Dealing with doggy disease

By WILLY ZIMMER Star-Tribune staff writer


Some folks love their turfgrass lawns. Others have lesser emotions, because lawns tend to be a lot of work. But no one, and that includes LandEscapees like me, has warm and fuzzy feelings about the dead spots left behind when dogs do their business. "Dog injury," as it's officially called, is the patch of dead grass that results when the family canine urinates. Dogs can also be deadly to a young tree or shrub if a male repeatedly urinates on it to mark territory. Dogs can become a real problem over the winter when a pet, like my hates-the-cold pooch, tends to go on the patch of lawn closest to the door, leaving a fairly large dead patch in spring that takes months to recover. The good news is dog injury can be prevented. According to a publication from the Lawn Care Institute, damage is caused by nitrogen in the animal's urine, not by salts like most folks believe.

Nitrogen, of course, is the component of fertilizer that makes grass grow tall and green. If a dog spreads it around a few drops at a time, it's actually fertilizing on a small scale. If the dog pees enough to cause puddles, however, it amounts to overfertilizing and burns the turf. That's why the myth exists that female dogs' urine is more potent -- they usually squat in one place, while males are out sending territorial messages by spreading it around. One strategy is to choose a lawn grass that resists dog injury. The institute's publication cites tests on various grasses by Colorado veterinarian, Dr. A.W. Allard. Allard concluded fescues and rye grasses were most resistant. Unfortunately, Kentucky bluegrass, the overwhelming choice for Western lawns, was one of the most sensitive, which is why dog injury is a common sight in Wyoming. Because the concentration of nitrogen is the problem, solutions center on either redirecting traffic or diluting the urine. Walking the critter in a nearby park or field is recommended, although a good neighbor should bring along a pooper-scooper and a bag to contain those other smelly souvenirs. If you've money to burn, build a dog pen with an easy-to-clean concrete pad. A fence is also a good idea if the culprit is a neighbor's dog. The institute doesn't think much of repellents, although it acknowledged a motion-activated sprinkler that douses mutts with bad intent can be effective. That solution isn't worth much in the winter, however, and other active animals, like kids and squirrels, also end up getting doused. I'd suggest my "back-in-the-day" solution of a well-sighted pellet gun, but I've mellowed with age and really don't need the grief. For those yearning to spend more time with Fido, try training your pet to use a designated area covered with pea gravel, mulch or other inanimate surface. It's recommended a doggy restroom include potential marking posts like a large boulder, bird bath, lawn ornament, or even fake hydrant. A warning: If you're training a dog, rewards of meat or other high protein foods increase the nitrogen content in urine, so the training had better work. Another recommendation is collect the dog’s urine in a cup and dump it in the designated are to provide an odor attractant. That lost me right there -- I'd banish my mutt to a dog-eating culture, before I'd hold a cup for it to pee in -- so let's get to the most effective solution: Confine your animal so potties in a specific area, then dilute the urine with water. Dr. Allard's study concluded a little extra water added soon after the event leaves behind nothing more unsightly than a greener spot of grass. Water volumes three times that of the urine are effective, the publication said, and may work up to eight hours after the event. "When the delay in watering was extended to 12 or more hours, progressively worse burns were noted," Allard concluded. That doesn't seem too hard, does it? During warmer weather leave a hose hooked up with watering nozzle on it, then irrigate a little extra wherever your dog urinates. Go outside with the dog once a day when the weather is cold, and pour water on the spot (where it pees, not Spot himself). And you know what that means? A pitcher a day keeps dog injury away. Willy Zimmer is a former grounds manager and certified arborist. He can be reached at (307) 266-0524 or

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