Hi, I’m Emma. My partner Neil and I adopted a 2 1/2 year old SeBPRA setter called Mowbray in May 2021.  He was quite anxious at first, doing a lot of pacing and barking, and struggling to settle into a proper sleep. This is really normal for these dogs as they’ve rarely lived in a home before, and everything is new for them!

He was an absolute sweetheart right from the start, loving a fuss and becoming very attached to us. 

Mowbray was very reactive to our cat and Neil had an idea about sectioning off a bit of our small 25 foot garden to help keep the cat safe. We did some research and discovered the concept of a sensory garden for dogs, which we got really excited about as we could make the space calming but fun for Mowbray and our cavapoo Dennis.

Our garden is not particularly dog friendly, being mostly tiled with no grass and having a vertical drop, so making a little dog zone really saved the day for lots of reasons! It doesn’t have to be big or fancy  but there are loads of different things you can do. I’ve added some links at the bottom. Ours is quite simple but the dogs love it.

We sectioned off the area down the side of the house with kennel fencing and a gate. 

We built a sandpit and Mowbray loves to dig! He sends sand flying with absolute joy. Thank goodness for a dustpan and brush or we’d have no sandpit left! 

Digging is such a natural behaviour for dogs. They have to live in a human world so giving them moments just to be a dog and use their natural instincts is such a good outlet for stress and excess energy. 

Some dogs like to bury toys and treats but ours are too greedy! 

Both Dennis and Mowbray love to uncover cool sand in summer and flop their hot tummies down and pant happily. We used play sand as it’s not sharp like builders sand.

We planted bamboo which the boys love chasing each other through. It’s very resilient, great shade in the summer and they love munching on the leaves, which are safe and contain vitamins A and C, calcium and possibly have anti-inflammatory properties. 

We got some car tyres from a local garage who were very happy to give them to us for free when we said they were for our dogs! Neil stacked them and fixed them together with nuts and bolts. We used pet-friendly paint to make them look cheerful and planted them with safe, beneficial plants. We used:

  • Valerian (good for anxiety)
  • Lavender (calming, great for insects and beautiful too!)
  • Lemon balm (good for digestion)
  • Wheatgrass (digestion, energy, lots of nutrients plus most dogs enjoy munching grass)
  • Sage, also called salvia (vitamins, trace minerals and anti-inflammatory)

In summer we have a cheap plastic children’s paddling pool which is great for cooling down hot dogs.

We also like to do food based enrichment activities in the sensory garden. For a quick fix we just sprinkle treats in between the bamboo, which can give the dogs something calming to do just for 5 minutes. 

For a longer session, like when they are having a rest day or have had some stress, like visitors or a trip to the vets, we also pop tiny treats on top of the tyres, in cardboard boxes, and in towels. This can keep them busy for up to 20 minutes. 

Sniffing out treats is good for anxiety and great mental exercise. I’ve read that 20 minutes sniffing is equivalent to an hour’s walk in terms of enrichment. Plus dogs absolutely love it! Luckily ours don’t resource guard and forage together happily but you might want to try this with just one dog at a time until you know how they are with food.

Mowbray is now good as gold with our cat and much calmer but we’ve kept the sensory garden as we still love that the dogs have their own area where they dig to their hearts’ content and we know they are safe and happy. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *