Dog Damage to Your Lawn
A dog may be man’s best friend, but it certainly isn’t a lawn’s best friend. No matter the condition of your lawn, if you have a dog you’ll notice that they don’t always get along. This is most noticeable the larger your dog is, the smaller your lawn is, and the more habitual your dog is about its activity in your lawn. Even if you love your lawn enough to give it a great lawn care program, if you have dogs damaging your lawn, it will be frustrating to keep it looking great.
Dogs most frequently damage lawns by urinating in areas and killing the grass. People have a misconception that the urine of a female dog is more acidic. Many erroneously believe that it therefore causes more damage than that of a male.
However, it is not acidity of urine that damages turf, it is the level of nitrogen, and various compounds including salts, in your dog’s urine. As your dog’s body breaks down food the waste products are removed from the body by their kidneys and passed through their urine. When dogs relieve themselves on your lawn the overabundance of these materials burn your lawn just as an over-application of fertilizer would.
Fertilizers, when over-applied at a very heavy rate actually draw moisture out of the grass plants, burning it. These cells in the plants are irreversibly damaged. Since female dogs and male dogs have different “aiming” strategies when they urinate, you may notice the burns from your female dog seem worse because they tend to be at a more concentrated area. Males may end up finding their favorite tree or shrub instead of squatting on the ground.
Dogs will often damage lawns by repeating traffic patterns in a lawn. For some dogs, pedestrians and vehicles drive them nuts! Because of this, they run along the same path to bark and chase them. The bigger your dogs are and the more often they run on a regular path, the sooner you’ll notice wear problems on the turf. It can also be very frustrating to get these areas reestablished with new seed; the dogs will trample the young seedlings to death.
Fixing Dog Urine Areas
You may be tempted to buy the latest and greatest cure, but these have been met with limited success. Some property owners apply gypsum to a lawn as it is advertised to neutralize the pH of the dog urine. However, it won’t neutralize excess nitrogen in the soil. Gypsum will improve soil drainage slightly, so that may provide some very minimal help. It may encourage the contaminating elements to leach down past the roots of the grass plants. There are also all sorts of miracle remedies and dietary changes on the market. Unfortunately, none have been proven to make a significant improvement in the urine issue. Please make sure you consult with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet or giving them these supplements.
What to do?
The only successful way to limit dog urine damage on a lawn is to move it. You could try to move the concentration of the urine by immediately watering the areas. This may warrant watering each urination spot with several gallons of water. Most people don’t have the time or attention to monitor and address the issue like this.
You could also move your dog’s favorite spots. If possible exclude them from these areas and rotate them around. This practice helps you prevent damage to the same spots over and over. If you can train them to go to areas that are more obscure like behind a shed or the like then the damage can happen some area other than right off the edge of your patio or walkway. Most dogs will prefer to urinate in grass, but if you or a landscaper can create a mulched or pea gravel area and get them to relieve themselves there, this is a great solution as well.
Repairing areas where dogs have urinated will be futile if you can’t keep your dogs off of those areas for several months. The soil will need to be removed down to a depth of approximately 6″-8″ and replaced with clean topsoil. Be sure to dig a larger area as some areas on the fringe may still have some contaminants. Seed these areas in the early fall and water them regularly for the first year to develop deep root growth.
Dogs get into a rut, literally. Anything you can do to change their behavior of repeatedly running in areas will be good. Otherwise it’s like driving a car over it day in and day out. Some pet owners have changed the configuration of landscaping, and added fences to screen areas from dogs to change their behavior. Some have also changed the signal strength of invisible fence collars to keep their dogs further away from the boundaries.
Seeding Doggy Highways
Again, if you can’t keep dogs off of these areas for several months, it will be futile to try to reseed them. The new seedlings will get trampled and ripped out and won’t stand a chance of maturing. The soil in these areas will be compacted. Aerating your lawn in these areas and/or topdressing them with new soil will be necessary to get new grass seedlings to grow into the soil. Some property owners have also opted for sod installation versus seeding in these areas. Pinning the pieces into the soil will keep them from coming loose until their roots have knitted into the soil. Sod isn’t a sure solution. It will stand up longer than seedlings, but it too will get worn if dogs continue to travel in the same paths.
We know you love your dogs and you also love your lawn. We’d love to help you find a solution so your best friends can get along. If we can be of any assistance with changing and/or repairing your landscape or lawn, please don’t hesitate to contact us.