How to Make a Sensory Garden for Dogs?
Are you wondering how to make a sensory garden for your dog?
What exactly is a sensory garden, anyway? What benefits can your dog get from this new garden of yours?
Sensory gardens have been shown to be particularly beneficial for sheltered or traumatized, reactive dogs that aren’t able to get proper enrichment!
How to Make a Sensory Garden for Dogs
Imagine your dog’s individual breed and personality.
What was his breed bred to accomplish?
This is probably going to reflect on your pet’s unique desires.
Try and cater your sensory garden toward your dog’s individual personality!
A few popular examples include:
Labradors descend from dogs bred to assist Canadian fisherman, and often love to swim!
Poodles and various types of Retrievers were bred to retrieve small game for the hunter!
Jack Russell Terriers and Beagles were bred to track & chase small game!
Poodles were bred for water retrieval!
Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes were bred to pull loads/sleds for their owners!
Border Collies and German Shepherd Dogs were bred to assist shepherds and herd livestock!
Step One: Planning
Planning is the very first step when making a sensory garden for dogs!
Plan your designs and spaces ahead of time so you aren’t lost in the middle of this project.
- Where will your sensory garden for dogs be, and how much space will it require?
- Do you have a theme or end picture in mind?
- What kinds of plants or objects will stimulate your dog’s individual senses the best?
- You want to stimulate smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing. How will you best do this?
- You want to appeal to smell in particular- a dog’s strongest sense.
Sensory Garden Plants Might Include:
- Chamomile and lavender: May have calming effects
- Rosemary and mint: May have energizing effects
- Various grasses: Many will offer ‘roughage’ that are believed to aid in a dog’s digestion
- Lemon balm: Also, may have energizing effects
- Birch: May help with inflammation or discomfort
- Catnip: Offers relaxing properties
Textures Might Include:
- Various grasses
- Wood chips
- Mud (be wary of tracking, however)
Dog Sensory Garden Activities Could Include:
- Raised levels for climbing
- A sand box or digging pit
- A small pool or pond
- A winding trail for exploration
- Small animal/bird feeder to attract outside animals for added entertainment
- Hollow log for hiding toys/treats
- Wooden stumps or logs offer natural agility obstacles!
Make sure any fencing surrounding your garden is both intact and secure!
Depending on your dog breed, you may need to cement in the base of your fence line to prevent digging.
Step Two: Build!
Now you can begin building your masterpiece!
Make sure all of your supplies are ready. Take things slowly, setting up a piece at a time. You might want to draw a floorplan or layout of what you want your final sensory garden to look like.
Many people rearrange their gardens over time, so it might be a good idea to ensure you don’t add materials that can’t be removed.
If you do wish to add permanent fixtures, such as a patio, pond, or walkway, add these designs first.
A Sandbox for Digging
Many dogs absolutely love to dig! This is a very instinctual behavior, and dogs do it for several reasons. The most prominent reason dogs love to dig is very simple- to bury things!
Dogs retain the instinct to bury valuables so other predators (which could mean you or other animals) don’t seal them.
Wild wolves will often bury valuables, such as leftover food, so other animals aren’t able to eat their prize.
This is also a way to work off excess energy!
If you do devote an area to digging…
… try to encourage digging in that area by relating prizes, games, or plenty of cheer.
Discourage digging in other areas.
How Do a Dog’s Senses Work?
Unlike us humans, dogs are predatory animals, descended from Grey wolves.
Each of their main senses, hearing, sight, and smell, have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years (since the first wolves arrived during the Pleistocene period) to augment their hunting abilities!
Dogs aren’t completely color blind like we once thought but can see shades of blue and yellow.
While they’re able to discern small, rapid movements of distant prey, our dogs don’t have good visual acuity and can’t see the same distance we can clearly.
Things are blurry.
Dogs can see objects in low light better than we humans can, but still can’t see in complete darkness.
This is probably an evolutionary advantage helping them hunt at dusk.
The various sights in your sensory garden can be as complex or simplistic as you want!
While our dogs do rely on their vision, this isn’t nearly as important as smell.
Aesthetic beauty here may be more important to our human eyes than a dog’s.
A few things to keep in mind are:
- Dogs can see in shades of blue and yellow. They are blind to reds and greens, or rather see them as other shades.
- Your dog’s visual acuity is not as good as yours. They can’t see far away objects as clearly as you can, so try to make attractions close to each other.
- Your dog can see better in low light (dusk/dawn) than you can. While our dogs can’t see in complete darkness, you don’t need an overwhelmingly bright spotlight at night!
- Your dog can see rapidly moving objects, or discern rapid movements, faster than you can.
All dogs have an insanely strong sense of smell! This will do a great number of things for them, but two of the most obvious would be their hunting & tracking advantage.
- Not only do our dogs have millions more olfactory receptors than we do, but the portion of their brains also devoted to scents is larger than ours.
- Their noses (assuming you don’t care for a brachycephalic/ flat faced dog) are built for this.
- They even have an additional organ we don’t have for discerning various scents!
You could say your dog sees the world through his nose! By gathering scent information, your pup is able to create a mental image, sort of like what we see with our eyes.
You really want your sensory garden to contain as many scents as possible!
Make this into a scent wonderland!
How many different things can you include in your sensory garden for dogs?
These don’t have to be strong scents because our dogs can easily smell things, we could never even hope to be able to.
Think “how many can I include”, not “how strong can I make them”.
Dogs are much more sensitive to sounds than humans, able to hear quieter or higher pitched noises.
Just imagine how this would benefit a wolf hunting a small rabbit darting across the leaf covered forest floor.
Dog Walking & Enrichment in the Outside Environment
In a way, the entire outdoor environment is like your dog’s sensory garden, offering wonderful enrichment! Walks are enriching as long as dogs are able to use their senses (i.e. smell) to experience nature.
Though exercise is great, most dogs don’t love the average walk because they get exercise. They love walks because walks give them a chance to immerse themselves amidst several new sights, smells, and sounds!
Your sensory garden should be like this, allowing your dog to immerse himself in a multitude of outside stimuli. Imagine how wondrous that walk through a zoo as a child was for you, and amplify it!
Your dog may choose to use the sand pit as a toilet, so ensure it always remains clean!
Other Activities to Stimulate Your Dog
Enrichment activities are natural or instinctual activities that stimulate a dog’s senses.
This could include socialization at a dog park, digging, a nature walk/hike, tracking or scent work, food puzzle games that force a dog to use his nose, etc.
What was your dog bred for?
What was the breed originally bred to do?
- Scent work or/and tracking activities are especially wonderful for scent hounds!
- Herding games like Treibball (link to other article) are especially great for herding breeds!
- Urban Mushing activities offer fantastic exercise for Nordic breeds like Malamutes or Huskies!
- Games like Fetch are wonderful for retrieval breeds (many hunting dogs fall in this category)!
Remember to design your sensory garden with your dog’s desires in mind!
Though a pretty garden adds to the aesthetic feel of a home, it isn’t meant for humans.