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We're currently training a new puppy to attend us in the
garden. It reminded us of this article, waiting in queue to be
posted and bearing very useful information for dog-owning
Gardeners like to share their gardens with others. Often, they
extend their welcome to the family dog, too. Whether the result is
fun or friction rests on the dog's garden manners -- is it a wonder
dog, or a dog you wonder how to control?
Here's a chance to rate your
learn some tricks of training,
inspire it to follow in the paw-prints of Wonder
Dachshunds Amelia and Rollie
Lovable mutt Cody
Greyhound Mariah and Doberman-mix Leila
Black Lab Kolme
Answer the following questions. Award your dog the number of
points preceding each answer and keep a running tally to check
against our rating.
A. When I'm in the garden and find I'm missing a
3 - I send my dog to fetch it for me.
2 - I look for it where my dog stashes things.
1 - I hope it hasn't become a chew toy.
B. My dog notices how I relate to the garden
3 - Mimics me, respecting my plants and beds.
2 - Knows to be ashamed after trampling through a bed.
1 - Views all plants with jealousy, as rivals for my affection.
C. If there is digging going on:
3 - My dog is my right arm.
2 - My dog comes to stretch out in the cool soil.
1 - I try to stop the dog before too much harm is done.
D. When it comes to pest control, my dog:
3 - Pitches in to help kill or scare off the bad guys.
2 - Hasn't got a clue.
1 - Is at the top of my list of troublemakers.
E. In the vegetable garden, my dog:
3 - Guards it and also helps with the harvest work.
2 - Runs down woodchucks, other varmints... and my plants.
1 - Waits for his/her favorites and beats me to the harvest.
13 - 15 points: Wonder Dog!
Send us a photo of your dog and a few words about his or her
contribution to your gardening, and we'll add it to our Wonder Dog
8 to 12 points: Mixed blessing. Try reading this article to your
dog for inspiration.
5 to 7 points: Wonder how to control this dog? Check the Training Tips section.
The Wonder Dog Gallery of Stars
Wonder Dog #1: Paige
Right: Paige, a Lab-mix, takes a water bucket to the rain
barrel to be filled.
Paige, like all of Susan and Jack McLarty's dogs before her, is
expected to help in the garden. She carries water buckets to the
rain barrel to be filled, fetches gloves and small tools, and hunts
mice. Just three years old, Paige is good but hasn't yet equaled
one of her predecessors in this Waterford garden, a golden
retriever named Sassafras who could pluck chipmunks from a garden
without stepping on a single plant.
The McLarty's say they won't be surprised if Paige eventually
surpasses Sassafras, since 'Paige works with less handicap.
Sassafras had to overcome the influence of a corrupt kennel-mate'
who instigated incidents like a raid on a neighbor's grapes, where
both dogs ate fruit until they were intoxicated.
Wonder dogs 2
& 3: Amelia and Rollie, Slug Catchers
Long haired miniature
dachshunds Amelia and Rollie seem to enjoy their contribution to
pest control in Marlene and Art Rofe's garden. "We send them out to
sweep through the flower beds, fur dragging and picking up slugs.
All we have to do is dispose of the slugs they collect for us."
As helpful as they are, even Amelia and Rollie may improve. They
could step up to the level of dogs like the black and white mutt,
Puffy, recalled by Nancy Van Ophem. Puffy caught on while watching
her owner pick off tomato hornworms, and began patrolling the
vegetable bed on her own. She would sniff out a hornworm, pull it
gently from the plant and then give it a sharp shake to kill
Wonder dog 4: Cody
Ruth Jeffrey describes Wonder Dog Cody as "a three year old
lovable mutt. He likes to help me weed. I pull the weed, give it to
him and he shakes the dirt out of the roots. Sometimes he will also
beat me to the punch and pull the weed out for me. You can tell he
feels very cool. He doesn't pull out any other plants except when
we're weeding together."
Wonder Dog 5:
Mariah, with protege Leila
Barbara and Bernie Malburg of Livonia raise dogs to be good
garden guests. "Right now we have an 11 year old greyhound, Mariah,
and a 2 year old Doberman-husky, Leila. We train the dogs on a long
lead to stay out of the beds and don't let them have free run until
they get it. With all of our other dogs this worked but Leila so
far hasn't been able to get it, so we put bamboo stakes through
chicken wire and surrounded all of the beds. We let her have free
run of the yard and we hope to be able to take down the fencing
The Malburgs also train their dogs to use a latrine, an area
they excavated, filled with eight inches of sand and keep topped
with pea gravel. "We never had any trouble getting the dogs to use
it by teaching with rewards. Take the dog to the area. When they do
their business, praise them and give them a treat."
Wonder dog 6: Kolme
Right: Black Lab Kolme started bringing tools to us. Here
she's presenting pruning snips to Janet. So we rewarded her and
taught her tool names. Eventually she would bring tools on command
to anyone who asked.
Kolme, our own black Lab, made it clear from the time she was
one year old that she would best all of our previous dogs and
achieve Wonder Dog status. She found and fetched tools for us on
command and when we pruned, she worked alongside us to drag limbs
to the debris pile.
Below: Dragging branches was a favorite activity for Kolme,
so we encouraged her to help when we pruned. She accepted branches
as we dropped them, and would drag her load to whichever compost
area we pointed out.
But like every dog-gone gardener, we wished for better. For
example, we tried but never fully succeeded in softening her grip,
so accepting her help meant putting up with tooth marks on tools'
soft rubber handles. (It helped to have an
expert's assurance that we were not likely to change Kolme's
grip.) As another example, this dog had occasional fits of
unstoppable joy involving runs through the beds at top speed with
ears flat and tail tucked. It took us two years to end the runs, a
"success" that may have been a function of her maturity rather than
The "tricks" this dog learned happened because we noticed, then
anticipated, named and rewarded her own inclinations. To do the
opposite and discourage her natural tendencies, we sought expert
help. For that, read on!
Below: Black Lab Raven could stand to learn from Wonder Dogs
the difference between helping and helping yourself. Says her
owner, Joanne Hoey, "Raven is a lady of curiosity and an appetite
wrapped in fur. Her favorite spot in the vegetable garden is where
'Grape 100' tomatoes are fruiting. She will eat all that have
fallen and then if I don't catch her, help herself to the
For that help we turned to Jeannie Kunz, foster puppy raiser for
the non-profit group Paws With a Cause. Kunz does the first 12 to 15
months of basic training, then turns the dog over to specialists
for custom-training to meet the intended owner's needs.
Get out of that garden!
A dog needs territory training, to learn to stay out of a
garden, says Kunz. "Take your dog on a leash up to the edge of the
garden. Tap a focal object with your hand, something the dog is not
to go past. Use a firm 'NO' command and a leash correction to move
the dog away from that object. Do this with several focal objects
around the garden."
"Leave a four- to six foot drag rope attached to the dog's
collar when you are supervising him in the garden. If you see the
dog getting into the garden, tell him 'NO' and give a
Consistency and repetition are critical. "You can't tell a dog
once, then let him do what he likes for three weeks and expect him
to know what you want the next time you're with him," says Kunz.
"Repeat territory training one to three times a day. You may be
able to train for fifteen minutes straight, each time. Or your dog
may need a break, to run after a ball or do something fun to break
up the session."
How long does before a dog is trained? "One to four weeks. But
it depends on the dog," Kunz cautions. "Some dogs catch on quickly,
others take longer."
Why won't you fetch?!
Also, there are some hurdles that aren't training issues at all.
A dog that isn't keen to fetch may be that way because of instinct
or personality and never master fetching, or even want to. "We use
golden retrievers and Labs in Paws With a Cause because they have a
natural retrieve drive," says Kunz. "But every dog is different. I have a
golden retriever right now with a mouth so soft, she could carry an
egg without breaking it. I also have a black Lab like the one you
mentioned, who just doesn't realize that she has very powerful
Another proof of Kunz' point about dog instincts and personality
comes from an owner's solution to a situation involving a
Tha malamute's owner, Sharon Mattioli (right, with daughter
Isabella, husband Brian and the culprit, Crystal), blamed squirrels
for losses in the family's big vegetable garden. "Then we saw
Crystal eating something out in the yard -- a cucumber plant! We
let her have the cucumber and I replanted the plant. We started
watching her more closely. Even though we have a split rail fence
around the garden, she'd get in there to eat cherry tomatoes, and
she and her pups all ate raspberries."
Resourceful, independent breeds like the malamute probably can't
be convinced to stay out of a garden. Especially not once the dog
learns it contains food. So it was wise of the Mattioli family to
add another rail to their fence.
Stifle the laugh
A canine penchant for produce isn't unusual. We've learned of a
cairn terrier that also likes cukes, another terrier that prefers
radishes or broccoli to meat, and whole packs of tomato and fruit
A Sheltie named Holly (right) exemplifies the tomato eaters.
"She'll come out of the garden, or from where we throw spoiled
tomatoes, with red juice just dripping down her white ruff," says
owner Nancy Henderson.
Below: Stifle that laugh, Nancy Henderson. While you weren't
watching, Holly saw you smile and will repeat her action just to
"please you" again!
On another front, Susan Lackey reports a choosy, fruit-eating
spaniel that, "nosed over the strawberries before he ate them and
left behind t hose that had even a bit of green on them."
"You look at that strawberry-stained muzzle and think it's the
most adorable thing you've ever seen," says Kunz, who had a
strawberry eater herself. But if you ever want to have first pick
in your garden, Kunz counsels, "take a picture! Enjoy that, don't
encourage the behavior."
Below: The friend who owns these dogs agreed to let them be
photographed as stand-ins for all
bad-dogs-who-wish-to-remain-anonymous. He was careful not to laugh
or praise the dogs as he posed them because 'it could encourage
them to repeat the crime.' But, he says, he can laugh at
Some garden owners are more indulgent than others, and some "bad
dogs" are not really bad enough to warrant correction. Holly, a
Labrador retriever who shares a garden with Marlene Murphy, "is my
constant companion whenever I work in the garden." Says Murphy. "I
have a habit of throwing weeds into a pile to collect later. Holly
likes to bring back what I throw! She's so cute and amusing we just
have to laugh and wait for her to get bored."
Holly's behavior is basically harmless, but if a dog does
something more annoying, destructive or dangerous, Kunz advises
that you resist any urge to laugh.
Be aware of your non-verbal cues to the
Dogs like to please us, and to win our approval. They read our
body language as well or better than our words, and know when
laughter means pleasure and approval. So the next time your Mixed
Blessing shows up at the door with your new flowers in its mouth,
hide that smile, put on your serious face, and say, "That is NOT
how a wonder dog behaves!"
More Tips From Experts and Wonder Dogs
1) Have fun things in the yard for the dog, such as toys, balls,
a kiddy pool or sprinkler. Take your cues from
zookeepers who call it "enrichment" to add novel items to
2) If a dog's digging is a problem, fill the hole with heavy
bricks or soil laced with cayenne pepper, but recognize that as
only a temporary fix. Then work on prevention, such as supervising
the dog when it's outside or using fencing.
3) Be aware that boredom is a real and powerful influence. The
smarter the dog, the more likely it is to become bored and do
unfortunate things to alleviate the situation. To prevent boredom
in the first place, give that dog alternate forms of exercise.
Follow the examples of celebrity animal trainers, who turn bad dogs
good in training sessions preceded by a brisk work-out.
4) Elevate prized or dangerous potted plants.
5) Accept the main paths created where paws wear out lawn or
groundcover. Turn it into a mulched- or paved path.
6) Don't let a dog's age stop you from training. Age is not a
firm barrier to training. Old dogs can learn new tricks.
Janet & Steven dedicate this
to the beautiful and brilliant Kolme,
so she can garden with us forever.
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