If you and your dog are anything like Izzy and I, you’re itching for winter’s gray skies to give way to a sunny spring. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area gardens are getting started and I have a new idea for our space. This year I’m considering something new: A sensory garden just for Jack and Izzy! Follow these quick tips to create a safe and beautiful spot for your dog to sniff, chew, roll, and explore.
Add some aromatics. Stimulate your dog’s nose with aromatic and snuffable rosemary and sage. IMPORTANT: Some plants can be toxic for pets, so be sure to keep them away from chewers or to consult the ASPCA’s Toxic Plants List before planting.
Include a daily dose of greens. Contrary to myth, most dogs nibble grass because it’s tasty, not because they feel sick. If your dog loves a grassy treat, a pot of alfalfa, wheat, oat, barley, or rye grass will add a thick splash of bright green to your garden and provide a yummy spot for your dog to graze. Be sure to buy seed packaged to be grown for pets.
Play treat hide-n-seek. Garden sculptures and benches are a great place to hide treats for your dog to discover. Be obvious about the first few hiding places until your dog catches on to the game and be sure they are all found before nightfall, so as not to lure in curious wild critters.
Tickle their toes. Mulch your garden paths with soft straw, bumpy wood chips (or both) so your pup can roll and nose about while experiencing different textures on their paws. As the straw breaks down, use it to mulch around plants and replace it with fluffy new piles. Avoid cocoa mulch: it is toxic to dogs and cats.
Give them all the feels with a digging pit. If your dog loves a good roll in the dirt, put an old tire to good use as a pit where your dog can exercise digging skills. They’ll enjoy hot sand on top, cool sand beneath, lots of fun smells, and of course – flying sand everywhere!
Dazzle your dog with yellows and blues. Your dog sees these colors best, and there are all sorts of pet-friendly beautiful flowers that come in those hues.
Include outdoor music and movement. Water fountains, birds at feeders, soft wind chimes and fun wind-driven whirligigs all add new intriguing sounds and surprising movement.
Help your dog climb to new heights. Create a winding pathway so your dog can visit the interior of the garden rather than being banished to the boundary. Send your dog up a step-garden of different plateaus or a hilly rock garden to survey their backyard kingdom.
Brush your dog’s sides with tall grasses. Consider leaving a section of your yard unmowed. Tall grass is wildlife-friendly and gives you and your dog something to walk through and feel the light brushing of the grass leaves. Just make sure to check for ticks regularly, as these are favorite havens for them and other wildlife as well.
Have fun selecting plants but be safe! If you’re not sure what something is, download the plant-identifier app, LeafSnap, and then look them up on the ASPCA webpage of toxic and non-toxic plants on your smartphone to double-check your purchases. It’s mobile-friendly!