Should gardens have separate areas for dogs to relieve themselves, even if the dog has access to the whole garden?  I was asked this question by a garden designer and it left me pondering.

Her client has a, quite large, gravelled area by the back door for this purpose which they want to retain when the garden is re-designed.   The designer would like incorporate the area into her plans for the whole garden.

If you can manage to train your dog to specifically use one area, then there are benefits.  There is no need to go all over the garden to pick up after them, just go to the area and tidy up and the job is done.

However, training a dog to use a specific area is quite hard and can lead to problems when the dog is away from home.  What if the dog associates the chosen surface with where (s)he relieves himself?  If that surface is not available does the dog think that it should “hold on” until that surface becomes available, however inconvenient this might be?  This could be quite a problem if you were away from home for a few days.  Certainly some dogs are more particular about where they relieve themselves than others.  Bitches seem to be worse, dogs are frequently happy to lift their leg on any available object, presumably to leave a record of their presence in the area.

So is it a human concept to have a toilet area?  Somehow it just seems “right” that there should be one.  The idea of human toilets came from our concentrated style of living in urban situations.  Long long ago, people were no where near as fastidious as we are today, but it was only when they came together to live in towns and cities that disease occurred and the idea of toilets became necessary.

Even in urban situations, the canine population is no where near as great as the human one, and it is typically isolated from its comrades by the fences that surround our gardens.  Certainly dogs in the wild would just “go” whenever they felt the need.  I can see the attraction of having a small area to patrol, but if you pick up at least daily, there should be no health hazard caused by not having a specific area.  Disposal of canine waste is covered in a separate article.

Certainly in my garden, there are certain places where the dogs choose to “go” more than others.  These places vary according to the season and how full of plants the borders are.    That said, because there is a reasonable area for the dogs to access, the plants do not appear to suffer at all from this aspect of sharing the garden with the dogs.  Because the dogs find a great deal of interest in all parts of the garden, it tends to mean that they do not concentrate on any particular one and so the concentration is spread.  I do find that my paths tend to be a favourite place as they are on the route from A to B, but since they are all hard paths, they can easily be scrubbed down.

For the gardener, there is one key benefit to having to pick up after ones dogs.  On a daily basis, you are examining every inch of your garden – you will notice the daily changes in plants.  The most obvious is in the early part of the year as plants are they bulbs and herbaceous plants regrowing, but at other times of the year there is much to see too.  You will notice which plants need dead heading or pruning back, you may notice signs of disease that need to be quickly nipped in the bud.

Whilst I can totally understand why people may wish to have a canine toilet area, for me, the space in my garden is far too precious to allow a specific area to be set aside.

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