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In most climates dogs and humans alike are going to spend far more time indoors over the cold, snowy or wet winter months. This means that typically the humans and the canines of the house spend less time outdoors in safety checking and monitoring the yard and garden area. Spending a few hours each spring making all the necessary repairs and safety improvements to your dog's outdoor area is only going to give you peace of mind and prevent many of the most common types of emergencies from occurring later on.
The first and most obvious safety proofing check you are going to want to make in the spring is to take the time to check your fence. Typically owners will have either a dog fence, which is metal link and metal posts, or a wooden privacy type fence around the property. Both fences are great options, but both also have potential problems that can occur. Gates for both types are a big safety issue so make sure latches are secure and in good working order before leaving the pet outdoors unsupervised.
With a metal dog fence the obvious concern is with rust or damage to the links or wires that make up the mesh of the fence. The wire or metal attachments that hold the fence to the post can also rust or become damaged, so they need to be inspected as well. This is particularly true if there are bushes, trees or vegetation along the fence that may hold moisture against the metal, leading to increased risk of rusting. Some metal fencing is designed to be rust resistant, but it still can become damaged. It is therefore important for the owner to walk to the perimeter of the fence and check each post to make sure all fasteners are in place. If wire fasteners have been used and have become damaged or twisted, cutting off the protruding piece of wire or bending it back into the post so no sharp ends are exposed is going to be important. Wires are a real danger for eye and mouth injuries as the dogs patrol their border pathways around the yard.
Wooden privacy fences need to be checked to make sure that nails haven't rusted and boards are still secure. Again, in areas where vegetation is against the wooden planks or posts there is a greater likelihood or rot or damage to the wood. Shaking the boards and applying gentle pressure to the posts will make sure they are still secure in the ground and on the fence. Any damaged areas or weak boards need to be replaced to prevent the dog from actually pushing against the boards and escaping.
It is also important to check around the bottom of the fence for areas where natural water movement may have washed out the soil beneath the fence. For small dogs this relatively small opening may proved enough incentive to try to push through, while larger dogs may use this opening to dig down and create an escape route. Fill these areas with compacted soil or with a plastic or metal screen or border, especially if you have a breed or dog that is a known digger.
Branches hanging over the fence may also be a problem, especially if you have a dog that climbs. Almost all hunting dogs and the smaller terrier dogs have an amazing ability to jump and climb and many are very good at figuring out complex ways to get out of the yard. Removing any overhanging branches will also prevent any safety issues with the branches falling and either collapsing the fence or much less likely, injuring the dog.
Taking the time to remove all old toys, bones and bits and pieces that seem to have shown up in your yard is also an important part of safety proofing your yard each spring. These old toys and objects may be damaged and have splinters and sharp edges, leading to cuts to the mouth and injury to the dog. In addition some of these old toys, particularly those with stuffing or made of some type of fabric may be havens for bacteria and even viruses. If they can't be sterilized in boiling water, they need to be disposed of and replaced with new toys.
Perhaps the least favorite of all the spring safety proofing yard chores is to remove any and all old fecal material from the yard. Typically most owners are very conscientious about this all winter long, however snow can hide a lot of the waste material. Worm eggs and some viral diseases can survive even in freezing winter conditions either in the fecal material or in the soil, so early clean up is essential. Hosing off the yard and washing any and all hard surfaces such as the patio blocks, walkways or even the floor in an outdoor kennel and doghouse is very important. Use a recommended sterilizer such as bleach or a commercial dog kennel cleaner to remove as many germs and bacterial problems as possible.
Take out any bedding in an outdoor dog house and wash in a sterilizing solution, or discard and replace. Avoid reusing any type of organic material bedding such as shavings or pelleted litter type materials. If at all possible avoid using hay or straw as a kennel bedding since it can contain lots of dust and may result in allergic reactions in some dogs.
If fleas and ticks are a concern in your area part of safety proofing your yard and garden in the spring is to start environmentally treating the area. Some dog owners prefer not to use commercial flea and tick repellents and there are some organic and natural options to use on the soil, plants and surface areas of the yard and garden. There are many natural products that work to keep fleas out of your yard and these include cedar chips, borax, citronella oil and even eucalyptus leaves. In addition you can spray any type of citrus oil around the perimeter of the yard to cut down on flea and insect invasions.
Some plants such as tansy, lemon verbena, bee balm and even pennyroyal can be planted along the borders of your yard, patio area or kennel to provide a nice scent while causing fleas and mosquitoes to stay away.
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