Dog Lessons from Gardening

After six years at the rescue and a lifetime of furry companions, it seems to me that the mistakes I have made in the Memorial Garden mirror the mistakes we sometimes make as pet parents. Here are a few dog lessons learned from gardening.

Acting impulsively.

When we began the garden back in 2011-2012, I was so anxious to get it started that I went to the nursery repeatedly and loaded up the truck without a real understanding of the plants’ new home, how they would pair, or what they needed to thrive. I look back at the pictures of early plantings and sigh; so many were lost. It was a waste of time, effort, and money not to mention the sacrifice of their poor plant lives.

Bringing home a new dog companion should not be based on a whim – or on pity – but a well-thought-out decision based on your lifestyle and level of commitment. Gardens bounce back from our mistakes. Dogs – not so much.

Choosing based on looks not fit.

Walking through a nursery, it’s so easy to be enticed by a gorgeous plant in full bloom. The question is: do you have the right environment and dedication to its long-term care? Will you be there when it flops and needs to be divided? If it requires extra feedings, or watering, or pruning to be its best – will you make the time?

Don’t fall for a dog based on looks – especially a young dog. Think hard about what its needs are now and will become over time. Don’t overlook obvious issues that you are not prepared to address.

Ignoring instructions.

Plant labels, reference books, online resources; the information is there at our fingertips. Failure to research, or worse – ignoring the plain facts presented – is a recipe for gardening disappointment.

Not all dogs come with information. Little or nothing may be known about a dog coming from a shelter. But you can read about breeds or consult with your veterinarian to understand what dog type is best for you as a start. If the dog is a rescue dog, there should be a behavioral assessment at a minimum. Learn all you can before making your commitment to understand if the dog’s personality traits and needs are a good fit for your own.

Not preparing.

There is more to gardening success than sticking a plant in the ground. You have to consider your plants’ unique needs and prepare the soil in advance. Think holistically about the garden’s needs: match environment with best companions that will grow together over time.

Preparing your home and gaining the support of the entire family is essential when bringing home a new dog (that includes considering the feelings of the fur friends that are already there). Your kids who say they will take responsibility: really? Do you have the space and security for your new friend to safely run, play, and thrive?

Right Plant; Wrong Place.

Even the best soil, sun, water may be wrong for a particular plant. A native, drought-tolerant plant placed in an enriched bed perfect for flowering roses will quickly perish from over-feeding and over-watering.

Great dogs are surrendered all the time because they found themselves in the wrong home. Taking the time to think things through will save them – and you – heartache down the road.


Those tiny starts need room to grow. Good company that is well-spaced can provide companionship – even needed protection – but failure to give those roots enough room to grow will stress all.

Bringing a new dog home without a proper introduction or the quality time to devote to each is a recipe for unhappy relationships. Pragmatism is as important as your big heart and good intentions.


A garden takes time to mature. It requires encouragement, editing, and constant refining as it reveals itself over time. Notice something struggling? Don’t give up too soon. Review its needs. Has something changed in the environment? Is a shift in your care required? Does it just need some time? Patience is almost always rewarded.

Did you bring home that perfect dog that found itself homeless through no fault of its own? Lucky you! But that dog wasn’t born that way. Someone put a lot of time and effort into making it so. Expect that any dog will require some degree of training – and that training will require patience and time to take hold. What you get out of a dog is a direct reflection of what you put in. And it does not happen overnight.

Seeking perfection.

A garden is a living, breathing and ever-changing thing. Learn to live with imperfections. Without them, there would be no growth.

Dogs, like people, are also imperfect. Work on the things that matter; accept the things that don’t. Love them regardless.

Trying to do it all yourself.

I have learned so much from my fellow gardeners. They inspire and challenge me, and keep my skills moving forward. Asking for help and input ensures a speedier and better outcome, and creates a community of support.

Even the best dog whisperer benefits from shared experiences and lessons learned. Because each dog has had different life experiences, what works for one dog may not work with another. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The time spent in training will strengthen the bond between you and your dog – and maybe even other humans.

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I am a nascent gardener, rescuer, and photographer, chronicling the journey of the dogs at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento, CA - and the Memorial Garden we have devoted to them.

12 thoughts on “Dog Lessons from Gardening”

  1. What a fantastic post. And the dog pictures are creative, artful and heart full. Thanks for this very important post.

  2. I have been following your post for some time, but I have yet to comment. This is a terrific post. Everyone who adopts a dog should be given a hard copy of it! Your photographs of the dogs, as well as the flowers, are outstanding. All the dogs who have been cared for by you while waiting for their forever homes are lucky indeed.


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