Although dogs and lawns are natural enemies, the two are often asked to coexist. Romping paws damage turf and cause soil compaction, which further weakens grass. Dog urine causes additional damage, leaving dead spots or uneven growth in its wake. Choosing a grass seed that tolerates foot traffic is a first step toward keeping peace between canines and the green carpet that so many of us covet. The type of seed you choose depends upon where you live.
Seed for the North and Northeast
Northern lawns use a versatile blend of Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues, mixed with a small amount of perennial rye. When it comes to dogs, homeowners should consider leaving the fescues out because they are slow to recover after being damaged. Planting a 50/50 mix of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye is a good solution for dog traffic because the bluegrass rebounds quickly from damage and the rye germinates and establishes quickly. This combination works well on athletic fields and will provide a lawn that can stand up to dogs. Look for cold-tolerant cultivars of perennial rye, such as dandy or dimension, because some will not survive northern temperatures.
Seed for the South
In the South, bermudagrass is the most durable type when it comes to frolicking paw activity. Bermudagrass does best where the average temperature does not fall below 10 degrees Celsius and grows thickest in sunny locations. Once again, it is the turf of choice for football and other athletic fields, making it a worthy adversary for a cabal of canines. In parts of the South, where average temperatures are below 10 degrees C, bermudagrass goes dormant in winter. Consider overseeding with perennial rye in mid-September to keep the lawn green and durable all year.
Seed for the West
Because the west has a highly variable climate, the best seed choice for a household with dogs depends upon location. In coastal California, for example, perennial rye withstands active dogs better than other species. More arid parts of the Southwest rely on bermudagrass, because it tolerates drought and is more durable that other grass species. In the cold and dry eastern part of Washington state, Kentucky bluegrass is the seed of choice.
Choosing a grass seed that tolerates foot traffic is a good start to making peace between lawn and dog, but there are additional steps that homeowners should take. Begin by purchasing seed from a knowledgeable source rather than buying a generic bag of seed that may not be tailored to your region and climate. Some species of grass have many cultivars from which to choose. Some of these require less maintenance than others; some are more cold- or heat-resistant than others; and some are more prone to disease. Finally, none of the seed mentioned performs well in heavy shade. When it comes to dogs and deep shade, bark chips are the answer.
- North Dakota State University: Turf Grass Establishment and Maintenance for Home Lawns and Athletic Fields
- Texas A&M University: Burmudagrass "The Sports Turf of the South"
- Pennsylvania State University: Turfgrass Seed and Seed Mixtures
- Purdue University: Animal Urine Damage in Turf
- University of California-Davis: Perennial Ryegrass - Lolium perenne
- Sports Turf Manager Association: Turfgrass Selection