Last Tuesday I was in Roswell with a new Home Dog Training client and his Labrador Retriever named Billy. Billy was just over a year old, so he still had “a lot of puppy in him”.  We worked on his jumping, mouthing, not listening, and lack of ability to perform basic obedience commands.  After a few hours, he was doing great with the come, sit, walking, etc.  He was also showing his owner that he could be a good and polite little boy.

Stop your dog from digging up your plants

As we were finishing up, I asked my client if he had any more questions or if there was any exercise he wanted to practice again. My client thought for a moment and then said there may be one more thing, but he wasn’t sure if it was a “dog training thing”.  I encouraged him to ask anyway.  He said that he was getting ready for Spring planting and had heard weird stories from his neighbors on how their dogs would pull out the Spring flowers they had just planted.  He didn’t want that to happen to him.  Was this a “dog training thing”?

I have been hearing about this more and more from my dog training clients over the past few years.  Some of the stories that I have been told have actually been pretty funny.  This was because they didn’t happen to me.  I decided to tell my client two of the more interesting stories that I had heard.

A prior dog training client had recently returned from Home Depot.  He bought a few flats of turf to expand the grassy area of his back yard.  He had all the turf delivered to his back patio right outside his sliding glass door and the living room.  His dog loved to sit by the glass door and watch everything that happened in the back.  He would also let his dog out in the back yard at night because the dog loved to sleep on the patio furniture.

So my client puts in a hard day’s work and gets all the new turf laid out in his yard and off of the patio.  During that time, his dog was inside, laying by the glass window staring out at him and whatever else was going on.  That night, he lets his dog out to sleep on the patio and he goes to bed.

My client woke up the next morning to find almost half of all the pieces of turf back on the patio…

Another client of mine had bought thirty plants from the local nursery and worked the afternoon digging holes and planting them around the outside of his house.  He had his dog by his side when he was doing all this. 

The next day when he came home from work, almost all the plants were pulled out of the holes and sitting neatly next to each hole…

The fortunate news was that neither of my clients got super mad at their dogs and thought the whole matter was kind of funny. 

So, first let’s discuss what is going on here. All dogs, like ourselves, learn through repetition. As I reminded my client, this is like the “five times five equals twenty-five” example from our childhood times tables.  We learned the correct answer through constant repetition of flipping the cards and seeing the same answer. The dogs of my prior two clients were no different. 

They observe everything we do.  In both instances, the dogs watched as their master, my dog training client, performed a repetitive and somewhat easy task.  My clients simply taught my dogs to dig and confirmed that was an acceptable action through their own activity.

In the case of the turf, the client cleared the area and placed the turf.  The dog reversed the process and put the turf back where it came from.  The client with all the plants taught the dog to dig and place the plant.  The dog simply removed the plant.

Here is the simple answer.   If you are working in the back yard and are digging or planting, put your dog somewhere else where they can’t see what you are doing.  With that said, I wanted to give some additional suggestions based on my years of experience as a “not so great” gardener but wonderful dog owner.

Think of where you are going to plant your plants or flowers.  If they are in a place where your dog normally likes to dig or poop, you may think about another area.  If your dog has a particular path that they like to run and you are thinking about planting some flowers or plants there, you may need to reconsider.

It is also important to set the scene and slowly introduce your new plants into the yard.  This does not mean to “plant the flowers really, really slowly”.  It is based on deliberately introducing your dog to the “new environment that contains flowers” in a way that teaches him the right thing.

After you pick out your area, based on the suggestions above, place a temporary fence around the area.  This will keep your dog out of the area but give them a lot of time to sniff around it and find “other places that are more interesting”.  One suggestion that often works is to create a digging pit for him at another location far away from your new plants.

Plant your plants in the fenced off area and let them grow and take hold.  Continue to keep your dog away from the area and give him many, more interesting things to do, anywhere else. Once your plants have matured, you can take down the temporary fence (if you so desire).  If your dog starts to become “inquisitive” about the newly opened area, you can scatter feed some of his food in other locations.  He will be far more interested in tasty goodies than your flower bed.

If is also important to pick flowers and plants for a yard that is also home to a dog.  Make sure that none of the plants are poisonous to your dog.  I suggest that you ask your veterinarian for a list of poisonous plants that are normally found in your local area.

Make sure that the plants are “somewhat hearty”.  Dogs can be dogs and you can never guarantee that he won’t run through the plants from time to time.  Make sure that the plants you have decided to plant can “take a hit”.

If you have neighbors with dogs, you can also ask them about their experiences with the plants in their back yards.  Their insights may help you in choosing the right plants for your yard.

Finally, have fun planting and looking forward to a wonderful, warm, and colorful Spring!

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.