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.
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.