Go, Spot, Go: 5 Myths About Dog Urine Spots on Lawns

Dog urinating on lawn

Your hard work has paid off, and you can’t wait to pull off your shoes and walk on that beautiful, green lawn. But you notice strange brown spots in several areas of the yard, maybe 3 inches across, ringed by tufts of strikingly green lawn. Crop circles? Insect damage? Perhaps. But it’s more likely you are seeing damage by dog urine.

Dog urine spots are a common problem for home lawns. “There are several urban myths surrounding the cause and the cure of the spots,” says Ali Harivandi, former environmental horticulture adviser at the University of California Cooperative Extension. “Lawns are important. People have families and kids — and pets — who enjoy it. A nice lawn is an extension of the family living room, so we have to find a balance.”

To get to that balance about dog urine damage, unfortunately, you have to wade through a lot of misinformation. Here are five urban myths and truths about those green-ringed spots in the yard:

Myth 1: Only Female Dogs Cause Spotting in Lawns

The Truth: Well, not necessarily. Female dogs tend to squat when they urinate, leaving a small but dense spot of urine on the grass. The quantity of urine can cause burning of the grass. Males usually wander and urinate along the way, marking trees and shrubs instead of urinating on a flat lawn. But young males often squat before learning how to lift their legs to pee, and older male dogs will revert back to squatting on the grass when arthritis or other health issues make marking difficult.

Myth 2: Dog Urine Spots Are More Common With Certain Breeds

The Truth: This myth was probably started when a dog owner noticed more spots when owning one breed of dog in relation to another breed, says Harivandi. The truth is that the breed doesn’t have any say in the size or damage of the spot. Some individual dogs have urine with a higher pH level and/or nitrogen content, or their urine is more concentrated. This has more to do with diet, water intake, and general health than with a specific breed of dog. Whether it is a dalmatian or a dachshund, X still marks the spot.

Myth 3: Brown Spots Occur When Dog Urine Is Alkaline

The Truth: Although urine pH levels can have a bearing on lawn health, dog urine damages grass because of its high concentrations of nitrogen and salts — not its pH level. Dogs are natural carnivores, and that helps to make their urine acidic – usually at levels of 6.0 to 6.5. Turfgrass is negatively affected by either overly acidic or overly alkaline conditions. Although your lawn loves nitrogen just as much as the next blade of grass, the amount of nitrogen that a dog deposits in one small area is too much for the lawn to handle.

The urine spots are often ringed with lush green grass that grows faster than the surrounding lawn. This is because the outside circle receives a smaller boost of nitrogen that allows it to grow instead of burn.

Ali Harivandi
Ali Harivandi
“Your dog will grow old and eventually you will have to say goodbye. Let them have a good time. You can replace and reseed a lawn. Remember that a damaged lawn is a lot easier to replace than a relationship with that beloved pet.”

— Ali Harivandi

Myth 4: Dog Urine Spots Can Be Prevented With Food Supplements

The Truth: Dog owners see shelves of dog food, supplements, and other products that advertise a solution to dog spotting. They usually work to reduce the alkalinity of your dog’s urine or make your dog drink more water. But because dog spots are caused more from heavy concentrations of nitrogen and salts, these products are generally useless and can cause real damage to your dog’s health. Always consult your veterinarian before adding supplements to your dog’s food.

Myth 5: Dog Pee Damage Can Be Cured By Sprinkling a)Baking Soda, b)Gypsum, c)Dishwashing Detergent, d)Other Random Household Product

The Truth: Baking soda and gypsum contain salts, and may increase the problem. Dishwashing detergent is a surfactant and could help with water movement through the soil. But other ingredients in the soap might burn the grass itself, so it’s best not to add to the problem. The real magic ingredient is water. Deep watering of the spot can dilute the nitrogen and salts and allow them to leach into the surrounding soil.

How to Fix Dog Urine Spots

Dog Urine Spot
What a typical dog urine spot looks like: A caved-in, brown, dead area, usually no wider than 3 inches. Surrounding it is an unusually green ring.

What can be done with the grass?

Water well. Watering the dog urine spots will help dilute and displace nitrogen and acidity, and allow the grass to recover more quickly. This might mean watering every morning or evening in that particular spot, or carrying a watering can or hose along with you to dilute the spot each time your dog urinates.

Mow high. Raising the mower blade to 2 to 3 inches allows turfgrass to handle stress, and a higher grass-line will hide dog pee spots and dead grass.

Increase nitrogen. This might seem counter-productive since excess nitrogen was the culprit. But having a lawn care plan that includes fertilization for the entire lawn can help mask those dark green rings if the entire lawn is green and has adequate nitrogen.
Do not resuscitate. If dog spots have killed the grass, it’s time to say goodbye. Remove the dead turf and some of the soil underneath. Install new patches of sod and water well. Or reseed with a type of grass, like fescue or ryegrass, that is recommended for your lawn. Harivandi notes that the healthy surrounding grasses will most likely fill in the dead areas through rhizome growth, whether you reseed or not.

What can be done with the dog?

Check your dog’s pH levels. Alkaline urine pH plays a part in dog urine spots, but is not the reason alone. However, to make sure your dog is in good health and within the guidelines of a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5, have your veterinarian do a urine test. Higher pH levels can lead to your dog developing struvite crystals, and the higher pH might contribute to lawn damage.

Train the dog to use a specific area in the landscape. You can teach a dog to urinate in designated less-visible areas of the lawn. Use mulch in a designated area, or lay artificial turf that can be cleaned. Take your dog out on a leash to the spot you have chosen, and wait until he has urinated. Repeat a specific word (like “hurry” or “do your business”) when the dog relieves in this spot and not in other areas of the yard. Praise and reward each time he uses this spot. Soon, your dog will be peeing on command!

Take walkies. Instead of letting your dog into the yard to pee, grab the leash and discover your neighborhood. Of course, pick up after your dog, and allow her to urinate in untravelled areas or dog parks and not in your neighbor’s yard. Once your dog urinates, she’s allowed to play in her own yard, spot free!

Water well. Yes, your dog needs to be watered just as much as the lawn. Increased consumption of water dilutes urine and reduces overall pH and nitrogen levels. That results in less spotting and lawn damage. Make sure your dog has access to clean water at all times.

Ultimately, says Harivandi, remember what is really important. “Your dog will grow old and eventually you will have to say goodbye. Let them have a good time. You can replace and reseed a lawn. Remember that a damaged lawn is a lot easier to replace than a relationship with that beloved pet.”

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams has kept bees, grown vegetables and flowers for farmers markets, and never misses an opportunity to have a conversation with an interesting tree.