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EDITOR'S LETTER: Dogs in the Garden

Photo credit: Karen England
Dover and Devon, Karen England's collies, watching the sunset from the top of her Vista, CA garden in February 2020.

By Karen England.

One of the unexpected outcomes of the Covid-19 quarantine is the remarkable number of pets that have been rescued from shelters worldwide. Maybe even you have adopted a pet during this time or are considering it. You are not alone. On April 27th, 2020, Kirk McKoy wrote in the Los Angeles Times,

"Around the world, animal shelters are emptying out because of the coronavirus outbreak. People who are confined to their homes are adopting or fostering animals en masse. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the benefit of having a companion animal is tangible. The nonprofit is seeing an increase in people interested in fostering and adopting animals. It has managed to find temporary foster homes for most of its animals."

There is no way to know how many of these newly adopted pets are dogs, but common sense tells us that the percentage must be quite high. Even I got a new dog during quarantine although, in my case, not because of it.

Photo credit: Karen England
Dover in the garden at sunset.

My six-year-old beloved companion collie, a Lassie lookalike named Dover, became mysteriously ill in February and passed away in May during the height of the pandemic leaving me and my other dog, a four-year-old rescued collie, named Devon, all alone to take care of things here on our two acres in Vista, CA (as a puppy, Devon was not wanted by the family who originally bought him once they found out that he has a genetic skin disease. I rescued him off of Craigslist at 4 months old and have had him ever since.)

Photo credit: Karen England.
Devon with the yellow California poppies in Karen's garden.

I had no intentions of getting another dog right now, but after I told Dover's breeder that my dog had passed away, she happened to tell me about an available for adoption one-year-old collie that she had, a nephew of Dover's, who is blind in one eye . . . and, one thing led to another - you guessed it! Just like that, I now have another dog! I named him Derby . . .

Photo credit: Karen England
Derby, nicknamed "the New Guy" with Karen's Berries and Cream climbing rose.

As a gardener and a dog owner, for over 30 years now, I've learned a thing or two about keeping gardens and keeping dogs. Here are few things that I have learned along the way. Things that work for me and some that don't with regard to dogs and gardens, things that may possibly help you with your new garden friend -

What Works For Me:

1. For those of you who haven't chosen a dog yet, but are thinking of doing so, choosing a garden friendly breed of dog can be a huge help to the avid gardener.

Julie Bond, animal behaviorist and former wild animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo told me the following -

"As a general rule, terriers are diggers, so they don't do well in homes with avid gardeners who are opposed to a digging dog. Doxies (Dachshunds) are avid diggers too. Bored dogs dig, so I often see huskies and beagles with digging problems and the doodles seem to be notorious for eating bark. Herding dogs are less prone to digging as are the larger hounds like greyhounds." To learn more from Julie please visit her website

I started out gardening 30 years ago with a 5 weeks old (way too young, but I didn’t know any better at the time) mutt puppy named London who was a collie, shepherd, & lab mix. She was an amazing dog, who's list of stellar qualities included saving me from stepping on a coiled, ready to strike, silent baby rattlesnake by getting in front of me as I walked toward it and physically blocking my path. London only dug in our yard twice in 12 years, both times because delivery people accidentally shut her outside of our gated fence and she tried to dig her way back inside!

Photo credit: Karen England.
Karen's first collie (mix), London.

When London passed away from old age in 2001, my hubby and I wanted and needed another dog but had no idea what kind to get so we researched the three breeds that made up our beloved mutt and it turned out that she was primarily a rough coated collie in temperament and nature, no matter what other breeds were in her family tree, albeit she was a collie with webbed feet, (they are very rare!) so we went with what we knew worked for us and we ended up buying a "companion" purebred collie dog off the internet in 2002! You may not know that the AKC, American Kennel Club, has registration for companion dogs, as well as for show and breeding dogs. These companion dogs are all fixed, spaying or neutering is part of the AKC registered companion program requirements, among other things, but they are still purebred dogs. That whole dog buying transaction could have been a disaster, but it worked out wonderfully and the dog that we named Windsor was every bit the hero that you would expect of a collie, and, in 2009, he saved my husband and me, not to mention our home, from a house fire.

Photo credit: Karen England.
Karen's AKC companion collie Windsor was a hero!

From my perspective, for gardeners, the rough coated collie breed is ideal, they don't dig, are very easy going, smart, easily trained, they wish to please and are content in a wide variety of situations. This is not to say that collies are the only ideal breed, they are just the only breed (besides beagles, which I will address in a minute . . .) that I have any experience with and I'm sharing my experience with you. Sadly, both my husband and Windsor passed away, 24 hours apart from each other, in 2014. After that, my family did not want me to be alone on two acres, grieving, without a dog, so they arranged through a collie group on Facebook that I belong to, to get me a collie puppy - and that puppy was Dover.

Photo credit: Karen England.
Dover watching "Lassie Come Home" on the big screen TV in the living room. The resemblance was uncanny . . .

2. For those of you who have already chosen the dog, whether it be purebred or mutt, making your garden dog friendly is not that hard but training your dog is key.

Understanding the breed, or breeds if you know, that make up your dog will help you both to enjoy each other as well as your outdoor space by understanding your dog's particular needs. When I was 13 years old, my father got me a purebred beagle puppy as a Christmas present from one of his coworkers who talked him into it, saying "beagles don't bark" and that "they make great family dogs". Well, they don't bark, true, they howl! The coworker did not explain any beagle attributes to us, we were clueless and forever chasing after the dog as it took off out of the yard and down the street after some scent trail that we had no idea was there. The dog ended up going back to the coworker into his breeding program to live happily with people who understood her needs. It was a hard but helpful life lesson.

If space allows, fence in an area for your dog that is a part of the whole garden, or, as I have done, invest in and install an "invisible fencing" system. (Disclaimer, I am only a customer and not affiliated with the Invisible Fence Brand otherwise.) In the invisible fence system, the dog/s wear a collar with a sensor that reacts to the perimeter "fenced" area that has been installed in your garden. A word of caution, the system only works if you remember to put the collars on the dog/s.

· There is a book (also an eBook) by the late Cheryl S. Smith (that I have not read personally) available from that you may find helpful entitled Dog Friendly Gardens - Garden Friendly Dogs

· This link to an article entitled "The Ultimate Guide to Building a Dog-Friendly Garden" by Alison McEvoy contains really helpful info including plant lists of both good and bad plants for dogs.

· Sharon Cohoon wrote a great article for Sunset in 2005 that was updated in 2018 on "How to Landscape a Dog-Friendly Garden".

3. Get professional help training your puppy or new dog.

Even though I, as a new dog owner in 1989, flunked out of puppy school twice! Yes, no certificate of achievement for me! My puppy dog London passed her part of the puppy school with flying colors and I still learned a lot of helpful stuff from my dunces’ corner. The biggest thing I learned was that all puppies and teenage dogs, no matter the breed, chew and dig as they learn about the world. DO NOT EXPECT A PUPPY TO NOT CHEW THINGS. Instead, provide your pup with appropriate chew toys and treats along with areas to safely play in your home and in your garden until they are no longer puppies. I also learned that "the bigger the dog at maturity, the longer the puppyhood". In my case, my 85ish-pound collie dogs are considered to be puppies until they are two and a half to three years of age. This fact is why professional dog trainers are helpful, they can get you, your pet and your garden safely through a long puppyhood.

4. Not having a lawn. I have never had a lawn so, I've never had to worry about brown spots, but if you do have a lawn you should know that female dogs make worse brown spots with their urine than male dogs do simply because male dogs spray their urine over a wider area and it is not all concentrated in one spot as it is with the gals. Watering after your dog urinates on the lawn to dilute the pee helps but is a nuisance. Keeping your dog well hydrated also helps. There are products available, such as nutritional enzymes and drinking water additives that bind with the nitrogen in the urine, making it less harmful to your lawn. Visit to learn more.

5. Know your soil amendments. If you plant bulbs or other plants using bone and/or blood meal as soil amendments and have a dog, do not be surprised if your dog is interested! Digging dogs will dig up your bulbs for the "bone" meal . . . And, if ruining your bulb garden is not bad enough, if your dog eats the blood and bone meal amended soil it can cause the pooch serious gastrointestinal problems that, in worst case scenarios, may require emergency surgery to fix.

For more information and to learn more visit the Pet Poison Helpline:

What Has Not Worked For Me:

1. Clicker training. It is highly recommended (even by my current dog trainer) but it has not worked for me. I think (know) that I am the problem. Moving on . . .

2. Other do-it-yourself dog training systems. My husband bought a VHS tape (remember those?) dog training program off of late-night TV when we got London as a puppy. She was our first dog as adults and as a married couple. We both failed that program. So, next I checked out dog training books from the library, my favorite? The Rudd Weatherwax Lassie Dog Training System for obvious reasons . . . We failed that system too. Nowadays, I hire a professional who works with just me and my dog, dealing with our specific needs. The trainer helps us both to learn some good behavior.

3. High expectations! I am never going to be a dog trainer myself, and I have learned to lower my expectations to a more reasonable and relaxed "peaceable kingdom" mentality where everyone is content although clearly not perfectly behaved.

Photo credit: Karen England
Karen England and her collie Devon.

Karen England and her dogs garden on two sloping acres in Vista, CA. She, her garden and all her pets can be found on instagram @edgehillherbfarm - give her a follow!


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