5 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Ruining Your Lawn and Yard

Keep your best four-legged friend happy—and your grass free of holes, urine burns, and wear spots—with these expert tips.

Sharing your outdoor space with your dog is fun for both you and your pet—but not always for your lawn and landscaping. From digging and trampling to leaving burnt grass spots from urine and worn-out pathways, your dog's daily activities can leave your lawn looking less than lush.

But while the right grass, enclosed areas, and activities for your pet can help you build a backyard that's fit for man's best friend, remember that teaching an old dog new tricks takes time. "By redirecting your dog's energy and offering appropriate outlets for play, potty, and digging, you can help prevent future damage to your yard," says Shawn Kingzette, arborist with Crystal Lake Davey Tree. "But the backyard is not a dog sitter, and it is not an alternative for a good walk with your dog or playing fetch. By spending good, quality time with your animal and stimulating their mind and body, damage inside and outside of the home can be lessened."

happy corgi in the yard

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Designate Dig Spots—or Discourage the Behavior

Not sure how to stop your dog from digging? Think of it this way: For dogs, digging up grass under fences, in garden beds, or in the center of your perfectly-manicured lawn is a natural instinct—not a bad behavior. "Dogs love to dig—and they don't know the difference between digging up a barren patch of dirt versus your prize perennials," says Tristan Rehner-Fleurant, senior director of behavior rehabilitation at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center.

Supervise and Interrupt

You can encourage your dog to stop digging by fencing off areas you want to protect and by redirecting a dog when you see him digging. "Supervising your pets in the garden or yard is key, as this will allow you to keep them safe and interrupt them if they start to dig," says Rehner-Fleurant.

Designate a Digging Area

However, most pet owners have more success by creating a specific digging area within their landscaping. "It's not only okay for your dog to dig, but you actually encourage digging there by burying toys or treats for them to find," says Rehner-Fleurant.

Use a plastic kids' pool or small sandbox, or frame an area with bricks, pavers, or wood, and fill it with loose dirt or sand. "If digging in plantings becomes impossible because you are consistently interrupting it, and digging in the digging pit is encouraged and rewarded with treasures, your dog can still have the joy of doing this natural behavior without damaging your garden," says Rehner-Fleurant

Establish a Bathroom Area

Dog owners may also find that the bathroom habits of their canine best friend aren't helping the look of their lawn. "Dogs tend to urinate in specific areas, and their urine can cause brown or yellow patches on the grass," says Kingzette. "Male dogs, in particular, have a habit of marking their territory by urinating on vertical surfaces such as trees, shrubs, and fences."

Once your pet has left his own scent on a favorite spot, he’s likely to return to the same area repeatedly, and the consistent exposure to the nitrogen found in urine can cause "turf burn, which is similar to damage caused by excessive fertilization or road salts in the lawn," he says.

Hose Down the Grass

To prevent dog urine from ruining your lawn—and retrain your pet—hose down the area with water after your pet hits the spot. This will dilute both the urine, making it less likely to burn your lawn, and the scent left by your pet, so you can more easily guide him to a new spot. "It is important to establish a new, acceptable elimination spot by taking your dog out to the bathroom for a time, guiding them to the new spot, and rewarding them with praise and treats for using the new area," says Rehner-Fleurant.

How to Fix Dog Urine Spots on Lawn

If you do see grass damage, Kingzette recommends raking the area, adding topsoil, and reseeding as soon as possible. "In northern climates, the application of gypsum in the late fall or early winter can help prevent damage from urine and road salts in the winter,” he says. “In the spring, gypsum can be reapplied. Irrigate the area with lots of water to wash the urine away.”

Plant Pet-Friendly Grass

Whether your dog loves playing fetch, chasing squirrels, or simply running to get his energy out, the constant movement can leave your lawn with paths of worn-out grass, bare patches of turf, and compacted soil that stops plants from thriving. That's why Kingzette recommends planting pet-friendly turf: Try Bermuda grass for warmer, full-sun regions, tall fescue for regions with wide temperature fluctuations, and Kentucky bluegrass for cooler climates.

"Bermuda grass recovers quickly from damage and repairs itself, making it ideal for dogs that love to run. Tall fescue has deep roots, which helps it tolerate wear and tear from pets," Kingzette says. "Kentucky bluegrass has a dense and lush growth habit, which helps it recover from pet-related damage. It can handle moderate foot traffic and is relatively tolerant of dog activities. However, it may not be as resilient to heavy wear and tear."

With any type of grass, proper maintenance—like watering, fertilizing, mowing, and aerating—is essential for allowing the turf to stay healthy through all your pet's favorite activities.

golden retriever on deck area in backyard

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Create a Dedicated Space for Your Dog

While letting your pet roam free in your yard allows him to be part of the family, many dogs also benefit from an area that's just for them. A fenced-in dog run area can include artificial grass, gravel, or turf that gives your pet a space to run, play, and dig without damaging the rest of your yard, says Kingzette. It can also serve as a safe outdoor spot for your dog to hang out when you're mowing the lawn, using the weed whacker, or entertaining friends and family who are nervous around pups.

You can also add a gated area to a deck or patio, allowing your pet to relax in the shade and stay cool in the summer. "They offer a comfortable spot for pets to rest and observe their surroundings while protecting them from hot surfaces, insects, and muddy ground," says Kingzette.

Keep Your Yard Interesting

Providing enrichment and mental stimulation can also reduce a pet's destructive behaviors. At the ASPCA Behavorial Rehabilitation Center, a sensory garden gives dogs opportunities to satisfy their curiosity about the world around them. Using similar techniques at home can keep your pet occupied—and away from your flowers.

"Exploring and investigating are natural behaviors for dogs," says Rehner-Fleurant. "Pet-safe plants like basil, oregano, rosemary, and chamomile provide fun opportunities for your pet to sniff, an activity that can even help stressed dogs decompress. The BRC sensory garden features a small, plastic pool that gets filled with various dog toys or balls, providing the dogs in our care with loads of fun. Consider integrating different textures, such as mulch and different sized rocks, into your garden, to stimulate your pet's senses.”

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