QUESTION: My new home has a redwood fence around it, and I am afraid my dog might dig under it and escape. My last house had a cinder block fence that kept my dog safe. Are there any low, small hedge plants or perennials with thorns that I might plant along the fence to deter digging?
ANSWER: Dog behaviorist David Reinecker recommends you try to figure out why your dog wants out before deciding how to try to keep him in. Is it that he gets bored? Is he looking for a mate or is he just dying to get at the cat next door? Is it separation anxiety? Does it happen just once in a while, or is it a constant problem?
If the problem is persistent and the dog very determined, a hedge of cactus wouldn't keep him in. "If he really wants to escape, he'll find a way," Reinecker says. "Thorns might slow a dog down a bit," agrees Dr. Margarita Abelos, a veterinarian at Brentwood Pet Clinic in West Los Angeles, "but they're merely an inconvenience." And, she adds, they can create other problems, such as sore paws, scrapes and corneal ulcers.
For these little Houdinis, Reinecker and Abelos recommend installing concrete blocks under your fence to a depth of at least a couple of feet. Abelos says she has seen success with electronic invisible fences, a less expensive option in which a device sends a shock to the dog's collar when he ventures past a set perimeter (several companies make them). But Reinecker says he has seen them backfire, scaring a dog from re-crossing the invisible line to return home.
Planting a dense, low hedge along the fence may persuade a generally content dog to enjoy his own garden rather than looking for fun at the neighbor's. Santa Monica-based garden designer Lisa Moseley recommends corokia, a dense evergreen shrub with contorted, zig-zag branches and tiny daisy-like flowers that bloom in the spring. Or try Pittosporum crassifolium 'Compactum,' a lovely plant with gray-green leaves that remains short — as high as about 3 feet and about just as wide.
Other shrubs that might ward off wanderlust by the mass of their branches are miniature olives, such as 'Little Ollie,' and Teucrium chamaedrys, a foot-high evergreen that flowers purple or white in the summer.
Abelos and Reinecker, however, think you'll have better success treating the behavior than putting up a barrier. Reinecker offers these tips:
Find the source of the problem then try to modify or remove it.
Give your dog plenty of daily exercise.
Make sure nobody who lives or works in the house or garden hurts or scares your dog, making his home an unfriendly place.
Try shaking a can of coins (a tried-and-true training tip) to startle your dog when he gets close to the fence or hire a behaviorist to train your dog to steer clear of it.
And if your dog is anxious, try to calm him naturally. "White noise — tapes of ocean sounds, for example — can keep a dog calm," Reinecker says. "And I sometimes use aromatherapy."
So, plant a hedge of lavender instead of thorny roses.
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