Dogs and Gardens

Train dogs to enjoy your garden without destroying it

I was visiting a friend recently who wanted help with her garden. While we were strolling around her yard, the family’s springer spaniel came bounding out of the house, ran through her perennial border and dived into a bed of azaleas. Moments later, he emerged with a tennis ball in his mouth and then, with tail wagging, dropped it at my feet.

“Oh, Digger, leave us alone!” my friend pleaded. My friend wanted help redesigning her garden so it would be “dog-proof.” Digger was running through all of her gardens, and she wanted plants that could withstand his constant trampling. She went on to remark that the plants in my gardens look fine, even though I have two active dogs; she wanted to include those kinds of plants in her gardens.I found it amusing that she actually thought my gardens were planted expressly to withstand dogs running through them. I explained that my dogs stay on the paths and walkways just like everyone else. I teach my dogs that running through garden beds is not allowed. My dogs are with me out in the garden daily. As they make their rounds searching for furry interlopers, they seldom if ever enter the garden beds — but that wasn’t always the case.Here are tips that may help keep your best friend from ravaging your rhododendrons. Late fall is a good time to start training, when gardens are not in active growth and less damage can be done while your dog is learning.

Leash training: Start by keeping your dog on a leash when you walk around your yard. When Rover makes a transgression by walking into a bed or someplace you don’t want him to go, give a mild but firm tug on the leash, say “Out!” and continue walking nonchalantly. When he steps out of the bed, say “Good boy” rather calmly, but just once, as you continue on your way. Commit to the leash training until your dog grasps the idea and consistently stays out of your beds and on your walkways, paths or grassy areas. He must have places that are OK for him to walk, and understand where those places are.
Be consistent: Don’t allow your four-legged friend to enter your garden beds one day but scold him the next. Dogs thrive on consistency, and if you stick to your guns, he will learn much quicker.

Age matters: Keep your dog’s age in mind. Puppies need more frequent reminders, but also more gentle ones. While they are more apt to make mistakes, seemingly forgetting their lessons from one day to the next, young dogs also learn patterns quickly. Be patient with older dogs, too, but trust me: Old dogs can learn new tricks.

Off-leash training: Once your dog is consistently avoiding stepping into your beds while on a leash, walk around with him off-leash (assuming, of course, you have a secure yard and he won’t go bolting into the street). If he enters into a bed, firmly say, “Out!” and point to where he is allowed to walk. Once he looks at you and sees where you point, continue walking, nonchalantly. If he steps out of the bed, say “Good boy” calmly as his feet touch the surface he is allowed to walk on. Continue walking nonchalantly. If he doesn’t leave the bed, walk over to him, take hold of his collar and guide him out of the bed. When he is at the edge of the bed, say “Out!” As soon as he steps onto the area that is OK for him to walk, say “Good boy” again, and continue walking.

With a little time and some patience, you can enjoy your garden and your four-legged friend at the same time.

By Sean Conway, Tribune Media Services “Sean Conway’s Cultivating Life” (Artisan Books) describes 125 projects for backyard living. His website is

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