With approximately 78.2 million dogs living with their “best friends” in the United States, it’s no surprise that we love our pooches. What we love less, however, is the piles of poop they tend to leave behind. Our neighbors with immaculate lawns are even less forgiving. With 30,000 tons of dog waste generated a day, which totals to around 10 million tons annually, it’s easy to understand why. And in case the math doesn’t mean much to you, here’s what that amount of poop looks like: line up 276,500 tractor-trailers, end to end, stretching from Boston to Seattle.
Yet, even this is preferable to the specific harm that dog waste can cause to your lawn, and to the environment at large. Your pup’s pellets may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but what lurks within their waste is harmful to grass seed, plants, other living organisms. Eventually, through trophic toxicity, these harmful effects can reach you and your family. This is why it’s so important to be a “green” pet-owner — your decisions can affect more than the green of someone’s lawn, including your own.
Is Dog Poop Good for Grass or Bad For Your Lawn?
Some homeowners are so exasperated with pets that relieve themselves on private lawns — and the pet-owners that allow them to do so — that they often consider giving up on lawn care and simply ripping it all up. But lush, thick, and green lawns are more than pretty possession. Putting in lawns can help reduce ground temperatures by as much as 30 degrees.
It also preserves the soil’s health, moisture, and contributes to overall cleaner air. In short, lawns improve the environment, so it’s even more significant that dog waste is stinky and can increase pollution in the air, as well as the water, through leftover fecal matter.
The Scoop On Dog Waste Effects of Grass Seeds and Lawns
Dog waste has an immediate negative impact on living plants, seeds, and lawns. Left to decay, this matter turns toxic and decomposes into the soil. Sitting in a dog’s fecal matter are a variety of bacteria and viruses, including campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, coccidia, toxocarisis, cysticerosis (tapeworms), E. coli, giara, and parvo.
Through a variety of rain and humidity, these pathogens then seep into the water table. From here, this matter can pollute water, cause toxic algal blooms, leak into lakes, streams, and rivers, and contaminate the water we drink. Sewage waste treatment centres don’t have the ability to treat dog waste, so the 41% of pet owners that don’t clean up after their pets are seriously risking the health of their own neighborhoods.
The bottom line is that dog poop is not fertilizer. This is one kind of organic matter that your lawn — and the rest of the water table — can do without.
What Dog Urine Can Do to Your Lawn
Dog urine, on the other hand, has a direct impact on your grass’s growth, health, and soil quality. While it doesn’t cause toxicity in the same way that dog waste does, urine’s chemical make-up can deteriorate the composition of your lawn. When dogs urinate in your yard, they always choose one spot — the same spot — over and over again. Their territorial behavior can end up creating distinct brown patches on your green lawn. This is called lawn burn.
Dog urine contains nitrogen -- which is a good thing for grass seeds, and quite a few grass fertilizers include nitrogen to help boost the growth of grass. It’s the “N” part of the “N-P-K” formula. If you were to dilute the urine with water, this would help offset the potency of the nitrogen. But when your dog urinates in the same spot continuously, the results are deadened, brown, and burnt patches of grass. Furthermore, dog urine also has other salts within it, which can be harmful to nearby plants and root systems under the lawn.
The nitrogen in urine can also damage lawn and grass seeds in the high summer, especially in cases of dry spells. If there is a risk of drought, lawns will soak up any liquid that comes its way. If it’s urine on a poorly irrigated lawn, this can spell disaster for the roots and soil composition, which will instantly become more acidic. If dog urine doesn’t end up killing your grass, the opposite effect might occur. The nitrogen may cause plants to grow faster and darker than the surrounding grass seeds, which can still make your lawn look patchy and uneven.
Lawn burn can quickly become an issue if:
- You have a large dog. The larger the dog, the more they drink, and the more frequently they have to relieve themselves. They’re also likely to create a far wider patch, with a deeper burn.
- You have a female dog. Females tend to relieve themselves almost entirely in one spot, versus males, who will lift their leg in multiple spots on their walks.
- You’re already treating your grass seeds with nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Excess nitrogen will throw off the grass seeds’ natural germination and growing cycle, resulting in uneven and poor growth.
- You feed your dog a high protein diet.
Other Destructive BehaviorDogs have a tendency to do two more things that can damage grass seeds, especially when you first plant them. When grass seeds are germinating, they are at their most vulnerable. A single shift in the factors they need to grow, such as temperature, soil pH and chemical make-up, water, oxygen, and light, can completely upend a grass seed’s growth cycle.
- Digging - Dogs will dig around your yard, and this is an entirely natural and healthy instinct. However, excessive digging when grass seeds are still germinating can disrupt the growth and uniformity of your lawn. Digging behavior also becomes destructive when dogs dig enough that they expose the soil beneath to sun and wind erosion.
- Running - A hearty grass seed type should be able to withstand high amounts of foot traffic from both children and pets. However, if your pets are running on lawn patches where there is already deadened or burned grass, this could cause further soil compaction.
How to Correct Your Lawn After Excessive Dog Waste
Fortunately, there are ways to correct your lawn after excessive dog waste — whether it’s your own pet or that of a neighbor’s. Which strategy you choose may depend on how extensive the damage to your lawn. A couple of brown spots here and there may only need you to “spot” dilute and then overseed for next season.
However, if the patches are large enough, or your lawn is completely uneven in its growth and coloring, you may have no choice but to rip out your turf and start fresh. This might even be a better long-term solution, however, because you can choose a heartier grass seed type.
Lawn correction and reclamation from dog waste takes a two-pronged approach. The first is to address your lawn’s health, and the second is to correct your dog’s behavior. In other words, you must plan to repair and prevent.
1) Choose the Best Grass Seed for Dogs and Dog Urine
You can reduce the impact of dog-waste on your grass seeds by choosing the right type of grass. In general, fescues and perennial ryegrasses are very hearty and resistant to doggie destruction — including dog waste. These five grass types have specific characteristics that make them an effective choice to guard against dog waste:
- Kentucky bluegrass: This is a flexible grass seed type that will adapt to almost any growing conditions and locations. It has a rapid growth rate and can recover quickly from being trampled.
- Perennial ryegrass: Deep root system are the key to a hearty grass seed type, and perennial ryegrasses establish themselves quickly. Like the Kentucky bluegrass, it proliferates rapidly.
- Fescue: Fescues are great at absorbing moisture effectively, and they grow well in shaded areas.
- Bermuda: Intended for homeowners in warmer climates, Bermuda stays green and healthy-looking without any added irrigation needs.
- Zoysia: Zoysia is an ideal grass seed type for locations that have a potential for drought in the summers. It’s very hardy, but it does require three to four growing seasons to really develop a strong and deep root system.
2) Designate a Specific Area
Next, address your dog’s behavior in your yard. If you’re not going to take your pet out to specific dog parks or on walks, choose to potty-spot train your dog. This will help you use the dilution strategy with ease. The dog’s urine will be confined to one spot, which makes it easier for you to clean up.
There may also be a few areas in your yard that are naturally patchy or prone to dryness. Train your dog to relieve itself here instead and then use revival techniques at the end of the season to heal these areas.
Pro-Tip: To rid your lawn of these “burn” spots, use limestone. Begin by raking the patchy areas to free them of dead grass. Apply a layer of extra-fine, ground limestone. While limestone is pet- and child-safe, make sure to protect your nose and eyes when you’re applying it. Water the area to allow the limestone to absorb and then wait for about a week. Finally, cover the patches with topsoil and sprinkle your chosen grass seeds over them. Water the newly seeded area as needed, with a watering can, rather than a hose, so that you don’t wash away the seeds. This technique can help revive patchy areas.
3) Modify Your Pet’s Diet and Behavior
Training your pooch to relieve itself in the right spots is half the battle one. Now you can do a few more things with his or her diet. Firstly, encourage your pet to drink more water, which will naturally dilute the concentration of nitrogen in its urine. You may also consider using feed that is slightly less rich in protein.
Changes to doggie diet can have a significant effect on your pets, but don’t make any additions or changes without first consulting your vet. Alternatively, if you have a breed with a need for high protein, consider high-quality brands of pet food with superior protein sources or those that are highly digestible. If your dog easily digests the protein source, this may result in less concentrated and smaller-sized dog waste and urine deposits.
4) Plan Your Fertilization Treatments
There’s an added benefit to spot-training your dog. If you’ve recently put down grass seeds and they’re beginning to germinate, avoid using fertilization treatments on the areas where your dog urinates. Since these patches are receiving adequate nitrogen, they may not need much more.
5) Just Add Water
Once your dog relieves itself in their favorite spot, head over with some water to dilute the nitrogen concentration seeping into the grass and soil below. You can also dissolve a tablespoon of plain dish soap in the bucket of water used for diluting as well. This doesn’t do anything to the chemicals in urine. Rather, it acts as a wetting agent for the soil below so you won’t risk flooding other areas when you’re pouring. The soil will absorb this extra moisture more easily.
Lawn burn and dog-waste damage to your grass seeds is not an inevitable issue. No matter how extensive the damage, you can always plan to revive and restore your lawn using these strategies, the right grass seed type, and restoration techniques.
At Nature Seed, we work with individuals who are looking to sustainably and effectively restore their land. From re-seeding and reviving pastures and wetlands, to restoring the vibrancy and health of a homeowner’s lawn, our premium quality seed mixes will benefit your family and the environment at large. Contact Nature Seed to learn more about our role in bringing your property back to life.