Dogs and Lawns
Dogs can be wonderful companions and guardians, but they can also wreak havoc on lawns. Dead spots from high traffic and animal waste can quickly ruin a green lawn. Understanding how pets damage lawns can let you easily find a solution.
Pet waste, urine especially, is a major culprit of lawn damage from dogs. Turf damage usually appears as greener, more vigorous patches of lawn or brown dead spots surrounded by a dark green ring of turf. This can look similar to brown patch and dollar spot, so it is important to monitor animal behavior on your lawn to determine whether the problem is due to dog waste or lawn disease.
Some urban legends have been passed along that say the brown and dead spots on lawns are due to pH levels in dog urine and suggest various diet modifications to change this. There is no scientific evidence that this is the case. The damage done to lawns seems to depend on urine concentration and nitrogen content.
When dogs urinate on grass, they are dumping concentrated nitrogen and soluble salts onto the turf. This produces a fertilizer “green up” effect in small amounts and burn spots in larger amounts. Animal urine can damage any turfgrass species in any climate. Urine appears to cause the most damage on turf with low soil moisture, in months when turf is not actively growing, and on over-fertilized turf.
Puppies and female dogs are more likely than males to squat and urinate all at once in one spot, rather than “marking” in small amounts throughout the lawn. This can intensify lawn problems for these dog owners.
Dog feces also add surplus nitrogen to lawns, but it is released much more slowly than through urine. Solid wastes mainly cause damage through smothering turf and killing it. This problem can be alleviated by raking up and disposing of the feces in a separate area.
The only way to completely eliminate the problem of dog waste on turf is to exclude animals from the area, most likely through fencing off the area from your own or neighborhood pets. If this is not practical, you can try other techniques:
- Walk your dog to a park or field instead of releasing them on the lawn.
- Train pets to eliminate in a designated spot in the yard. You may even want to include a marking post, such as a bird bath or boulder. Consistency for at least two to three weeks (even several months) will be necessary to establish routine behavior.
- Heavily water the spot where a dog urinated on the lawn after it happens. This helps to dilute the urine and minimize damage.
- Maintain healthy turf that can easily recover. Mow with high mowing heights and follow a recommended, proper fertilization schedule. Get healthy lawn care recommendations in Florida from "Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn."
Repellents have not been proven to be effective, and may actually increase urination in some cases by dogs wanting to cover the strange smell.
Some sources also recommend dietary modifications that attempt to dilute or change the nitrogen content of urine. Some side effects can include more frequent urination (and more “accidents”) and could be potentially dangerous. Always consult a veterinarian before attempting dietary changes.
Dogs can also damage turf by digging or through simple wearing of the lawn, especially if they are kept outside. Removing pets from the lawn or behavior training will be necessary to fix these problems. As mentioned above, fencing around the lawn or limiting pet access to specific areas in the yard designed for pet use are some ways to do this.
If you have to re-establish your lawn, consider using a more durable turf and cultivar to minimize wearing damage.
Urine affects all turfgrasses, but warm-season, creeping grasses like bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass generally recover faster. They will usually fill in dead spots before weeds invade.
In general, maintaining healthy turf through proper fertilization, irrigation, mowing is the best way to ensure good recovery from damage. Sometimes, however, damage will be so severe, turf repair is necessary.
Consider re-establishing turf with a warm-season grass. They will hold up better to pet urination and traffic than cool-season grasses, which are susceptible to both forms of damage. Zoysiagrass, seashore paspalum, and bermudagrass have the highest wear tolerance. (Tolerance will also vary among cultivars.)
Remember that having a dog in your life will mean having patience and making compromises—even in landscaping. Flexibility and a good attitude can help you achieve a healthy yard and happy pet.
For more information on appropriate lawn care and turf suggestions for your area, contact your local Extension agent.
Excerpted and adapted from:
L. Trenholm, "Minimizing Traffic Damage to Your Florida Lawn" (ENH152), Environmental Horticulture Department (08/2000).
T. Friday, “The Dog-Scaped Yard” (273KB pdf), UF/IFAS Sarasota Extension (09/2008).
A. Harivandi, “Lawns ‘n’ Dogs (8255)” (1MB pdf), University of California-Davis Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (2007).
S. Thompson, “‘Dog-On-It’ Lawn Problems,” Texas A&M University Aggie Horticulture (retrieved 03/2011).