Maintaining a green lawn can be a challenge if it's also a combination potty and playground for your dog (or the neighborhood dogs). Unless you're willing to install artificial turf, your grass may develop brown patches from doggy urine damage or worn areas from Fido's playtime. If you love dogs and a green and luxurious lawn, look to grass types that are more tolerant of your dog's natural behaviors.
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Tolerance Is Not Resistance
It's important to bear in mind that no turf grass type is 100 percent resistant to dog damage: If Fido is too much a creature of habit, your turf will inevitably pay the price. However some types of grass have a quicker recovery rate than others, and grow more quickly to fill in dead spots.
Grasses that naturally spread by stolons or rhizomes, which are modified stems that grow along the ground, are typically more tolerant because they rebound quicker from damage. Choosing a grass that's hardy and resilient in your climate is a good starting point, but you'll also need to consider (and adapt for) your dog's habits.
A common misconception is that the pH of dog urine is responsible for killing grass. However, it's actually the urea found in the urine, which contains nitrogen and soluble salts, that is the culprit. The damage it causes looks similar to applying too much high-nitrogen fertilizer — it burns the grass, killing it and turning it brown.
If you accompany your leashed dog outside for potty breaks, you can help mitigate urine damage by taking a watering can with you. As soon as the dog relieves itself, pour water on the urine-soaked grass to dilute the urine so it won't burn the grass. Another habit to modify, if you can, is your pooch's play area. When dogs run back and forth across the same swath of grass, it creates wear patterns that compact your soil and kill turf over time. These high-traffic areas create larger patches of dead turf than urine spots.
Selecting 'Dog-Resistant' Grasses
Managing your dog's habits will help minimize brown patches, but you'll also need to choose an appropriate grass. Three turf types may have better-than-average resistance to dog urine damage in your yard. Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) grows in USDA zones 7 through 11, and zoysia grass (Zoysia spp.) is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 10. Of these grasses, Bermuda grass is denser, which means it fills in faster after urine burns.
Bermuda grass is the best choice for planting in dog high-traffic areas in warm-season areas, and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pretensis), a perennial in USDA zones 2 through 6, holds up better in cool-season areas. Zoysia grass takes more time to establish, typically two to four years, but is a suitable choice for high-traffic areas after its establishment. If your dog is particularly active or patrols a certain area in your yard, no one grass type can hold up under consistent pacing.
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper columns. Her writing expertise covers diverse industries, including horticulture, home maintenance and DIY projects, banking, finance, law and tax. Blackstone has written more than 2,000 published works for newspapers, magazines, online publications and individual clients.