Dogs in the Garden

August 6, 2008 at 2:27 am 2 comments

It’s not so unusual to find a dog in the garden.  Sleeping in the shade, chasing the sprinkler, patrolling for squirrels and other pests or just hanging out with their humans.  Dogs like gardens.

Still, other than pest removal, there aren’t many gardening jobs that dogs excel at.  Most dogs, that is.

From the June 20, 2008 issue of the Christian Science Monitor the story of Else, a German Shepherd that helps her family keep the garden free of weeds. 

But while she has had plenty of jobs to occupy her, she remains convinced that she was born to weed. That’s probably because at heart, she’s a team player; she likes to work in tandem.

So when my daughter, Abby, and I revamped the weed-filled raspberry patch last fall, we recruited Else.

The patch was a mess. In addition to monster pokeweed and a miserable tangle of bindweed, we were dealing with deep-rooted, invasive white mulberry – fair-size saplings that had sprung up in the patch over the course of a year’s neglect.We were frustrated, but Else, now part of a response team, was in her element.

Fortunately, she has matured. She has learned not to grab my hand the minute I go for a weed. She also knows to stand by – quivering in anticipation, but not doing anything until given the order – while we dig the deeply entrenched weeds.

In the course of the morning, she helped yank out wads of bindweed, taught the pokeweed who was boss, and patrolled the fence for rabbits while we carefully dug out the surviving raspberry canes.

But her favorite piece of the project was getting rid of the white mulberry trees that had taken stubborn root. This was major weeding, and she was delighted to discover that she had a crucial part to play.

At each tree, Abby and I dug down to loosen the dirt around the long yellow taproots, exposing a big chunk of root while Else waited, ears erect and twitching, eyes riveted on our spades. When we reckoned there was enough root to grip, Abby deployed her. “OK, get it, Else!”Legs splayed out like the platform on a drill rig, Else went at the root with gusto, growling (no doubt to let the root know that resistance was futile) as she yanked and yanked and yanked that thing out of its lair.

After wresting it free, she brought it to Abby and spit it out at her feet, clearly pleased.

Else’s accomplishments are pretty impressive, especially considering that she reportedly ONLY digs up the vegetation she’s told to.  Lots of dogs are happy to root around in the soft, cool soil of a garden.  Problem is, all too often they end up getting in trouble for digging up all the wrong things.

I haven’t managed to teach my dogs to dig up weeds on command.  Considering what I know about my dogs (especially Zip, who is most definately afflicted with kelpie-compulsive disorder) I’m more than a little paranoid that if I did, they’d take things into their own hands and ‘reorganize’ the entire landscape of my yard.  Not a good thing.

So, instead of cultivating their skills at excavation, I’ve harnessed their desire to fetch and carry — and put them to work.  Zip and Audie spend most of every day with me and as I putter around, we mix training exercises into our daily routine.  Here are some photos I took while we worked today.  I just figured out how to do the photo-merge thing.  Enjoy!

Zip balances on an up-ended flowerpot. She's quite good at this

Audie has a bit more trouble, but manages.

Audie has a bit more trouble, but manages.

Audie pulls a small spade out of the ground and brings it to me.

Audie pulls a small spade out of the ground and brings it to me.

Not to be outdone - Zip fetches my clippers from the rock garden

Audie brings me the garden hose


A well-deserved break

A well-deserved break


Entry filed under: amazing, dog training, dogs. Tags: .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. nhnursery  |  August 7, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I wish I could get our two Pekingese to help around the yard like your dogs do. I really like the picture of the dogs cleaning the garage. GREAT BLOG!!!

  • 2. Nancy  |  August 13, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Do Zip and Audie hire out? I could use some help on the farm-

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