Chances are that your dog loves your lawn just as much as you do. They see it as the perfect place to run, play, dig, and go to the restroom – all of which can take quite a toll on the health of your grass.
While you want to keep your dog happy, you probably also want to keep your lawn looking lush, green, and free of dead patches – but these two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. From picking the most dog-hardy grass type to training your dog to have some more lawn-friendly behaviors, read through this guide explaining everything you need to know on how to grow healthy grass that can be enjoyed by both you and your dog.
How Do Dogs Destroy Grass?
There are several different ways that dogs can wreak havoc on lawns and damage the grass growing in them. The only way to prevent this damage from happening is to understand the various ways in which dogs are able destroy grass so you can either stop the damage before it has been done, or in the case that it’s too late for prevention, so you can identify the source of the issue and take the necessary steps to remedy the effects that your dog might have had on your lawn.
The most common ways that dogs can damage grass include:
Dogs usually need to urinate at least 3 to 5 times a day. This can start to take a toll on any grass that becomes their regular spot, especially if they’re able to freely access the yard throughout the day. The reason why dogs’ urine can be so damaging to lawns is down to its chemical makeup, as dog pee contains a few different substances that have a harmful effect on healthy growing grass.
One of the main substances found in dog urine is called ‘urea’, a byproduct that is created during dogs’ metabolism of protein, and this urea naturally contains a huge amount of nitrogen. While nitrogen is one of the main primary nutrients needed by grass and other plants for tissue production and growth, excessive amounts will actually have a negative effect on plants, causing them to turn yellow or brown and eventually killing them off.
Some dog owners try to control the damage done to their grass by encouraging their dog to pee in one specific part of their lawn, however it can take a lot of time and effort to get the dog into the habit of this behavior and it means that some areas of the grass will still end up damaged. You are able to fix yellow spots on your lawn caused by dog urine, but doing so can require a significant amount of effort and you may end up having to entirely regrow patches of the grass from scratch, so preventative maintenance is the best way to try and avoid this issue.
Dog poop can damage grass in the same way that dog urine can, as it also contains some amounts of nitrogen. Beyond this, the bigger issue with dog poop is that it contains moisture and bacteria that can disrupt the balance of microflora in the soil and that promotes the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi, thus causing the grass to turn yellow and die. Dog poop can also become quite a significant biohazard if it is left for too long, so it’s essential to get into the routine of picking up your dogs’ poop as regularly as possible to protect your lawn and any other living thing that spends time on it.
It’s in a dog’s nature to dig, and unfortunately, this makes lawns make the perfect environment for them to explore this behavior whenever they get the urge. Dogs usually tend to pick out a favorite spot to dig, which might be somewhere in your yard that’s out of the way and doesn’t cause an issue, but most seem to enjoy picking a spot right in the middle of the lawn and creating an unsightly hole in the grass.
Letting your dog dig holes in your lawn will cause severe damage to the grass blades and roots, and will do quite a bit of damage to the soil that the grass is growing in. When dogs dig holes, they cause the soil to be overexposed to the air which can dry it out. The dog’s repetitive digging actions can also create areas of compaction in the soil, which will make it more difficult to revive the area when you go to reseed it as compaction is one of the factors that can prevent new grass seed from growing.
Allowing your dog to run across your lawn won’t usually lead to any major problems, but it might if your dog has a habit of repeatedly running across the same areas when it goes out for some exercise. It’s likely that this is the case if you have noticed that your grass seems to be damaged in areas along your fences or between your dog’s favorite spots in the yard, for instance along the route it takes from the backdoor to its dog house.
The damage is done by the dog crushing grass blades under its paws and even dislodging sections of turf while it runs. Destruction of grass can be avoided by encouraging your dog to make use of the entire space of your yard. If your dog is attached to a runner or leash when it spends time outdoors, remember to move the tether every so often to spread out the impact it might have on the grass.
Best Grass Characteristics for Dogs
Some grasses are better than others when it comes to being resistant and hardy against the wear and tear of our canine friends. Before getting into the exact species of grasses that are particularly good at coping with the impact of dogs, we’ll go through some of the general characteristics you should look out for when choosing the best dog-proof grass type for your lawn:
Pick the Right Species for Your Climate
All grass types fall under one of two categories, being either ‘cool-season’ or ‘warm-season’. Warm-season grasses prefer warmer climates and tend to grow best in southern areas, while cool-season grasses are the opposite, thriving in cooler temperatures and usually found in the north. Find out the best grass type for your lawn based on the usual climate conditions for your area to give your lawn the best chance of thriving against the elements as well as the impact of your dog.
Pick a Species with a Fast Growth Rate
Even the most robust grass types will likely see some amount of damage if dogs are allowed to run and play on them, so the only thing you can really do to control this damage is to pick a species of grass with a fast growth rate that will recover from the damage as quickly as possible.
Pick a Species with Deep Root Systems
In general, grass species that tend to develop deeper roots have a better chance of being hardy against dog-related damage and will recover more quickly than those with shorter roots. Another benefit of these species is that grass with deeper roots can discourage dogs’ digging habits.
Which Dog-Hardy Grass Species Should I Choose?
There are a number of different grass types that can be more resistant to the effects of dogs, but the top five most commonly mentioned grass types include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fescues, Bermudagrass, and Zoysia grass.
Kentucky Bluegrass is an extremely resilient cool-season grass type that grows most vigorously in cooler climates, but it can be successfully grown in most areas. It’s known for its fast rate of growth, hardiness, and its ability to recover after being damaged or trampled. In addition to its practical benefits, it also looks very attractive, making it a popular choice of species.
Perennial ryegrass is another relatively hardy cool-season grass. It has a rapid germination and growth rate, meaning that it will regrow quickly after any potential damage, as well as a robust root system that further improves its hardiness and resistance to traffic from humans and dogs alike.
There are a few different varieties of fescue grasses available that can either be cool-season or warm-season, so choosing the best type for your lawn would be dependent on the usual climate in your area. Overall, fescues are a pretty hardy species of grass, with many types even being capable of growing in shady areas. Fescue grasses’ ability to absorb and retain moisture makes them particularly resistant against dogs’ pee and poop.
Bermudagrass is a warm-season species that will do best in warmer, more southern climates. It tends to go dormant in the winter, turning brown when temperatures drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but it will green back up when the warm weather returns in summer. It’s an excellent choice for yards that see a lot of foot and paw traffic, and will rarely require supplemental irrigation.
Zoysia is another warm-season species that has also been known to be tolerant to cooler temperatures. Once it has been established, it is relatively drought-tolerant and hardy against the elements, however it can take at least four years or longer to reach this stage.
How to Prevent Lawn Damage from Dogs
The easiest way to counteract the impact that dogs can have on your lawn is to take some preventative measures in an effort to reduce the inevitable damage they may do to otherwise healthy grass.
The upkeep of your garden often requires lawn fertilizers. When owning dogs, be sure that to use pet-safe lawn fertilizer, or follow the instructions closely on inorganic fertilizer.
Train Out the Behavior
It’s easier said than done, but a highly effective way to reduce lawn damage from your dog is to train them not to go to the restroom wherever they want. Pick a spot in your yard then encourage them to pee and poop in it anytime they go out to relieve themselves. When they go, say your restroom command of choice and reward them with praise and a treat. Continue doing this as much as you can until they start going to the designated area to do their business on their own accord.
Don’t Let Them Run Wherever They Want
If your grass is suffering damage from being trampled by your dog, take more control when letting them out for a run or a play. When you open the door, instead of letting them run wherever they want, guide them to a designated part of your yard that you don’t mind them destroying, such as areas hidden by trees or those that are difficult-to-see. You can fully control this behavior by adding a small fence or gate to keep them in the right place. Alternatively, you could strategically place a kiddie pool or sandbox to tempt them towards the area of your lawn that you want them to use.
Don’t Let Them Dig Wherever They Want
As digging and burying themselves in warm weather is a natural instinct for most dogs, it will be extremely difficult or impossible to fully train this behavior out. Instead, you can take a different approach by digging a hole in an area of your yard where you wouldn’t mind them having a dig, and guide them to it. This might be enough to correct the behaviour, but if not you might need to take some ezra measures to protect your grass.
How to Fix Lawn Damage from Dogs
If your lawn is severely damaged you may need to take some more extensive measures to revive it, however you can follow these simple steps for overseeding below to try to repair any minor patches of damage caused by your dog.
1. Take a rake and run it over any areas of your lawn that look patchy or where the grass has been destroyed, removing as much of the dead grass as possible.
2. Add a layer of finely ground limestone, the finer the better, and let it sit for at least a week. You can water the patchy areas at this stage to help the limestone fully absorb.
3. Cover the affected areas with a layer of topsoil and apply a new sprinkling of grass seed. Water the areas daily for a couple of weeks, making sure not to overwater and wash the seed away. You should start to see growth of the new grass seed which will eventually fill in the patches in your lawn when the seedlings have become fully established.
Tip: Lime can be harmful to your dog if they ingest it or come into contact with it. See our article Does Lawn Lime Hurt Pets for more advice on how to safely use lime around your pup.