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Sharing your life with a four-legger can mean lots of changes to your lifestyle. This is especially true if you are a keen gardener or have prized houseplants in the home. While it's normal for dogs to eat grass and snack on greenery, if his choice of salad is your favorite yucca plant then you'll be less than impressed.
But snacking on shrubbery has another, potentially more dangerous side. A surprising number of ordinary house and garden plants are toxic to dogs. For the sake of your garden and the health of your canine companion, nipping his natural tendencies in the bud is essential.
For the dog, eating a plant is a self-rewarding habit. Any behavior which is rewarded (even by self-gratification) can be tricky to unlearn, therefore you need to give your pet pal a helping hand. This means a combination of removing temptation from his path, along with giving a clear and consistent response when he does attempt to chew a plant.
Always use reward-based methods. While shouting or smacking the dog may seem tempting, it only teaches the dog to be fearful of you and become devious, so he only chews plants when you're not watching.
As with all dog training, consistency is key. Make sure all family members are involved and know exactly how to respond when the situation calls for action.
You will need:
- Shelving on which to place house plants
- A favorite squeaky toy
- Tasty treats
- A Ssscat Spray or empty tin cans to booby trap the plants
The Reduce Temptation Method
House plants above head height
Reduce temptation by keeping things away from the dog. Rearrange your living space so potted plants are up off the floor and well above the dog's head. Shelves, bookcases, a mantel shelf, or even hooks to hang baskets from are all good options.
Trim hanging vines
If you have hanging plants with trailing limbs, trim them back so they don't dangle and taunt the dog.
Spritz foliage with lemon oil
Dogs dislike strong citrus smells (think citronella anti-bark collars). Consider spritzing the plants with lemon oil, to make them unpalatable to canines.
Raised flower beds
Consider a spot of garden redesign, using raised flower beds to make access more difficult for small dogs.
Fence off flower borders
Sometimes the obvious answer is the simplest.
During retraining, avoid leaving the dog unsupervised around plants. If necessary, crate train the dog for those times when you just can't be there.
The 'Leave It' Method
Understand the idea
Wouldn't it be nice if the dog came away from the plant when you told him! This is what the 'leave it' command teaches.
Focus the dog's interest
Hold a treat inside a loose fist. Show the fist to the dog and let him sniff for the treat.
Reward the dog for looking away
The dog will nose and paw at the fist, but will eventually break contact and look away. The moment he looks away, open your hand to let him have the treat and say "Leave It!" Repeat. The idea is the dog learns that looking away from the first earns the treat.
Make it more tricky
Once he's regularly leaving the first, try doing the same but with the treat held between a finger and thumb. One he's mastered this, place the treat on the floor and anchor it with one finger. When he looks away on the 'leave it' command, let him have the treat
And trickier still...
Now have the dog on a loose lead. Place a treat on the floor, just out of his reach. Have him 'leave it' and reward him when he does just that. Now practice with treats on the floor around the house.
The Remote Punishment Method
Understand the idea
If super-spooky things happen when the dog approaches the plant, he'll soon learn to keep his distance. The trick here is to have the 'punishment' happen as if by magic, so the dog links the unpleasant experience to the plant rather than to you.
Position a Ssscat can of compressed air near the plant. Ssscat is motion activated and spritzes the dog with an unpleasant blast of air as he approaches the plant. This is usually scary enough to discourage all but the most determined plant eaters.
Booby trap the plant
For a houseplant on a coffee table, try stacking empty cans around the plant. The idea being that if the dog nudges one of the cans, they'll fall and make an unpleasant rattling noise.
An unpleasant noise
Make a rattle by putting pebbles in an empty plastic bottle. Hide so that the dog can't see you. As he approaches the plant, toss the rattle to land beside him (NOT to hit him) so it makes an unpleasant jangling sound that puts him off his stride. When the dog believes something horrid happens each time he approaches, he'll soon stay away.
A mysterious soaking
Conceal yourself so the dog can't see you. Have a powerful water pistol to hand. When the dog makes to eat the plant, squirt him so that the sudden soaking appears to be an act of God.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/13/2021