Since moving to my new home last year I have thrown myself into a new activity – gardening! To my huge surprise I have found the world of gardening and gardeners to be very similar to dog training and dog trainers. This was a parallel I did not expect to find.
When I sold my house, the first thought that popped into my mind was about creating a new garden. This was most unexpected. I’ve always liked flowers. Looking at them, rather than growing them. I called myself a guerrilla gardener. Employing more of a karate chop than a Chelsea chop, most of my gardening consisted of chopping back shrubs while grumbling about them keeping coming back rather than staying chopped. I didn’t enjoy gardening but I liked the end result.
So it came as quite the surprise when I started dreaming about what plants to buy and which vegetables to grow (no idea where this popped up from!) Til now all I’d wanted was a secure garden for the dogs to enjoy. Suddenly I was planning more than just a terrier proof fence.
Books, books, books
Whenever I embark on something new, my first port of call is a bookshop. I want books about the subject so that I can study, learn, revise and return to them whenever needed. I started looking for the most highly recommended books on garden design and growing veg. I did this by Googling and then reading reviews. I searched under the names of telly gardeners as that was my only point of reference.
As you might expect, I had mixed results. I chose three books to get me started. One written by a young gardener that focussed solely on vegetables, Veg in One Bed by Huw Richards. Another written by one of the Gardeners’ World folks on garden design. And one by long time gardening stalwart Alan Titchmarsh on greenhouse gardening.
I chose pretty well. Two of the three have been super useful, with the veg one being my growing bible for much of the time. But the design book left me cold. There was stuff in there that I just didn’t understand. I don’t even know how they managed to make the section on how to measure your garden so complicated. Or why. Much of it was so general as to not be any help at all. The greenhouse book was great. A slim volume written back in 2010, it was full of practical advice about hygiene and maintenance as well as clear, useable recommendations for what and how to grow in a greenhouse.
In addition to these books, I hit social media. I opened an Instagram account dedicated to my new garden. Mostly so that I could track my progress. But also to connect with and learn from other gardeners. I started following gardening folks on Twitter too. But I’ve always had a sketchy relationship with Twitter so didn’t have high expectations for any positive help to be forthcoming from this particular source.
But what I found on Twitter was that the more flowers that appeared in my feed, the less politics and general doom and gloom seemed to dominate. They were still there, but being interspersed with a beautiful dahlia or glorious garden scene helped restore some balance to my doom scrolling. I can’t say the TwitterGarden folks were that friendly. Most seem quite chippy. Making a comment or asking a question was often met with zero engagement or a dismissive comment making it clear that I wasn’t part of their ‘gang’.
On the other hand, GardeningInstagram was immediately a much friendlier place. Lots of supportive comments, encouraging words and beautiful pictures. People had lots of advice to share on their grids and I soaked it all up. I also started learning about gardeners who were not household names despite being very well regarded by fellow gardeners. This is where the real learning began.
Gardeners who spent time actively teaching, sharing their knowledge with others through workshops and courses. Gardeners who had been doing the job for years but were still innovating and open to learning from each other. People who knew the ‘rules’ so well that they knew how and when to break them, or even throw them away. These were the people who I needed to follow.
A rule of thumb for me on social media is that I don’t tend to follow people who don’t want to engage. Who are just there to sell or show off or treat you as a number. When I asked questions, the people who never answered or even acknowledged the question were the ones who treated my follow as a commodity. Some of the most engaged and lovely folks have been those who seem to be very busy and productive. But who rarely showed their faces, their accounts being more about sharing gardens than themselves.
If you’ve stuck with me through these gardening tales, I hope that you have started to see just how like dog training is to gardening. When you start with your first dog, where do you go for help and advice? How do you know which advice to follow? Which trainers genuinely want to help you and which just want your custom? Just like the gardening gurus, most dog training gurus are more about self promotion than knowledgable skill sharing.
The requirement to connect with trainers is essential to get the right advice for you, your dog and your situation. I can’t tell you how often gardening advice breaks down to two conflicting solutions : 1. water more or 2. water less. So frustrating. But how can the advice be more specific without gathering history and information about specific conditions and practices? The same applies to dog training.
I like to give options, to acknowledge that all dogs are not the same and what works for one may not work for another. The trainer who states that there is only one way and that is his way do dogs and their people a disservice. Nuance and detail are essential. Just as there is little value in a gardener in southern England setting out a strict watering regime to me in Western Scotland – it just won’t work.
How to navigate the minefield
Navigating the gardening minefield reminded me how difficult it is for folks new to living with dogs to navigate the dog training minefield. In the end it comes down to finding people who share your ethos. I prefer to garden without peat or chemicals. And have found the no dig method a wonder. I like to be fluid in my garden planning and be open to trying things, learning my own lessons, following my gut while learning why it was right or wrong. This ethos is akin to finding a dog trainer who choses to work with the dog, not subject her to his will. To using kindness and understanding rather than fear and punishment. And understanding rather than judging your choices.
Follow this up with a depth of knowledge and a genuine desire to connect and share rather than show off and belittle. In gardening and in dog training. And that’s where you find success. And support. And joy. I love my growing gardening community. It’s still evolving and that’s how I like it. My hope for folks embarking on a similar journey with their dog (or garden!) is that they find their community too. It takes work and judgement and time, but it’s worth it.
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