Most dogs will have an area in the yard that they choose to use when they relieve themselves. This can cause brown spots in areas where your dog urinates. Those brown spots are known as lawn burn.
Lawn burn is caused by the nitrogen in dog urine. Because dog urine is very high in nitrogen-containing waste products, when the dog urinates, it is similar to pouring a nitrogen-containing fertilizer on the lawn. A little nitrogen is good for the grass, but an excess causes damage. The prevention of lawn burn involves trying to reduce the amount of nitrogen coming into contact with the grass.
- Female dogs are more likely to cause lawn burn than males because females void their entire bladder in one location instead of lifting their leg and marking, like males.
- Large dogs deposit more urine so they increase the quantity of nitrogen in one location, making lawn burn more likely.
- Dogs fed a very high protein diet are more likely to produce a urine that causes lawn burn. Nitrogen is one of the substances excreted when protein is broken down; the more protein, the more nitrogen and the more chance of lawn burn.
- Heavily fertilized yards are already receiving near maximum levels of nitrogen. The additional amount of nitrogen in dog urine may be all that is needed to put these lawns over the edge and cause lawn burn.
- Lawns that are stressed are more susceptible to damage. Lawns that are suffering from drought, disease, or are newly sodded or seeded are more susceptible to lawn burn.
There are many things you can do to prevent lawn burn such as:
- Feed a high quality dog food that does not exceed your pet’s protein requirement. High quality foods also have more digestible protein sources that are more completely utilized by the pet and create less nitrogenous waste in the urine.
- Dilute your dog’s urine by encouraging them to drink more water. You can use ice cubes, very dilute juices, diluted coconut water, or watered down food.
- Train your dog to urinate in a location that is less visible. This approach is very effective for owners who do not want to add supplements to their dogs’ diet.
Training your dog to urinate in a specific area
If you want your pup to go outside in the yard, providing them with a specific spot just for their use for potty breaks helps keep the rest of the yard nice and green.
- First choose the area to best serve this purpose. The size of the area needed will depend on the size of the dog. A little poodle isn’t going to need the same space as a German shepherd. No hard and fast rules, but try setting aside about 3 lengths by 3 lengths (1 length = the length of dog). Some people suggest allowing them room to roam, but your small breed dog can learn to ‘go’ in smaller places, providing that you can scoop right away, otherwise they will need a larger area to avoid past potty leftovers. The area can be covered with grass, mulch, gravel or a surface that the dog will accept–some have no problem with just concrete or patio blocks.
- Choosing the best location, place a scoop or two of the doggy’s ‘doo’ within the area, or if your pup is pee-pad trained, start by placing a pee pad on the area to signify that this is their spot… and then slowly – after they have grasped the fact that this is where they ‘go’ – start making the pee pad smaller and smaller until you remove it altogether. Make sure there are no other droppings in the yard and water the rest of the lawn very well to remove traces of past urine spots. You can also raise or elevate the potty are in a planter box style that will give a definitive safe zone for your pup to recognize.
- Choose a command that the dog will understand as potty time, such as “time to go potty” or “do it”, and use this command consistently.
- When your pup shows signs of needing to go potty (like sniffing around or lowering his butt to go), attach a leash to his collar, take him outside and lead him to the area. Give the command “time to go potty”. For new pups, usually 30 minutes after meals, after exciting play time, before bedtime and first thing in the a.m. are times to go. For adult dogs you know his schedule, work with that.
- Each time the dog performs within the area, give lots of happy praise, playful pats and a treat. Whenever he shows signs of wanting to go in an area that’s off limits, say “no” or “not there” in a stern voice and lead him to his area.
- If there’s a slip, give no praise, no treat, no attention and no play. Make sure to clean up immediately and water the area well so he won’t smell that spot.
- Being consistent and watchful is key and you’ll have to hover over your dog and keep him leashed when outside for at least two weeks to make sure he consistently goes in that spot. After two weeks you can try letting the dog out without his leash and watch. If he goes directly to his spot first to take his potty break, you know the training is working. If not, keep the leash on for another week and then try without the leash again.
For another alternative to outdoor potty areas, check out our indoor PetLoo poty station that works fantastic in our cold winters – avoiding the outside at all. Great for cold temperatures, or even apartment dwelling.
How to clean the area
Using a water hose and spraying water over the area where you dog just urinated will dilute the urine and wash the nutrients down below the root zone. If you do this within several minutes after you dog has gone you will likely prevent any problems. The problem with this method is in trying to be vigilant all the time. If you have an automatic sprinkler, running it daily in that area will also help.
Replant your yard with more urine-resistant grasses. The most resistant grasses tend to be perennial rye grasses and fescues. The most sensitive tend to be Kentucky bluegrass and Bermuda.
Reduce the stress on your lawn by not over- or under-fertilizing and by watering frequently.
Removing spots once they exist in your yard
There are many helpful tips and tools out there for ridding your yard of grass stains, depending on how bad the damage is. If you are dealing with low to moderate damage, then removing the dead grass, thoroughly soaking and placing new topsoil and seed should help them to grow back healthy.
Avoid using a fertilizer to get your grass to grow back will actually make it worse. It is best to just wait until the grass comes back on its own.
Increase irrigation amount and/or frequency to help dilute salts that have accumulated in the soil. This may help still-living turf recover, and will dilute salts in those areas where the turf has been killed (allowing for more effective re-seeding).
If the area is completely brown, the turf may be dead. When turf has been killed, the dead sod and some soil (0.5-1 inch of soil) can be removed. Re-sod the area with new grass.
In the meantime, try to not let your dog go in the same place, which will just continue to burn the grass, making it impossible for it to grow back.
Avoid over-the-counter medications for your dog to solve the issue
Let me just give you a word of caution for those over-the-counter medications that are touted to be “lawn-saving supplements.” I personally (and strongly) caution against their use. When you use medications that alter the pH of the urine, you run the risk of causing urinary crystals or bladder stones in your pet. Nothing you give your pet internally will safely stop urine from damaging grass, and the only appropriate interventions are those that address the environment – not the dog! The environmental changes discussed above may be more time-consuming work, but it’s a small price to pay if you wish to have both a lush lawn and a healthy pet.