Gravel-trained dogs are not a theory

newDonnawebAfter being pulled off my feet and dragged two metres, I was winded and dazed with a broken rib and scrapes on my knees. A stranger tried to help me up, but my dog, still tied firmly to my waist, was barking in my defence against the obedient pair of shelties sitting quietly beside their helpful owner.

I lay on the ground sore and sad and embarrassed.

The host of the dog obedience television show I watched before attaching the leash around my waist forgot to mention you should get to know your dog first before you tie him to your waist. Later, my hairdresser, Heather, confirmed the same thing. The leash-on-waist thing is all lies, especially with a big or bad dog.

When we agreed to take a “free” rescue dog, we were thinking about the house. After all, poodles don’t shed. There would be no more hairy dust-balls on the hardwood.

We had no idea this powerful breed is intense by nature: they are used as police dogs in France. We had spared him from certain death, and now he was paying us back – no job too big, no defence too strong.

While filming my garden show on television a decade ago, I demonstrated how my first dog Kepla could pee on command. Tim, my director of photography, was impressed by this feat – and by the fact we did it in one take. Gardeners with dogs often have less than perfect lawns, I argued, and I wanted to stop this dead-lawn crisis.

A dog can be trained, I promised, to do his job wherever and whenever you want.

I am no dog expert, but I had a lawn to protect and I had a dog. A client of mine added that dogs could also be trained to do their business unsupervised on a gravel pad. (Kepla lived to 17 and she never did learn the gravel trick.)

In less than a year, we replaced her with the rescue poodle Kelly. Right away, he showed promise by chasing deer and defending me from other people’s pets. He also, unprompted, started using a rarely visited gravel area along the side of the house to do his business. It was obviously something Kelly learned from his previous owners. Isn’t it funny how our valuable and special, abandoned and rescued, rib-breaking dog can’t be trained to tolerate Maltese dogs or walk nicely, but he does slip off to the side yard when we are outside to do his business on gravel? How sweet.

But I tell you no lies; through no effort of my own, our poodle is the perfect pet for a gardener with a lawn, as long as there is a patch of gravel nearby.

Now I wonder, does anyone want this garden-perfect, Maltese-defending, almost-trained dog?

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and entertaining speaker. Sign up for her blog feeds at or follow her on Twitter @NoGuffGardener.