While most dog owners feel they must sacrifice a well-manicured, lush lawn for their fur-baby, this is not the case. With a few small changes, you can have a nice-looking yard for your pet that looks lusher and fuller and will keep your dog completely safe. We teach you how to create a dog-friendly yard beginning with the best grass for dogs.
Common Backyard Issues for Pet Owners
- Brown spots on grass/stains on your concrete due to dog urine
- Holes in yard
- Damaged plants from dogs digging
- Inability for grass to grow, plants to grow, or ground covers from dogs pacing/running in the same area
- Fleas from wood and natural grass
Selecting Dog-Friendly Grass
The largest issue for dog owners is the brown spots in the grass where your pooch does their business. It makes the yard look patchy and unsightly at first glance. You silently wonder why you must sacrifice having a nice lawn for your pet. Then, you look at their adoring eyes and justify why it is worth it.
Yet, what if you could have both a happy puppy and a well-manicured lawn? Is it possible?
These spots can be prevented by quickly rinsing the area using water immediately after the dog finishes urinating. However, this can be difficult to keep on top of and something you may not be enthusiastically doing during the cooler months. You can avoid this by installing alternatives to grass for dogs.
For a lush, green lawn, you can select between the following options:
- Buffalo Grass. Buffalo grass is drought tolerant and a low water type of grass. It can be purchased as a seed or in plugs. While it appears fragile, it is not. It requires little care and grows three inches in height.
- Kentucky Bluegrass. It can withstand high traffic areas but is suitable for cooler areas. You can use Kentucky Bluegrass seed to patch any bare spots in lawns since it grows so quickly.
- St Augustine. Since this grass has deep roots, it is a wonderful alternative for dogs who enjoy digging. It will not tolerate lots of pet urine or high traffic areas. Experts say that if you catch your dog urinating on the lawn, quickly water the area to decrease the intensity of a brown spot.
- Zoysia Grass. Zoysia grass is perfect for dry, warm climates. It provides a great drought-tolerant ground cover method as well. This grass grows deep roots which make it long-lasting and sturdy.
- Bermuda Grass. This grass is warm weather and does well in a hot climate. It tolerates a lot of sun and doesn’t require much watering. With deep roots, it anchors well against traffic.
- Centipede Grass. It is quick-growing grass and heat tolerant. The best part of this grass is that it is low maintenance. It is sensitive to alkaline soil and won’t grow in poor weather. This grass does best in the southwestern United States.
- Tall Fescue. This grass tolerates lawn burn from dog urine the best over other grass types. It has wide blades and deep roots making it grow slower but resilient once it comes in.
If you want a more low-maintenance backyard or to completely avoid grass, you can incorporate:
- Mulch. Mulch is an inexpensive, safer option for the yard. You can use it to generate a designated dog area for a low price. Cedar mulch is beneficial to dogs as it has the benefit of naturally repelling bugs. This can help ward off ticks and fleas. Avoid cocoa bean mulch which is not safe for a dog to consume (it will make the dog very sick).
- Stone. Smooth stones are aesthetically pleasing in a yard and are very easy on your animal’s paws. However, it is pricier to install just for a small area.
- Synthetic Turf/Artificial Grass. This is a low-maintenance option that doesn’t stain. The added benefit of synthetic grass or artificial turf is it reduces having to do other yard work (mowing) and prevents the dog from digging. However, the downside is that it can become hot during summertime and may hold on to pet urine smell if not properly cleaned.
- Clover. This is safe for canines to consume, less likely to stain clothes, and tougher than normal grass. It is also more affordable.
- Wood Chips/Bark. This option is low-maintenance and durable. It can withstand high traffic and be raked back to cover regular paths. It is affordable, tolerant of droughts, and attractive. The downside is that some wood can house fleas, become a chew toy, or give a dog a splinter. The best type to get is cedar wood chips as they repel fleas.
- Dirt/Mud. While a homeowner probably will not want the entire backyard filled with dirt, you can have a designated area just for your pet. They can roll around in the dirt, dig, and use it as a bathroom without damaging the rest of the yard.
Dog owners should train their pooch to use one part/area of the lawn as their bathroom. This reduces upkeep and maintenance. It also doesn’t wreck the entire lawn. For this reason, many owners install what is called a “dog run.”
A dog run is simply a designated area of the backyard that the dog uses as a bathroom. Some homeowners will install a fence around the area and use stone the dog can urinate on. Every week or so, they scoop out and dispose of the waste. Then they tidy up the area to keep it sanitary and fresh for the dog.
Safe Types of Ground Cover
While ground cover will never be fully pet-proof, if you want to plant something in smaller backyard areas or between some stepping stones, these are pet-friendly choices. They can withstand moderate pet traffic, human traffic, and light.
Silver Carpet (Dymondia margaretae).
Ideal For: Between stepping stones and small areas
This is a silver-green ground cover that sprouts yellow flowers. It grows very low to the ground, so homeowners should plant it at precisely the level they want it. If planted near where a dog runs, it may look patchy but will survive. It is best to use it in smaller areas of your lawn.
Irish Moss (Sagina subulata).
Ideal For: Places with ongoing rain
Irish moss is mat-like and soft. It takes full or partial sun and requires constant watering, which increases with temperature. It grows one inch tall and sprouts tiny white flowers. This is best for areas with regular rainfall. For areas where little rain falls, you may need an irrigation system to keep it alive.
Elfin Thyme (Thymus Serpyllum).
Ideal For: Backyards with moderate traffic
It is an ornamental herb that is edible. It grows two inches tall and looks great in rock and container gardens. Its hardy nature permits this plant to thrive in light to moderate animal/human traffic. It doesn’t do well in places where pets or kids play, roughhouse, or roll around.
Miniature Stonecrop (Sedum Requieni)
Ideal For: High traffic backyards
This is a lesser-known cover that reseeds itself and can withstand high traffic. Small leaves will form a tight mat containing yellow flowers during summer. They are great for drought-tolerant gardens.
Labrador Violet (Viola Labradorica)
Ideal For: Cooler locations
You can use Labrador Violet between stepping stones, but not for large-scale applications. The reason for this is that it spreads slowly. Since the plant is native to Greenland, it thrives in colder climates with purple blooms coming in spring.
It does well in light, daily foot traffic.
Snow in Summer (Cerastium Tomentosum)
Ideal For: Partially shaded or full sun backyards; deer resistant
Snow in Summer tolerates areas with little rainfall. It thrives in partial shade or full sun areas. Since it’s hardy, it is very pet-friendly. Additionally, it spreads and grows very well causing many homeowners to install landscape borders to contain them. It grows six inches high and is great between pavers.
Winter Creeper (Euonymus Fortunei)
Ideal For: Various foot traffic levels and sun exposure
Winter Creeper is difficult to destroy and grows in sun or shade. It grows six inches in height, is easy to locate, and quickly grows to enable it to handle high traffic areas in your yard.
Be Sure Your Plants and Flowers Are Safe for Dogs
Having good grass in your backyard isn’t enough to keep things safe for your furry friend. Make sure that plants, flowers, and your garden are safe for them, too. Many dogs like to chew/eat anything- especially if they are puppies. They simply don’t know any different.
However, some plants are poisonous should your dog ingest them. If your pet will consume anything, ensure all flowers are safe for them.
Plants that are unsafe include:
- Lily of the Valley
- Calla Lilies
Plants and flowers that are safe for dogs include:
- Tiger Lilies
For a more detailed list, consult the ASPCA. This is a complete list that all pet owners should reference to ensure that none of their plants are toxic. Pet owners may be surprised at how many common plants or flowers contain some level of toxicity for their pets.
In most cases, the common result is vomiting or diarrhea for a short duration. However, for some plants, the results can be death or health issues. Therefore, it is wise to research any plants you use.
Use a Dog-Friendly Fertilizer
When making your backyard safe for your pet, select all lawn products with extreme care. Some weed blockers and fertilizers are dangerous for pets. When using these substances, ensure they are applied as per the label’s instructions. Keep pets off your lawn and block the garden until it has either been watered or rained. Wait for the fertilizer to dry.
To be extra safe, use a pet-safe lawn care product or service. You can also utilize natural, organic products that are safe for pets as well. Some examples of this are:
Natural Elements Weed Killer
This product is natural and non-toxic for children/pets. Since it is derived from vinegar, it does not contain harmful herbicides. It can reduce broadleaf weeds, making it perfect to use on your lawn, flowerbed, garden, landscaping, rock beds, trees, and mulched areas. Please note not to directly apply it to your lawn unless you want to kill your grass.
To use it, spray the weeds until they are wet. Then, they will wilt and die.
- Lasts long
- Easy to use on the lawn
- Works quickly
- Results in one hour (with 80° F temperature)
- Doesn’t come with a sprayer
- May need to be reapplied for tougher weeds
ECO Garden Pro
This is a child- and pet-safe herbicide as all ingredients are safe for kids, pets, fish, bees, and livestock. It will kill grass and weeds fast and deliver results within one day. It works well for sidewalks, driveways, mulch beds, concrete, flower beds, pavement, farmland, and parking lots.
Their formula contains organic rock, natural white vinegar, rock salt, fermentation, and biodegradable plant activators. It works well for clover, dandelions, dollar weed, chickweed, thistle, crabgrass, white cover, moss, and general weeds.
- Eco-friendly, 100% biodegradable, phosphate-free, and safe when it comes to groundwater
- Some reports of it working in less than two hours (high temperatures)
- For best results, make sure temperatures outside are above 70° F and spray before direct sunlight reaches the area
- May smell slightly vinegary
- Weeds may return in two weeks
When making a backyard dog-friendly, there are many factors to consider. It should contain plants and covers that are non-toxic to your furry friend as teaching them not to chew or eat things can be an impossibility.
Therefore, in determining the best grass for dogs, you need to select one that is safe, and that will thrive in your area. Some owners select a dog-run area for their pooch, while others go with one of the grasses mentioned above. Many choose a ground cover instead. The choice is up to you as to what will look best in your yard.