How green does your grass grow? Dogs and Lawn Burn

Maybe it’s the summertime or maybe it’s because our family is outside more often now but the fact that a certain section of my yard doesn’t have any grass is really starting to bother me.  How did this happen? Friends who don’t have pets ask me. It happens because my Westie has his favorite spots and basically that area of the yard has overdosed on nitrogen. What is this phenomenon called?  Lawn burn and it happens in the areas of the yard that your dog frequently uses as their “potty chair.”  So I began my search for making my grass grown green again and how to avoid lawn burn in the future.

How does lawn burn happen?

Basically it is because of the nitrogen in your dog’s waste, both urine and feces.  (I thought it had something to do with maybe the acidic nature of dog urine).  Since dogs like to mess in one spot they continue to visit the same spots in your yard over and over again dumping more nitrogen into the grass and ground.  It is more likely to happen with female dogs because they tend to pee all at once in one spot as opposed to male dogs that usually “spread” the wealth around.

At first it may seem that your yard is actually greener, because nitrogen does help the grass grow, but then your lawn will eventually “overdose” on the nitrogen causing brown, yellowing and even bald patches in your yard.

How can you avoid lawn burn due to dog urine and waste?

Lawn burn doesn’t happen just because of urine.  Dog feces also releases nitrogen waste in the yard, but most pet owners are more likely to clean up the waste on a regular basis.   There are several steps you can take to make your green grass grow.

  1. First, if you have some really bad spots it is time to go ahead and seed or sod those places in your yard.  You will need to turn the ground up, make sure to water thoroughly to try to “rinse” or break down the nitrogen even further and then if seeding make sure to overseed.  Sod, though more expensive is a quicker solution to getting a great green yard.
  2. If reseeding, try to use those grasses that are more resistant to lawn burn like Fescues or Perennial Ryegrass.  Unfortunately many yards use Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda which are more susceptible to lawn burn.  Also some homeowners have to worry about deed restrictions that may require the use of only certain types of grasses.
  3. Try to take your dog for walks in parks or neighborhoods to provide them with alternative places to pee.  One “shot” squats shouldn’t do any damage to a neighbor’s yard, however make sure that your pet doesn’t choose a favorite spot to do their duty.
  4. After your dog has peed saturate the spot with water, diluting the nitrogen released.  The most convenient way is to keep a watering can filled outside and use it immediately, but this is hard to remember to do.
  5. Avoid using fertilizer in your yard.  The nitrogen in the fertilizer and the nitrogen in the urine could be just the wrong combination towards growing a great green yard.
  6. Create a potty area.  In our yard we created rock gardens, which are actually low maintenance, nice looking and it doesn’t matter if the dog pees on them.   Other alternatives include mulch or pebbles.
  7. Train your dog to use those areas that are designed for potty use. If you have difficulty training your dog dump their waste regularly in the area until they become accustomed to the scent.
  8. Make some dietary changes.  While higher priced, there are some dog foods available that should help with what and how much waste your dog puts out.  Organic, natural, and dog foods designed specifically for your dogs breed or health help your dog digest more efficiently and as a result there is less waste.
  9. Some say to add lime to the area, however, I don’t recommend it because I worry about what it may do to my dog should he get it on his paws or coat and then ingest it.
  10. You may be able to add certain supplements, minerals and vitamins to your dog’s dish, but you will need to consult a veterinarian first.  There are also a number of chemicals available at home improvement and lawn and garden centers, however, once again I worry about what effects if any they may have on my dog’s health.

For the most part the most efficient, effective and inexpensive ways to avoid lawn burn is to fix the problem with reseed or sod and then create a bathroom just for your pet.  You may be surprised like I was at how attractive and easy it is to maintain the new “outhouse” at our house.

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