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Dogs & Lawns
Yes,pooches and grass can peacefully coexist!

Q. Mike: I moved into a newhouse last Thanksgiving. We ran out of time to have the back sodded, mydog had to 'use' the front, and now I have several spots that lookburned and dead. Is there anything I can do or should I justreseed?  Thanks,
                    ---Buddy in FredericksburgVirginia

Mike: Is there a product that will protect my lawn from dog urinedamage? I have a Great Dane and a half Dane, half Shepherd. Thank you,
                   ---Susan in Greensburg, Pa. (30miles SW of Pittsburgh) 

Mike: Our VERY active poodle loves being outside—barking at cars andchasing squirrels—and has torn up all the grass. We have a lot ofmature trees in our yard; they cool our house wonderfully in thesummer, but make it really hard to grow much grass to begin with. Isthere a lawn we can plant here that can stand up to Rocky the poodle?If the neighborhood didn't have rules against it, I would gravel it allover!  Thank you.
                      ---Kate in North Wilmington,Delaware

Hello Mike! My puppy digs in my gardens. Is there a product to deterher digging without hurting her or the garden? Thank you,
                    ---Debra in West Islip (LongIsland), NY
A. We always get LOTS of doggiequestions—but I've always avoided them, fearing that there weren't manygood answers. But now, thanks to a turf grass expert and an animalbehavior specialist, we can (finally!) offer some help.

Iowa State University Professor—and YBYG's resident turf grass expertsupreme—Nick Christians says that urine spots in lawns come in twoforms. If the affected grass turns a deeper green than the rest, thelawn is underfed; the urine is providing the Nitrogen it craves—feedthe entire lawn and the colors will even out.

Dead brown spots occur when dogs pee in the same place over and overand the Nitrogen in their urine burns the grass—just like overfeedingwith a chemical lawn fertilizer. Nick says that if you water the spotimmediately after the dog pees, it will dilute the Nitrogen and preventburning. It also helps to keep the dogs moving around, he adds; useportable fencing or something similar to make sure they can't keepattacking the same spot.

Recovery? If the grass is a spreading type like Kentucky blue, any deadspots should fill back in naturally before too long, he explains. Ifit's a clumping grass—the kinds most often used in shady spots—it needsto be reseeded. Be very careful reseeding sod; make sure you get agrass that matches up well.

Dr. Ilana Reisner, Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at theUniversity of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine (, addsthat 'grass burning' problems are going to be worst when the dogshaven't urinated for a number of hours—like first thing in the morningand when their owners return home from work—because this concentratedurine is very Nitrogen rich. Both male and female dogs will often squatin one spot to pee at such times, she explains, which furtherconcentrates the—eh, 'deluge of Nitrogen', shall we say…

The best solution is to take the dog out for a walk at these times; itdoesn't need to be a long one, she notes—when they're that full,they'll pee as soon as you let them. Or provide your dog with adedicated spot somewhere out of sight in your landscape and train themto understand that that's where they should go. Use the same verbal cuevery time, like "let's go pee," let the dog see and sniff a treat (dogowners should have treats in their pockets at all times, she wiselynotes), lead them to the spot and give them the treat right after theypee.

If you need to, you can later modify this to the dog running out alonewhen asked to and coming back for the treat. But Dr. Reisner warns thatit is very important that the treat be given "on location" while thedog is being trained. Later on, you can work up to the dog running backfor their reward, but don't drop out of the picture entirely—anenergetic "good dog!" should be called out while they are urinating.

She warns against an oddball tactic that's apparently making the roundsof using different foods to try and change the pH of that pee. "Urinehas a fairly neutral pH in healthy animals", she explains, "and makingit too acidic or alkaline could cause bladder stones or otherproblems." And both she and Nick agree that it's the Nitrogen contentand not the pH that damages grass. So don't withhold water from yourpets—its really bad for them in general and just further concentratesthat nitrogen. Instead, give your dog extra water; it may dilute theirurine enough that it doesn't damage grass. Add water to their dry foodor some wet food to their dry food; maybe even add a touch of salt sothey'll drink more.

Ripped up turf? Nick says that in the North, the grass that can besttake excessive 'paw traffic' is tallfescue; it does well in sun and shade, and is so tough, they use itat the University for overflow parking fields! Sow it thickly, reseedbare spots every year, don't over-fertilize—and, of course, keep dogsoff until it gets established. Down South, the choice is Bermuda grass(St. Augustine in the Florida and Gulf Coast area).

And pay special attention to lawns that dogs run on a lot—mow high,fertilize as recommended, and keep it on the dry side. When you mustwater, provide a week's worth in one long soaking. And if none of thisworks, Nick suggests you admit defeat and replace the grass with a nicegroundcover like Englishivy, which dogs don't seem to damage as easily.

Dr. Reisner adds that if the dogs are mostly 'fence runners' (a verycommon behavior, she notes), consider replacing the area right next tothe fence with smooth stone, gravel or sand. And she warns that if youhave more than one dog, they're going to chase and play with each otherno matter what—so if you want dogs and a lawn, get small dogs. Breedsthat weigh less than 40 pounds are much more compatible with turf, shenotes.

Digging? All dogs will dig in the summer, she explains, to create anice cool spot to lie down in—so choose such an area for them; pick ashady place away from your plantings and till up the soil there to getthem started. "Dogs love loose dirt," she notes; "they love thedifferent smells in it; soft, freshly-worked soil is very enticing tothem."  Or give them a sandbox to dig in; "they seem to enjoy sandeven more", she explains; "it provides great play for them". Eitherway, hide some toys or treats in there, praise them when they go thereto dig and they should leave your other areas alone. If they don't,simply fence off your nicest spots.

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2005Mike McGrath

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