with your list of materials needed:
- Wire or lattice material
- Posts or stakes
- Fence clips or zip ties to attach the fence to the post; or, if using wood materials, wood screws
- Paint, if you’re using wooden lattice, or some surveyor’s flagging tape for wire (to help it be more visible to your dog)
- If your soil is compacted or rocky, some crushed gravel to help stabilize posts
- At home, it’s time to get to work. Set the stakes/posts first. If your soil is very rocky, dig out the hole first (rather than trying to pound the stake in), set the post, then backfill with some medium size crushed gravel.
- Once the posts are set, unroll your chicken wire and begin attaching (whether that’s with a staple gun, screws, nails or other kind of fastener all depends on the materials you’ve chosen for your fence) it to the posts. It’s helpful to have an extra set of hands at this stage—someone to hold up the fencing and provide some tension as you attach it to the post.
- Attach the fence firmly to the post—usually at the top of the fencing, the middle, and again at the bottom, pulling it as tight as possible between posts.
- Once you’ve attached the fence to the posts, you’re ready to start planting!
They’re more expensive, but if you’re not the DIY type and still need to keep critters out of your garden, you can buy some ready-made fencing and dog-proofing products.
For raised beds or smaller breeds, CritterGuard panels are quite nice. Or you can buy an entire enclosure, a setup that will be the envy of all your neighbors. Removable panels are nice for making fall cleanup and spring prep easier, but keeping the fence up year-round teaches your dog that the boundary is permanent.
Speaking of learning, part of dog gardening is making sure your dog understands and respects the barrier. That includes no digging at the base of the fence and not marking the fence (for male dogs). This is where safe and natural garden repellent for pets comes in handy.
When choosing a fence style, make sure there are no sharp edges or decorative spikes that could injure your dog. Also, be sure the fence is easy to see. A dark metal or even chicken wire can become “invisible” depending on what’s growing behind it, and a dog playing with her ball can run right into it by accident.
For a DIY chicken wire or wire mesh fence, weave some blue or yellow (the two colors dogs see best ) surveyors tape along the top and middle of the fence. For picket fences, you can use blue or yellow paint to make sure your dog sees it.