When I told my mother I was writing an article on gardening with pets, her response was, “No! No! Bad Dog!!” Maybe she’s not ready for this article.

Bonnie ready for Christmas

Bonnie enjoyed her visit to a Maryland greenhouse at Christmas.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Bonnie cooling down

Some days, the best option is to just take it easy. Bonnie relaxes in front of a garden bench.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Bonnie hunting moles

Pesky moles have no chance when Bonnie’s around.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Nacho in the garden

Little dogs like to find shade to leisurely chew a stick.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

A chemical-free garden is a wonderful place for pets, especially dogs. But cats, rabbits, fish, turtles and pet birds also enjoy – and can benefit from – being outdoors with their humans. (And those of us with a certain sense of humor love to see a cat high on catnip.)

My black Lab Bonnie follows me everywhere I go, including out to the garden. I have discovered lots of ways to have fun with her outdoors, and she knows there are places in the garden where she can’t go. Let me share some of the things I’ve learned from her:

Be prepared for small disasters. If you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know never to go anywhere without your towel. Have several on hand, in fact, to mop up spillages and clean muddy paws.

Start introducing your four-legged buddy to the garden by doing something simple in your yard, like strolling beside your beautiful border. This way, it’s easy to keep an eye on Rover – and reprimand him quickly – before any damage can be done.

Don’t try to do too much at once. Multitasking is a wonderful thing, but too much is too much. Puppies and cats like to explore, so attempting an all-day gardening chore while keeping an eye on these curious types can be daunting. Older dogs and reliable cats are happy just to lie in the sun. And don’t have all the animals out together, since the cat may decide the fish have lived too long already while you’re busy transplanting an overgrown forsythia.

Have a place for dogs to dig. Bonnie is an ace mole hunter, so I put her to work. The damage she does to the lawn is much less than what an intrepid mole can do, and it’s easy to push soil and grass back into place. Oh, and don’t be surprised when your dogs want to roll in the compost pile; it’s natural.

Cats are looking for catnip (first and foremost), but they also want scratching places. Tree bark is excellent for that. Sheltered sunny spots on the patio are another favorite, where they can spin and stretch.

When Good Pets Go Bad

Bonnie cannot resist chasing a squirrel, so I have resigned myself to that inevitability. She’s never actually caught one, so that helps. But what about the digger who can’t be stopped or the cat who can’t leave the bird feeder unprotected? Remember, pets are like children. Distract them! A cat supplied with catnip will quickly forget about the birds, and dogs with their own special digging spot will leave yours alone.

So okay, not every dog – and even fewer cats – can be a gardening pet. Because Bonnie is the smartest dog in the world, she understands there are limitations to where she can go and what she can do. Pets, like children, have to test those limits sometimes. Be consistent in your behavior and your pets will look forward to gardening with you.