This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

April 1, 2017

Sharing your garden with a dog

I like my garden, and I like dogs. But it wasn't until I got my dachshund, Macintosh, twelve years ago, that I dared to combine the two. Dogs are, well, dogs. They dig up stuff, they step on things, they can't read signs that say, "keep off". So it was a challenge. But I like challenges as much as I like dogs, and gardens.

My choice of breed, a dachshund, was wildly inappropriate for me. I have a vestibular disorder (difficulty with balance) and there's no more of a "trip hazard" dog than a dachshund! And dachshunds were bred to dig, so they're a poor choice for having anywhere near a garden. But I loved her, and I needed her in my life, so we made it work.

If you've given up, and just laughed off your dog getting underfoot, and digging up your garden, I understand. It took hours, and years, of patience to train my dachshund. Luckily, dogs are smart and are eager to please. They can't read your mind, however, so you have to be very clear, and very consistent.

The first thing I did was to invest in a doggy door. When Macintosh was a puppy, I took her over to friend's house and she learned how to use a doggy door while watching the older and wiser dog. And this was not only important for convenience (some days I couldn't move well enough to her need to go outside), it gave her her own door. She does NOT charge out in front of me when I open the door to my backyard, we go out together. If she ran out in front of me, that would risk me tripping on her, which would be VERY bad for both of us. By the way, when I go out of the front door (which doesn't have a doggy door), I have her sit while I open the door and stay until I tell her to go. In that instance she goes out ahead of me, but only under controlled circumstances. It's kinda cute to see!

Digging was the next challenge, because of course she wanted to dig in that delicious dirt in my garden. Dogs don't have the same memory that people have, so it doesn't do any good to confront them with something that they did a while ago. I've seen people do this, and it's just random acts of cruelty to animals. I didn't shout at her if I saw a mess she had made, once it was over. I did stop her immediately (with a tiny sound that I still use) if I saw her getting ready to raise a paw to dig. I also used an idea that I got from a cat friend, which was to use a squirt bottle with water, which controlled excessive barking, too. She only got squirted a couple of times and then she learned that when I pointed the squirt bottle, it was time to stop. Now.

Of course I always followed up discipline with lots of love. Learning not to dig, or do your business in the house, is a challenge for a dachshund, and I rewarded it lavishly, both with treats (not too much!) and with words of praise, and touching.

We're better together, and we worked hard to make it work. My garden wouldn't be the same without my dog!
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