Plan Ahead for Dogs in the Garden

A parade of Seeing Eye pups has passed through our garden during the past six years. They arrive, cute as a button at a mere 7 – 10 pounds (that’s Christine), but grow quickly into full-sized Labrador Retrievers that top the scales at 50+ pounds. Our own Emma weighs in at 70.

Because a human life may ultimately depend upon a Seeing Eye dog guide, these puppies must be raised in a somewhat more restrictive way than a pet would be, but they’re still allowed to have lots of fun and plenty of play time. At our house that means chasing Frisbees, retrieving balls, and splashing around in the doggie pool (Emma and Harriet).

When we added on to our house in 2000, our old garden was completely destroyed by the construction equipment. Gardeners are such optimists! I viewed this as an opportunity for a complete redo. Julie Moir Messervy’s book The Inward Garden was very helpful in visualizing areas for various activities, one of the most important of these being enough running room for two high speed Labrador freight trains (Emma and Christine). Planning ahead really paid off.

Have realistic expectations. You will not have a perfect lawn, because running paws compact soil. There will be the usual puppy antics of digging holes and pulling out the plants that you have just put in, but even the pups that can’t seem to be trained out of it, eventually outgrow such shenanigans. If your dog will swim, provide a warm, sunny spot for it to dry off. Unless you assign dogs a play space, they’ll choose one of their own, or worse, view the entire yard, flowerbeds and all, as one big dog park.

Emma has an accommodating personality. A simple “no” or “out of there” is enough. But even strong-willed dogs, like Okra (with Ligularia) can be trained to stay away from the flowers. What’s required is some visual cue such as flags, or an audible cue such as your voice, that helps them to understand, “I can go this far and no further.” With a new Seeing Eye pup arriving every 24 months, for us this training never ends. But the reward is a relatively undamaged planted space.

Emma ensures that I’m never lonely in the garden (Emma and me). She moves from place to place with me, finds a comfortable spot to lie down, and is content to garden by observation.

To see how other gardeners juggle the demands of their favorite pets with their favorite hobby, click on over to this month’s design workshop at Gardening Gone Wild ( Thanks for the excuse to boast about our best friends, Nan.

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