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Dog-Safe Grass

Can this lawn be saved from these four paws?

Webb Chappell

Lucy, our 2-year-old Doberman, is a wonderful dog, but by running around in our backyard she's killing what little grass we have. I'd like a nice grass yard but don't know what to do.
— Don, Milwaukee, WI


Roger Cook replies: Dogs will be dogs, and they do love to run. And if a dog is confined to one area, particularly if it's chained to a post or to a cable that allows the dog to move back and forth, lawn damage is unavoidable. In this case, forget trying to save the grass. Remove what's there and replace it with a wide swath of mulch or sand, contained with edging. These materials won't hurt a dog's feet, the way gravel or pea stone can, and they can easily be raked back into place as needed. Artificial turf might also work, if the area isn't too large. I've installed it under backyard swingsets. It stands up to toddlers, so maybe it would work with Lucy.
Another approach would be to use one of the porous paving systems designed to help grass withstand driveway and parking-lot traffic. These perforated plastic or masonry materials, which are strong enough to support cars and trucks, contain many holes that protect the grass and its roots from damage while allowing water to drain through. Installing these systems requires some excavating, filling (with a good mix of sand, compost, and loam), replanting (with sod plugs), and waiting before the grass is strong enough. But once the lawn is established, it should be able to withstand Lucy. Just be sure to discuss your intentions with the manufacturer first. You don't want to install anything that will cut her feet.


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