Sharing your yard with a canine companion can be one of the best parts of having a lawn. Planting grass is good for animals. Dogs love a space to run, play and relax, and when lush, green grass fills that space, happy dogs result. Dogs enjoy the nature connection that pet-friendly lawns provide, and the cooling effect of grass — just one of its environmental benefits — helps take the bite out of summer heat on your pet's fur and paws.
Even though he's man's best friend and loves your lawn as much as you do, your dog can wreak havoc on grass, just by nature of being who he is. Dogs often create discolored spots in lawn grass as a natural result of urination, and their instinct to dig can leave you and your yard with large holes in need of repairs. Even though your lawn may endure a little extra because of your four-legged buddy, you can manage lawn spots quickly and easily with simple, effective lawn repairs.
By making quick lawn repairs, taking just a few precautionary measures, and being patient with your dog as he learns, you and your dog can coexist harmoniously with your healthy, beautiful lawn.
Managing Urine Spots
Grass discoloration or "dog spots" are caused by the large amount nitrogen and related salts contained in dog urine.1 Female dogs often get blamed for this problem, but their urine is no different than that of male dogs.2 When urine is concentrated in an area, lawn damage happens. It's a lot like fertilizer burn.
All dogs that squat to urinate, including females, puppies, elderly dogs, small dogs and some adult males, can harm grass when they urinate in one concentrated area. Because most male dogs lift a leg to "mark" their territory with spurts, they spread their urine effect over a larger area, so not as many urine spots result in grass.
Minor lawn damage due to dog urination often resolves on its own as healthy new growth emerges in your lawn.2 However, areas that your dog uses frequently for urination will typically need repair.
Two types of spots trouble dog owners most: green spots and brown spots. Though urine causes both, the results and the remedies differ.
- Green spots: Because of the high nitrogen in Fido's urine, his favorite spots can become greener than the surrounding grass. This effect happens primarily on grass that hasn't had enough nitrogen from fertilizer.4 Your whole lawn could be that same rich color if it had the extra nitrogen it needs. To determine if nutrients are available to your grass, take a soil sample and have it tested. Correct low nitrogen in your lawn by applying Pennington UltraGreen Lawn Fertilizer 34-0-4 every 60 to 90 days through the growing season, or as recommended by your soil testing lab. This fertilizer increases drought tolerance, similar to tolerance to urine salts, while boosting nutrient uptake for a lush, green lawn.
- Brown spots: The most severe cases of urine damage result in brown spots, which are areas of dead and dying grass. Lawns that are overly dry and already weak and stressed are especially susceptible to this type of damage. Whenever patches of brown grass begin to appear, water the area deeply and repeatedly to flush the urine salts out of the surrounding soil. Small areas of damage will fill in with the surrounding grass over time, but you can step in and speed up nature's repair.5 Remove the dead grass, and then repair the spot with Pennington One Step Complete. This all-in-one remedy combines drought-tolerant, water-conserving, premium Pennington Smart Seed grass seed, professional-grade fertilizer and natural wood mulch to grow beautiful, healthy grass where your brown spots were.
Whenever you do lawn repairs, remember to keep your pet away from any area with new grass seed. You don't need to worry about your dog, but you do need to protect your future grass. New grass seed needs time to germinate and get established with strong healthy roots before it's ready for Fido to visit and play. A good rule of thumb is to let grass grow and mow it at least three to four times before you allow dog or people traffic.
Preventing Future Urine Damage
To help prevent urine spots around your lawn, the best plan of attack is to train your pooch to relieve himself in a specific area of your yard.1 Mulch an area of your landscape with natural wood mulch so it blends in well and Fido can urine somewhere other than on your grass. Dogs usually respond well to the extra attention and praise that using their special spot brings.
Avoid using mulch made from cocoa bean hulls, even though it smells nice and chocolaty and looks good. Cocoa bean hulls can be toxic to your canine friend if he decides to investigate that smell and see how things taste — and he probably will.
Some pet stores and even vet clinics offer dietary supplements that promise to change the nitrogen content or pH of dog urine. However, there is no scientific evidence that these products work. Some of these supplements can cause urinary system problems and other dangerous issues for your pet, such as calcium deposits in young dogs.1
Dogs, especially puppies, have a lot of energy. They may dig for entertainment, to try and escape or to hunt prey, such as moles.3 It can take some time to train your dog to stop digging once they develop the habit, so intervene early — with attention, training and praise — to stop digging problems right away. In the meantime, step in with quick lawn repairs to fix digging holes as soon as they appear:
- Fill holes with high-quality topsoil and gently compress the soil in the hole with your foot. Continue filling and compressing lightly until the solid soil surface is even with the surrounding area. Don't press too hard or you can create a pocket of compacted soil that inhibits healthy grass growth and may need aeration down the road.
- Apply Pennington One Step Complete mixture to the surface of the soil according to label instructions.
- Water thoroughly, and keep the area moist until the grass is tall enough to mow, about 3 inches. To help you determine when to water, the natural mulch included in Pennington One Step Complete turns a lighter brown color when it gets dry and needs more water.
While you can't change your dog's instincts, you can provide him with appropriate outlets for the extra energy that feeds his digging tendencies. Make sure he has plenty of toys to play with when you aren't around, and wear out him a little with backyard play or long walks.
For terriers and other types of dogs bred to dig underground for burrowing rodents, create an area just to satisfy those instincts. For example, build a sandbox and hide toys in it for your dog to find. Reward him with a treat and praise for digging only in his personal sandbox.3
Owning a dog and having a beautiful lawn requires some compromise and a little extra work, but time spent with your companion enjoying a healthy lawn makes every effort worth it. Occasional lawn repairs are a small sacrifice compared to the unconditional love your canine gives.
A beautiful lawn can go hand in hand with your beloved dog. With patience, proper training and premium Pennington products, you can have the lawn you desire and a happy, grass-loving pooch.
Pennington, One Step Complete and Smart Seed are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.
UltraGreen is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.
- Alison O'Connor, Tony Koski, "Dog Urine Damage on Lawns: Causes, Cures, and Prevention," Colorado State University Extension, October 2014.
- Ali Harivandi, "Lawns 'n' Dogs," University of California Cooperative Extension, 2007.
- "Dig This: How to Get Your Dog to Stop Digging," The Humane Society of the United States.
- Cale Bigelow, Nolie Parnell, Zac Reicher, Tom Voigt, "Animal Urine Damage in Turf," Purdue Extension and University of Illinois Extension, May 2006.
- Christopher Enroth, "Dog Gone Lawn," University of Illinois Extension, December 2014.