With a little training and consistent correction, your dog will pose no threat to your garden.
With a little training and consistent correction, your dog will pose no threat to your garden.
I was visiting a friend recently who wanted help with her garden. While we were strolling around her yard, the family’s springer spaniel came bounding out of the house, ran through her perennial border and dove into a bed of azaleas. Moments later, he emerged with a tennis ball in his mouth and then, with tail wagging, dropped it at my feet.

“Oh, Digger, leave us alone!” my friend pleaded.

My friend wanted help redesigning her garden so it would be “dog proof.” Digger was running through all of her gardens, and she wanted plants that could withstand his constant trampling. She went on to remark that the plants in my gardens look fine, even though I have two active dogs; she wanted to include those kinds of plants in her gardens.

I found it amusing that she actually thought my gardens were planted expressly to withstand dogs running all over them. I explained that my dogs don’t run through the gardens; they stay on the paths and walkways just like everyone else. I teach my dogs that running through gardens is not allowed.

My dogs are with me out in the garden daily. As they make their rounds searching for furry interlopers, they seldom if ever enter into the garden beds -- but that wasn’t always the case. Here are a few simple tips that might help keep your best friend from ravaging your rhododendrons. Late fall is a good time to start training while gardens are not in active growth and less damage can be done while your dog is learnng.

--Start by keeping your dog on a leash when you walk around your yard. When he makes a transgression by walking into a bed or someplace you don’t want him to go, give a mild, but firm tug on the leash, say “Ahhh, ahhh, OUT!” and continue walking nonchalantly. When your dog steps out of the bed, say “Good boy” rather calmly, but just once as you continue on your way.

--Be consistent. Don’t allow your four-legged friend to enter into your garden beds one day but scold him the next. Dogs thrive on consistency, and if you stick to your guns, he will learn much quicker.

--Keep your dog’s age in mind. Puppies need more frequent reminders, but also more gentle ones. While they are more apt to make mistakes, seemingly forgetting their lessons from one day to the next, young dogs also learn patterns quickly. Be patient with older dogs too, but believe me old dogs CAN learn new tricks.

--Commit to the leash training until your dog grasps the idea and consistently stays out of your beds and on your walkways, paths or grassy areas. He must have places that are OK for him to walk and understand where those places are.

--Once he is consistently avoiding stepping into your beds while on a leash, walk around with him off leash (assuming of course you have a secure yard and he won’t go bolting into the street!). If he enters into a bed, say “OUT!” and point to where he is allowed to walk. Once he looks at you and sees where you point, continue walking, nonchalantly. If he steps out of the bed, say “Good boy” calmly as his feet touch the surface he is allowed to walk on. Continue walking nonchalantly. If he doesn’t leave the bed calmly walk over to him, grab is collar and guide him out of the bed. When he is at the edge of the bed, say “OUT!” A soon as he steps onto the area that is OK for him to walk, say “Good boy” again calmly and continue walking.

With a little time and some patience, you can enjoy your garden and your four-legged friend at the same time.

(Sean Conway’s book “Sean Conway’s Cultivating Life” (Artisan Books, 2009) describes 125 projects for backyard living. www.cultivatinglife.com.)

(c) 2011, SEAN CONWAY. DISTRIBUTED BY Tribune Media Services