If I ask around my office or look on my blog for the most asked question it is definitely “How do I keep my dog from killing my lawn?”  We all love our pets and of course love our grass, too, so how can we make them compatible?    How can I solve the burn issue in the grass, and is there a supplement that my dog can take to reduce this problem?  

I have consulted with several veterinarians about ways to reduce the damage.  I am yet to come across one  that would recommend for your dog to take something to acidify their urine.  I have never been a huge fan of giving my bulldogs a supplement in their diet, so I have done my research over the years to find the best solutions to the problem.  Some of these are definitely easier said than done, but this problem is not impossible to manage.

Let’s start with the major issue–that is the amount of nitrogen released during urination from your dog.  It is not just a female issue, it is a dog issue.  Dogs are definitely creatures of habit and they tend to go to the bathroom in the same location every time they go.  This is good and this is bad at the same time.  The nice part about this problem is this is an easy way to train your dog to go in an area in the rocks or on a bush.  Dogs are attracted to their scent and like to mark their areas so setting up a scent post or training your dog to go in the rocks is a huge step in the right direction.  If you take your dog out on a leash a couple times a day for two weeks to the same area you would like them to eliminate, they will train themselves to use this area when they are off leash.

So what if you have a male dog?  Many people say that they don’t have any effect on the grass, but they can be just as detrimental as a female if they squat or if they are a large dog.  Large dogs and dogs that squat release an excess amount of nitrogen in one spot and cause the same burn to the grass as the female.  Veterinarians all seem to be on the same page regarding our pet’s diet, and that is that too many dogs get unnecessary proteins.  The cheapest food on the market tends to contain indigestible proteins and this causes an increase in nitrogen in the urine.  You can buy a dog food that is high in proteins, but you will want to make sure it is full of digestible proteins that will help create a safer elimination of waste from your pet.  One of the best foods out there to fix this problem is canned food because they are high in water content.  When the food is higher in water content it helps dilute the urine from your dog and will reduce the burn potential.

Now that I have touched on your dog’s diet, let’s talk about what you can do to aid in the health of your lawn.  All of us like a beautiful dark green lawn, but how do we get one?  Most people would say that nitrogen is what makes our lawn green and that is mostly true but so does iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and the correct amounts of micronutrients.  Most people over or under fertilize their lawns and that is the start of the problem.  When your lawn has excessive nitrogen applied in the fertilizer form and then you add your dogs excess nitrogen in the liquid form you have the makings of a good fertilizer burn.  One way to avoid excess nitrogen is to use slow release fertilizers or organic fertilizers that can control the release.  If your lawn is under fertilized extra nitrogen is like putting a big green bull’s- eye everywhere your dogs goes to the bathroom.   Your bermudagrass lawn needs no more than 6 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 SF per year.   If you have a paspalum lawn you will need no more than 2-3 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 SF per year.  You can look at my blog on “Fertilizing 101” to calculate how much actual product is applied when you fertilize.

So what is the great equalizer?  Water is the best way to combat turf injury resulting from your dog.  While it may seem tedious to water in the dog urine after they go, this will help dilute the nitrogen and keep the burn spots from emerging.  You have up to eight hours after your pet goes to dilute the urine in the soil and prevent the burn from showing its ugly face.  Since no one should be watering everyday, this can present a slight issue unless you go and grab the hose after your dog urinates.  You don’t actually don’t need that much water to solve the problem, you can just bring a large cup of water out with you when your dog goes to the bathroom and pour it over the spot immediately after they go.  Any amount of water will dilute the nitrogen and thus keep the burning to a minimum.  Just as we are told to drink several glasses of water every day to stay healthy, this is also good for your pet and lawn.  The more water they drink, the more diluted their urine will be.  I don’t subscribe to the theory of giving your dog a little salt to make them thirsty as it can cause serious problems for your pet down the road.  I highly suggest you always check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any diet or different food.  If you check with them they can suggest products that are higher in good proteins, and higher in water content that can be safer for your pet and lawn.  I have attached a picture of one of my healthy bulldogs and as you can see “Knuckles” probably eats a diet a little high in protein and could definitely benefit from drinking more water.

Kegs and Eggs 2009 032

So what options are out there to help fix the already damaged areas? Many of you would like to know if there is a seed to fill in the damaged areas but all of our bermudagrasses are hybrids and can only be grown back vegetatively from stolons.  The best way to handle this situation is to lightly rake up the damaged area and put sand in the area to give the grass a growing medium so it will fill back in.  Bermudagrass is a stoloniferious grass and will fill in weak areas over a couple of weeks if treated.  If you are still in ryegrass season you can do a sand and seed mixture and fill the area just like a golf course divot.  Now the tricky part comes when you have larger, unsightly spots that you want to eliminate right away.  For these it is best to buy a couple individual rolls of sod and plug out the weak areas.  We offer our sod at several retailers, and you can also call us to do a farm pick up of an individual variety.  This is by far the fastest and easiest way to make a repair.  For about $3.50 you can fix 10 SF.

I hope this information has helped everyone and gets you in the right direction.  Let me know if you have any questions regarding this blog or anything else.  Feel free to send me pictures anytime to help describe situations going on in your lawn.

Until next time,