10 Lawn Care Tips for Dog Owners

boy playing ball with his dog in the backyard

Regular lawn care tips don’t always work for dog owners. You have to think about things that other people don’t, such as what your dog’s pee is going to do to your grass and what lawn treatments might hurt your pup. But these lawn care tips for dog owners are designed specifically for you!

Follow these tips to keep your pooch safe while she plays in the yard and to help your grass resist damage from dog urine, feces, digging, and daily wear and tear. 

10 dog-friendly lawn care tips

1. Reseed the lawn with a damage-resistant grass type

You might think of grass as just “grass,” but there are many different types of grass, believe it or not. Some grass types can survive your dog running and playing (and peeing and pooping) on them every day, while others can’t.

If you often find dog urine spots or bare patches from wear and tear in your lawn, the reason might be that you have a weaker, more delicate grass type. Consider replacing your current lawn with a damage-resistant grass type, such as:

  • Tall fescue
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Bermudagrass
  • Zoysiagrass

Does replacing your whole lawn sound like too big a project? You can still help your lawn out by reseeding or laying new sod only in your dog’s favorite spots to play or go potty. 

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2. Deal with dog waste immediately

Both pee and poop can damage your grass if you let them absorb into the soil. Your dog’s waste contains high levels of nitrogen, which burns the grass. Those brown spots you see is where the nitrogen burned the grass.

However, you can keep the nitrogen from reaching your grass if you never let the soil absorb it. Always clean up and dispose of dog poop immediately (yes, even in your own backyard). After your dog pees, water that spot thoroughly with the hose to dilute the nitrogen and flush the soil. 

3. Mow the grass higher

Taller grass means deeper roots, and deeper roots mean a hardier lawn. Letting your grass grow tall will make it tougher so that it can take more of a beating from your dog without dying.

That doesn’t mean you should stop mowing your lawn altogether or let your grass grow out of control so your yard looks like a jungle. You just need to raise the cutting height on your lawn mower to the highest recommended height for your grass type

Grass typeIdeal mowing height for a dog-friendly lawn
Centipede2 inches
2 inches
1.5 inches
St. Augustine3 inches
Zoysiagrass2 inches
Creeping red fescue3.5 inches
Kentucky bluegrass3.5 inches
Perennial ryegrass2.5 inches
Tall fescue3 inches
Bahiagrass4 inches
Buffalo3 inches

Aside from being more durable, your taller grass will also hide any damage spots better than short grass. You might not even notice brown urine spots or small holes from digging.

4. Fertilize less

Many lawn fertilizers contain nitrogen because nitrogen is an essential nutrient for your grass to grow healthy. However, too much nitrogen will burn the grass. Sometimes, nitrogen-rich fertilizer plus nitrogen from dog waste equals too much nitrogen. 

If you fertilize less often or use a fertilizer that doesn’t contain nitrogen, you can help prevent urine burn. While many regular fertilization schedules include four or five feedings per year, you might cut back to one or two feedings at optimal times for your grass type:

  • Dog-friendly fertilization schedule for cool-season grasses: Once in early spring, once in early fall
  • Dog-friendly fertilization schedule for warm-season grasses: Once in early spring, once in late summer

The exact time of year you should fertilize depends on where you live. For specific advice relevant to your area, contact your local extension office.

5. Look out for yellow spots

Pay attention to your lawn, especially the areas of the lawn your dog hangs around most often. Before the grass dies and turns brown, it will fade to a straw-like yellow. You may be able to save these patches if you catch them while they’re still yellow. 

When you see yellow spots, flush the soil in those areas to remove excess nitrogen and salts from your dog’s waste. You can apply a soil treatment designed to stop dog urine damage, such as:

The sooner you find dog urine damage, the better. If you wait until the grass turns brown, that grass is already dead, and you’ll have to reseed that area. 

6. Cut back on grassy areas

If you don’t want your dog to damage your grass, give him areas to play where there isn’t any grass at all. Replace the grass in some areas of your lawn with hardscapes, mulch, or groundcovers for a dog-friendly landscape.

Hardscapes are materials like paving stones or concrete. Use these materials to make a dog path or patio where your dog can play. Use smooth materials that won’t hurt sensitive paws, and choose lighter-colored materials that don’t absorb as much heat as darker ones. 

Mulch is any kind of loose material you can spread out and use to cover the soil. Most of the time, mulch is used in gardens, but you can use it to create a doggy play area. Never use cocoa shell mulch, which is toxic to dogs. Instead, use a dog-safe mulch, such as:

  • Smooth stones or gravel
  • Rubber nuggets
  • Cedar chips
  • Straw
  • Coconut fibers

Ground covers are plants that grow along the ground. Many homeowners use ground cover plants as lawn replacements. Ground covers are more low-maintenance and damage-resistant than traditional turfgrass. Some durable, non-toxic ground covers for homes with dogs are:

  • Snow-in-summer
  • Creeping thyme
  • Labrador violet
  • Silver carpet
  • Irish moss

7. Prevent fleas in your yard

If there are fleas in your yard, they’ll inevitably find their way onto your dog and into your home. Even if your dog is on flea prevention medicine (which he should be), you should still try to minimize the number of fleas around your home. They’ll bite you and your family members, too!

Here are some steps you can take to prevent fleas in your lawn:

  • Remove debris such as fallen branches, twigs, or forgotten toys from your lawn
  • Be careful not to overwater the lawn or garden
  • Dethatch the lawn regularly 
  • Keep trash cans secure and don’t leave out food waste so as not to attract raccoons, rodents, and other wild animals that bring fleas
  • Spread cedar chip mulch around your lawn, flower beds, garden, and other outdoor spaces to repel fleas

8. Avoid chemical lawn treatments

Chemicals in common lawn treatments such as fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides, and fungicides can make your dog seriously sick if ingested. They can ingest the chemicals when they lick their paws or eat grass. If you want your dog to be able to play in the yard without risk, avoid chemicals at all costs. 

Instead, try home remedies or commercial organic, chemical-free products. You’ll find several guides to natural lawn care treatments on our blog, including:

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9. Beware of foxtail weeds

Foxtails are a common type of weed that usually appear in turfgrass in summer. While they’re more common on the Western side of the United States, one species or another can be found in every state. They have barbed seed heads that can embed themselves in your dog’s skin. 

Foxtails are especially dangerous because the seed heads don’t dissolve, which means they can work their way inside your dog’s body if you don’t find them and pull them out in time. They can cause infections and potentially puncture vital organs or blood vessels. 

If you see foxtail weeds in your lawn, pull them up immediately and apply a natural weed killer (no chemicals, remember) to keep them from coming back. 

10. Keep toxic plants out of your pup’s way

You have to be careful when selecting landscape plants to surround your dog-friendly lawn. Many common plants are toxic to dogs. Before adding a plant to your landscape, always check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants

Just because a plant is toxic doesn’t mean you can’t put it in your landscape at all. You can simply plant it somewhere your dog doesn’t go. For example, if you really like the look of a sago palm (a highly toxic plant), plant one at the end of your driveway instead of in the backyard where you let the dog out. 

How your dog can hurt your lawn

Dog pee damage

Dog pee has a high potential to kill your grass, especially if your dog pees in the same spot or the same few spots every day. 

Dog pee kills grass because it contains a lot of nitrogen. Even though nitrogen is a necessary soil nutrient, too much concentrated in a small area burns the grass from the inside and kills it. When your dog pees in the same place over and over, the soil there becomes overwhelmed with nitrogen. 

Dog pee damage can take the form of brown spots (which start out as yellow spots) or dark green spots. 

Dog poo damage

Like dog pee, dog poo also contains nitrogen. If you leave the poo out and let it break down into the soil, it can cause brown or dark green spots, too. 

But dog poo is bad for your lawn for other reasons. First of all, it contains bacteria that can cause health issues for your family, your dog, and wildlife. You wouldn’t touch poop with your bare hand, right? Don’t leave it out for your dog to touch, either. 

Feces also encourages fungi to grow and could cause fungal lawn diseases that kill your grass.

Digging up the lawn

Dogs have a digging instinct, and they love to take it out on your lawn. Digging uproots grass and plants, killing them. It also causes the soil underneath to dry out, which might cause problems for surrounding grass and make it difficult to grow anything new in that spot in the future.

Daily wear and tear

Any foot traffic can squash your grass and compact your soil, and dogs put in a lot of foot traffic. What’s worse, they often walk or run across the same parts of the lawn every day when they go back and forth from the door to their favorite spot or patrol around the perimeter of the yard. 

Those daily jaunts can cause bare patches in the lawn by literally wearing the grass down. Overly compacted soil (which you can solve with aeration) also leads to dead grass.

How your lawn can hurt your dog

Toxic lawn treatments 

Most of the treatments your lawn needs to stay healthy (weed killers, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) contain chemicals that are extremely dangerous if ingested. We all know dogs love to sniff around and chew on things (including grass), so those chemicals in your lawn pose a serious threat. 

Devices such as snail baits or ant baits are especially dangerous because 1) they stay out for a long time, giving your dog more opportunity to eat them, and 2) they contain a bait that smells like food to attract the target pest, which might also fool your dog into believing it’s a tasty treat.

We recommend not using baits if you have a dog or at least picking them up before you let your dog outside (just don’t forget).

Harmful pests

Your lawn is home to thousands of little critters, some of which can bite your dog. Those bites might cause skin irritation, infection, or worse if the pest is venomous or carrying a disease. 

Some common lawn pests that can harm your dog include:

Check your dog periodically for bites or clinging pests, especially if you notice her scratching herself more than usual. 

Toxic plants

Even if you don’t plant them yourself, toxic plants can find their way into your lawn. Weeds and other native plants surrounding your home could be dangerous.

Any time you see something new growing in your yard and you aren’t sure what it is, it’s best to pull it up immediately rather than risk your dog eating it and getting sick. 

FAQ about dog-friendly lawn care

1. Can you prevent lawn damage from dog urine?

Yes! You can prevent dog urine damage with changes to your lawn care practices and your dog’s behavior and diet. 

As far as lawn care, you can prevent dog urine damage by:
Picking up or diluting dog waste immediately
Cutting the grass higher
Using less nitrogen-rich fertilizer

You also can prevent damage by training your dog to pee in a spot with mulch or gravel instead of grass, encouraging your dog to drink more water, and switching to dog food with fresh ingredients.

Learn more about preventing dog urine damage in our complete guide “How to Prevent Dog Pee Damage on Your Grass.” 

2. Can I put grass seed down with a dog?

You’ll need to keep your dog away from newly seeded areas of the lawn at least until the seeds germinate and the grass begins to sprout. Germination can take anywhere from a week to a month depending on the grass type and site conditions. 

If you’re only reseeding a small patch of grass to repair the damage, you can cover the spot to keep your dog from damaging the seeds. However, if you’re reseeding the whole lawn at once, you’ll have to keep your dog out of the yard altogether, which might be difficult. 

3. Will baking soda neutralize dog urine on grass?

No. In fact, baking soda contains salts that can dry out your soil and make matters worse for your lawn. 

4. How do you fix brown grass from dog urine?

Follow these steps to repair brown spots from dog urine:

1) Remove the brown grass and any other debris blocking the soil (leaves, twigs, etc).
2) Reseed the area, preferably with a more damage-resistant grass type, such as Bermudagrass (for homes in the southern half of the U.S.) or tall fescue (for homes in the northern half).
3) Water the new grass seeds generously and keep off that part of the lawn for a few weeks.

A healthy lawn and a healthy dog 

Your dog and your lawn are both living things, and it’s your responsibility to keep them both alive and thriving. Unfortunately, your dog’s needs and your lawn’s needs are often at odds with each other. 

That doesn’t mean you have to choose one over the other. With these lawn care tips for dog owners, both can coexist. You can have the best of both worlds: a lush, green lawn and a safe, healthy, and happy pup. 

Do you need a helping hand (or paw) in keeping your lawn lush and healthy? That’s exactly what Lawn Love’s local lawn care professionals are here for. 

Main Photo Credit: Kee Sebastian | Pixabay

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and editor with a passion for sustainable, earth-friendly gardening and lawn care practices. When she isn't sharing her knowledge about lawn care and landscaping, you can find her curled up with a good book and a cat in her lap.