When someone asks me about companion gardening, my first thought is not of planting marigolds or geraniums next to my tomatoes, but of my dog. We are great gardening companions: I like to dig, she likes to dig, I like to walk through the garden, she likes to run through the garden. I plant lots of flowers and she likes to chew up the pots the flowers come in. I am quite certain that she enjoys the garden as much as we do, just from a different viewpoint.
Everyone needs one
It’s hard for me to imagine a garden without at least one dog dutifully keeping watch over the plantings, and I know several brave gardeners who have two or more. How do gardeners and dog owners keep their gardens looking so great in spite of all the potential digging and chewing? After years of gardening and owning dogs I learned the hard way by trial and error. No two dogs have the same personality, likes, or dislikes, so each garden reflects the size and personality of the dog or dogs as well as the gardener.
My last dog was a beautiful collie. Maggie did the usual chewing as a puppy but always seemed more interested in being at your side than tearing up the garden. Her only garden issue was actually something we appreciated: she was a good hunter. She would dig out and kill any moles that took up residence in our yard, and she was quite good at chasing off the deer that wandered up from the woods.
Training your companion
We have since moved to a small urban lot and three years ago I came home with a new puppy. I fell in love with what would turn out to be 90 pounds of pure garden terror. I should have known by the look on my husband’s face when Georgia dug up the first plant, which wasn’t the last time there would be changes in our garden.
Our first step was to locate a good trainer who taught us probably as much as he taught our dog. She learned some manners and we learned how to make her obey them. But occasionally plants continued to get dug up or tromped on. It was my veterinarian who suggested she may be mimicking our behavior and to keep her in the house whenever we had to dig in the garden. Believe it or not this did seem to help. Our trainer also recommended we limit the amount of time she was allowed to be alone in the garden. Even now that she is grown, she is not allowed to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes in the garden unless we are with her. This was an adjustment for us but did seem to alleviate some of her boredom, which kept her out of trouble.
Dogs enjoy gardens too
Now that we have made it through the puppy years we have learned a lot. Our collie was a born hunter and companion, and our half-Rottweiler/half-Dalmatian is all athlete and needs to run. Their personalities and how they interacted with the garden were completely different. Now I understand why so many gardeners choose small dogs. All things considered, we came to the conclusion that we only needed to make one change to accommodate our athlete Georgia: there were three main paths she liked to take so we made them actual paths with creek-rock steppingstones for her to walk on or run through.
The beds in our landscape are wide and full of plants, so it was inevitable that she would want to rip through them checking for things to chase. We made the paths just big enough for a dog or one person to wander back into the garden. The surprise was that this opened up new views of our garden that we hadn’t enjoyed in the past, and it also made it easier to get in there and weed or water. You may be asking, “Does she actually use them and stay on them?” She really does. Dogs are creatures of habit, just like us, and she likes to take her usual routes; sometimes we go with her for fun.
In one particularly narrow part of our garden I have lots of flowers for cutting; her big dog feet can easily break these plants so we have put up a short decorative willow fence that seems enough to keep her feet out of the bed. Any other delicate plants go into large containers where they are safely out of harm’s way. In other parts of our garden we have planted densely, like our Russian sage, and that discourages her from entering. We made sure to keep a few shady areas open where she likes to lie to stay cool.
I can’t imagine my garden without dogs. The biggest adjustment for us was limiting the time Georgia spent alone in the garden. Now it’s such a part of our routine that if we don’t call her in within 15 minutes she comes to the door wondering why she hasn’t been let in. If I ever move back to the country where there is room to roam, I am certain I will have dogs of all sizes and personalities, but for now I feel thankful for just one.