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The Dog vs. The Lawn

Friday, August 11, 2017 // You have a lawn. You have a dog (or the neighbor has one). Therein lies the rub. You love your lawn. You’ve spent many an hour maintaining and manicuring your turf. You’ve elevated your mowing game to an art form, causing your neighbors to ponder which intricate lawn pattern you’ll create next. Your love your dog. That irrepressible fur baby of yours is indeed a member of the family. And they’re here to stay. The combination of canine plus lawn can create a frustrating equation. From doing their “business,” to digging their way to China through your garden, it sometimes seems they live to wreak havoc on your landscape. Can man’s best friend peacefully co-exist with the best lawn on the block? We’re here to tell you it’s possible.

Let’s take a quick look at the issues at hand:

The “#1 Problem”

Canine urine contains high levels of nitrogen. Nitrogen is great for your soil, but not so good in higher levels for your grass. When your dog does his business, he is dousing your grass with concentrated nitrogen and soluble salts. In smaller or more diluted amounts, the urine tends to have a fertilizer effect, wherein grass grows more quickly and thickly, showing up in patchy green tufts on your lawn. Brown or burned spots occur with more copious amounts of urine, or urine that has a higher nitrogen content. While the most damage seems to occur on turf with low moisture content, over-fertilized lawns, or during those months when grass in not actively growing, damage can occur on any type of turf and across all climates. Are you the owner of a female dog? A sweet little puppy? You will probably notice more damage since both tend to squat to urinate. In contrast, male dogs will often urinate in several areas at a time, marking smaller spots throughout the lawn or hitting up other targets (like fence posts, trees and the like).

The “#2” Issue (See what we did there?)

Feces can also affect the quality of your lawn. While it does contain nitrogen, it is released more slowly due to the waste being solid, so it may take longer for any damage to show. Leave it too long though and it can create a smothering affect, causing those spots in your lawn to die off. 

The Excavation Situation

Dogs are active creatures by nature, making them keen on exploring their environment. They don’t really discriminate when it comes to digging, whether that means uprooting your vegetable garden or destroying your favorite rose bushes. You may find that your canine companion likes to run along the same area in your yard, which can create a bare patch from their constant activity. This is most common along a fence line, where your dog may be trying to garner the attention of passers-by.

We’ve discussed the problems, now let’s look at some solutions. Keep in mind that the only way to completely eradicate these issues is to keep animals off your turf. For most of us, that would be quite impractical. Here are some other thoughts:

  • Create a specific area in your landscape covered in mulch or pea rock where your pup can urinate without damaging the grass. Train your dog to use this as their designated spot. Keep in mind this will need to be consistently reinforced for a period of time to establish as routine behavior.
  • Heavily watering the area where they urinate after they go will dilute the concentration of nitrogen and reduce damage.
  • Pick up after bowel movements a few times a week to prevent solid waste from causing damage.
  • Taking your dog for a walk even once a day can help eliminate – pun intended – some of the issue. Don’t forget to take a doggie bag to clean up after your pet.
  • Dogs tend to dig out of boredom. Walking your dog frequently and playing with him often will keep his activity level up and will help to wear him out, so he will be less likely to tear in to your landscape.
  • If possible, fence off the areas where you don’t want your dog to roam, especially in those places he tends to dig. Install edging that makes it more difficult to access flower beds, or use raised beds to keep him out.
  • Try planting a few shrubs or bushes along a fence line to interrupt your dog’s path, causing less wear and tear on your lawn.
  • Maintain healthy turf that can easily recover. Keep your grass at a higher height. Follow a proper irrigation and fertilization schedule. A healthy lawn will be able to withstand the occasional nitrogen overdose.
  • There are a lot of old wives’ tales or urban legends that claim that if you alter the pH of your dog’s urine it will cause less damage. Save your money by not buying into the idea that dietary supplements or certain pet foods will make the problem go away. Although you may see lots of products on the shelves promising a quick fix, none are scientifically proven. These products can be harmful to your pet’s health. Just say no.
  • Another type of product to pass up are repellents that claim to keep your dog from “going” in a designated area. Again, they have not been proven effective and may even cause your dog to urinate more to try to cover up the strange smell.

Owning a dog (or two) doesn’t have to be synonymous with an unattractive lawn. Dogs make great companions, loyal guardians and beloved members of our families. A little knowledge can go a long way in keeping both your yard and your dog happy and healthy.

Need a good fertilizing routine? Drop us a line, we’ll take care of it!

Tags: Lawn Care