Gardening with My Dog, Molly


When we adopted our wonderful dog Molly just over a year and a half ago, the most common question asked was, “How will you keep her from destroying the garden?” Molly is a terrier mix, and everything we were told indicated that she might be a bit of a menace in the garden. It was winter at the time, and since my garden was still covered in snow, I had plenty of time to focus on the other dog learning I had to do (which was ample) before worrying about how to train her not to tear up the garden, trample and pee on plants, or dig up the dirt. Still, I figured I’d be posting back here that spring or summer with an update or a desperate plea for advice.


But fortunately for me that’s not how things worked out. Molly took to the garden naturally. As the garden thawed and the pathways were revealed, we were surprised to find that she stuck to them. I did not have to teach her to do that! She was (and still is) very curious about the flora and fauna that inhabit the garden, but she is mostly gentle and careful in her explorations. We have experienced two springtimes together, and I have noticed that she sometimes mimics my actions in the garden. For example, if I am digging, she will come over and dig a little herself. I worried that would lead to more aggressive digging, or digging in places I did not want, but fortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

During the growing season Molly spends a lot of time in the garden. Davin takes her out in the early morning and I take her out to work with me during the weekdays. Sometimes she pokes around, lead by her nose or an insect. Yes, she does pee out there sometimes, but she sticks to the paths and avoids the plants. If it is sunny, she lays down on the mulch and relaxes in the sun. I had to teach her this part, training that was begun because I needed to teach her to lie down and stay calm in a range of environments. But in the end I think it has allowed her to relax in the garden more fully and she does it now whenever the weather is nice. I sometimes catch Molly smelling flowers or lapping up ants, but she never does any damage and while she will eat the squished cherry tomatoes or raspberries that I offer her, I have never caught her plucking produce on her own.

I don’t know what to say — we’re really lucky.


Like all dogs Molly is drawn to urinate on soft grass, but we don’t have any so that’s not an issue. When we visit other people’s gardens we are always careful to make sure she relieves herself before entering, and we watch for signs in case she needs to go mid-visit. By doing that we’ve avoided burning or damaging friends’ lawns and gardens, and Molly is welcome most places as a result.

Of course, Molly is a terrier mix and chasing rodents is her natural inclination. I swear, one of the first words she learned is “squirrels” and she almost immediately made keeping them out of the garden her calling and a profession to be taken VERY seriously. If a squirrel is careless enough to venture into the garden when Molly is on patrol, things can get out of hand quickly. She goes off on a tear, jumping and trampling wherever the chase takes her, all careful consideration for the plants, the location of pathways, and sometimes her own wellbeing an afterthought. She’s a small pup though and hasn’t done any real damage during these outbursts, nor has she hurt herself. Once the intruder has been banished, she slows down and swaggers back to me, her tail and head high, so proud of her accomplishment and a job well done. Fortunately, she has not caught up with a squirrel yet, but given the way she can mangle a toy, I worry about how much we will all be traumatized (or at least I will be) if and when that day ever comes.

I don’t profess to know much about dogs, dog behaviour, or training, especially when it comes to the garden since that was all down to Molly and luck. My “expertise” is invested in Molly alone and even there we are still learning, adapting, and growing together. Molly is adopted and had a life before us that is unknown. She has sensitivities that we are still learning about, and I would say that most, if not all of our experiences in training her has really been about training us. I read a few books when we first got her that helped me tremendously and provided guidance in how to help her and us. Since then, like I said, it has been a process of learning and we are often surprised by how much we have all changed and grown together over the last year and a half. For that reason it sometimes feels like Molly has been with us for much, much longer and everyday I feel so lucky to have her in my life.

You can see about a million more photos of Molly here.


Reading List

The Other End of the Leash helped me understand the effect that my behaviour and attitude has on my dog. This was key because like all rescue dog Molly came to us with anxieties and some behavioural issues. Books like this gave me the confidence that I could turn this around with patience and time, and it also helped me to see where I had to change myself in order to help her.

Molly suffered separation anxiety when we first brought her home. I set up a video camera when I left the house to discover her reaction and found that she was crying, howling, and pacing the house when left alone for more than a few minutes. A book on this topic by the same author gave me the help that I needed and within two weeks time Molly was no longer my constant shadow and was able to relax by herself when we went out without her.

Because Molly was adopted and has some issues with some other dogs (not people), I read Do Over Dogs to help me learn how to deal affectively with fear-based behaviours of unknown origin.

Molly came to us housetrained but she didn’t know any commands, even the basic ones like “sit” and “come.” Fortunately, she is super smart and eager to learn and please us and has gone on to learn a number of tricks and commands with help from books like Family Friendly Dog Training, How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend, and a few more.

As far as the garden goes, I have no real advice. We lucked out. If you know of any resources that addresses this specifically or would like to mention something you did that worked with your own dog please comment below.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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17 thoughts on “Gardening with My Dog, Molly

  1. My rescue dog, Jasmine, is my constant gardening companion. She also instinctively stayed on the stone garden paths when she first arrived which was June six years ago. She is a formidable mouser: in ascending size of targets she has dispatched voles, mice, shrews, chipmunks, rabbits, skunks (2, and got sprayed twice), groundhogs (5) and the crowning glory….. seventeen squirrels. Fasssssssssst is her middle name. I adore her for myriad reasons, not the least of which is the blue eyed gaze she levels upon me. She too came with baggage, related to men shouting, cigarettes, revving engines and fireworks. She digs only under the arborvitae hedges where she seeks a cool spot on warm days, UNLESS she knows there is a rodent somewhere within her excavation capabilities and then all bets are off. I have yet to lose any really important plantings because of this. The benefits far outweigh the risks when allowing one’s dog into the garden. I love her to pieces!

  2. I know, those eyelashes are just amazing!
    You did get very lucky with Molly though, as my previous dog loved getting into places in the garden that I didn’t want her…
    I plan on with my next dog and garden to train them from the start about where to walk and such. And maybe make a little ‘den’ for them out there too, so they feel that that is their ‘place’ in the garden. XD

  3. If you had not already mentioned Do Over Dogs, I was going to suggest it! I have 2 copies of that book, one for me and my adopted mutt, and one to lend to friends thinking about adopting a dog.

    My small suburban backyard has a garden all around the edges and a raised bed about 2.5 feet in from the garden. Originally we planned it that way to have enough space for the lawn mower, but it worked out so that it makes a nice racetrack for when our dog has the “zoomies.” She is more likely to stay out of the raised bed than the others, but even little garden fences serve as a “guideline” to keep her in the right areas.

    Our dog sheds her undercoat when it gets warm, so we brush it out in the backyard and leave the hair scattered about. It keeps the groundhogs/woodchucks out of the backyard so they do less damage.

  4. Molly is adorable!~ And I agree, those eyes should be illegal! LOL I had three dogs. Two Coltrievers, and a Golden Retriever. Last april we had to put my most special Coltriever down. Taumee….(RIP). Anyway she would help me dig holes! One time she helped empty wheelbarrows of dirt we had to move. As much of a picture taker as I am, I never got video of her doing this. I would fill the wheel barrow. Take to the dumping ground. Tip the wheel barrow up, and then Taumee would dig all the dirt out! (She was a digger, but only to bury her bones.) Not only was it fun, but totally helped lift the load off my back! Then my Golden Retriever, Sydney, she is a tomato nut! BUT there is a catch. She only likes the small green cherry tomatoes. She goes around twice a day and sniffs every single tomato. She passes up any red ones, and most green ones. When she comes to one that must smell yummy, she takes her nose and flicks it to the ground. Then gently picks it up and goes off and savors her treat. Sydney ALSO loves MICE! Yes, the cats brings them home to HER! YUCK! The cat, Screech, is bonded to Sydney, and he believes in the “catch and release” program, so when he brings mice home, they are still alive! Sometimes I do not know this, and he will bring them in the house! and yes, I have more mouse traps set up in my house than you can shake a stick at! All due to the blasted cat! But gotta love him! He is super cool!
    Sassy, my other Coltriever, is docile and just watches everyone else do things. :)

  5. I’ve got a rescue terrier as well. I appreciate the names of those books because he’s now getting on in age and I might need them for the next dog.

    Biskit is a West Highland White terrier and given up because he didn’t like to be alone. His reckless abandon at chasing squirrels caused him to tear a ligament near his knee (like a football player). I know he’d love to dig because I have to check him for contraband when he wants to go out in the yard. It’s funny, you can read their minds.

  6. My dog loves to dig with me in the spring and will bite big roots and help pull them out. I have to watch her during tomato season. She will snatch a ripe tomato from the vine and bat it around.

  7. Thanks for the book recommendations and the cute dog pictures. My three rescues all go nuts for cherry tomatoes. I love to grow Sungolds every year, despite their habit of splitting, so we call split tomatoes “dog tomatoes” and my dogs think they are better than dog treats. This year I had volunteer Sungolds and currant tomatoes come up in my flower bed. I let them grow sprawling on the ground as the dogs’ own tomato patch; they were in heaven.

    My mouse and squirrel patrol dog, Daisy, also loves kale, chard, lettuce, arugula- any greens. I cut and harvest them into a big straw basket and she loves to sneak up behind me and gently pull one leaf out to take away to chew on under a bush.

    My three all want to jump in the raised beds in the spring because I fertilize with bunny poop from my neighbor’s pet. They like to dig up the pellets and eat them (gross). I use those ugly little green wire border fences that are about a foot high until the plants get established to keep them out.

  8. You are so lucky! My dog (labrador-golden) is definitely adorable and well behaved, but as soon as we are out of sight she can be quite mischeavious. She uprooted more than I can count some rhubarb plants and she definitely takes issues with my burried pot of mint. One morning I woke up to find one of the zuchini plants next to the door steps… I’ll need a higher fence!

  9. Molly the good girl and lovely dog looks great in your garden.
    I found that teaching my dog, Hugo, the word ‘off’ worked wonders to keep him on the paths and out of the beds. Except, of course, for the occasional squirrel-chasing duties he was required to perform when four or five of the critters descended.

  10. My what beautiful big brown eyes you have Molly and who does your makeup? I have a big romping goldendoodle named Mojo and I can keep him out in the garden with me but he likes to steel my tools, my gloves, anything to get me to chase – I’ve learned to put things down up high or in my wheelbarrow. He is not a rescue but I think he still has issues and they are probably my fault! I love my dog and hope that one day he can relax and lay in the sun like Molly – maybe I should try to train him.

  11. I so wish!! My Pitt Duke and Rott/Shepard Bear are terrorizers!! I have sunk rerod, stoned around against digging, roll log at the gate door and otherwise had to make my garden a fortress. You got really lucky and I am jealous!! Lol. She is a looker.

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