Protecting Your Lawn From Dog Urine

By: Orvis Staff

If you love dogs and having a lovely lawn, this can be a problem.
Photo by Mike Finkelstein

The good of owning a dog far outweighs the bad, but—if we’re being honest—there are a few downsides. One of the more vexing problems that come part and parcel with your best friend is lawn burn—those unsightly brown spots spread across your lawn, caused by your dog’s urine. Your dog’s gotta go, of course, but lawn burn isn’t as inevitable as your best friend’s bodily functions. Read on to learn what causes lawn burn, and the simple steps you can take to prevent it so you can enjoy an uninterrupted expanse of fresh, emerald-green grass.

What Causes Lawn Burn?

Dog urine contains a high concentration of nitrogen, which is created during the breakdown of protein in the dog’s diet. While used in lawn fertilizer, too much nitrogen burns tender blades of grass. When a dog urinates, she leaves a concentrated area of nitrogen on your lawn, and a brown, dried patch results. These patches are usually surrounded by a ring of healthy, green grass where the nitrogen has diluted enough to work as a fertilizer rather than causing damage. The salt in a dog’s urine, along with its acidity, also contributes to lawn burn, but nitrogen is the primary culprit.

Lawn burn can be caused by any dog and can occur on any lawn, but certain scenarios exacerbate the problem. The issue can be worse with a female dog because she squats in one spot, rather than going against a wall, tree, or fence, or in multiple spots. It can also be worse with large dogs who release a greater quantity of urine. Finally, delicate grass is more prone to lawn burn, such as when a lawn is newly sprouted or when the lawn is already weakened by drought.

Preventing Lawn Burn

A multipronged approach is best, but you don’t have to choose all of the following remedies. Opt for two or three and see what works best for you and your dog.

  • Pick a Spot – Select an area of your yard that makes sense to use as your dog’s bathroom. If your lawn comes to an end and gives way to dirt, decorative trees, or rocks, that’s often a good spot. It should provide enough space relative to her size so she can sniff around a little bit. Like most dog training, repetition, consistency, and reward will yield the best results. When it’s time for your dog to go out, bring her to her spot and stay there until she goes. When she does, respond with positive rewards and dog treats. Repeat on a leash until she understands this spot is her ‘bathroom.’ If you want to let her out solo, remove the leash, but stick close so you can return her to her spot until she goes. Repeat, while slowly increasing your distance from her, and soon she’ll dash over whenever you open the door. (Keep the area clean by picking up after your dog and watering the area with a hose once a week, or she will soon wander from her appointed spot.)
  • Pay Attention to What Goes In – Many dog care products are available, from dietary supplements to simple water purifiers, that can reduce the nitrates your dog expels in her urine. (Always talk with your veterinarian before giving your dog a supplement, to ensure the addition doesn’t disrupt the balance of her diet.) Water purifiers for dogs come in the form of stones that sit in your dog’s water bowl. They don’t add anything to the water, but remove harmful trace elements. If your dog objects to the stones, you can always put them in a pitcher and pour from it when your dog needs more water.
  • Take a Walk – If you’re willing to go for a walk before letting your dog out in the yard, you can keep lawn burn to a minimum. With this tack, quickly letting your dog out in the yard during bad weather or first thing in the morning is off the table. Instead, you’ll need to take a short walk with her each time she needs a ‘potty’ break. Just don’t let her do unto others’ lawns what you don’t want her doing unto yours.
  • Wash It Out – Rinse the area she urinates on with water immediately after she goes, to dilute the nitrogen and spread it out over a greater area. Use the hose or a watering can. This approach is probably sustainable only if you give your dog free rein of the yard once in awhile, and instead usually take her for walks to relieve herself.
  • Swap Out the Grass – More robust species of grass hold up better under harsh conditions, whether that’s drought, poor fertilization, or an excess of dog urine. Some grasses to consider are Bahia, Perennial Ryegrass, and Fescue. Talk to your garden supplier to make sure the grass you choose is suitable for your climate zone.

With these options, you can prevent or minimize brown patches in your grass. Whichever route you take, it’s best not to fret about it too much. Far better to get out there in the yard with your best friend and let the fun flourish.

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