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Repairing a dog-destroyed backyard

I am trying to figure out a solution to our backyard mess.  Up until last summer our backyard was fine but then we got a second great dane and things went downhill from there.  The dogs do not dig up the lawn, however their extremely rough play has torn up 90% of the grass in the backyard, leaving a giant mud pit in its place.  I am trying to come up with a way to fix it this spring so that it looks nice and I'm not always cleaning up muddy paw prints.  Artificial lawns are out of my price range but I have considered trying to reseed with a hardier grass or even clover(doing one half of the yard at a time so it can take root without the dogs messing it up) or making at least part of the yard gravel.  Any suggestions would be great!  I am located in central Ohio.

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Posted 2011-03-11T18:48:13+0000  by sb98deg sb98deg

Hi sb98deg,


This is Ricks Picks.  I work in the Garden Department for The Home Depot.  Welcome to the Home Depot Community and thank you for our question.  I can understand about having large dogs in the back yard.  I have had 30 years of large German Shepherds that were over 100lbs each.  You can still have a real lawn but you will need to do it in steps.  You have the right idea of fencing off half of the yard.  This will give you a chance to get a part of the yard back on the road to recovery.


In my back yard, I have a combination of Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass.  The St. Augustine grass is a wide bladed, crawling type of grass that is very durable.  The Bermuda is a much finer type of grass blade that also crawls across the yard but also has rhizomes that will creep underground and expand the reach of the grass.  Bermuda is a highly invasive grass and is very difficult to keep out of any flower beds that are close by.  The Bermuda grass can be applied with seed, but the St. Augustine grass must be purchased either in 16X16 inch flats or in the form of sod since seed for the St. Augustine grass is not available.  The St. Augustine will spread nicely into surrounding areas so it would not be necessary to fill the whole yard with the St. Augustine grass.   If you place 4 inch wide plugs about 1 foot apart in the spring, the open area will be fill in by June or July.  I mentioned the Bermuda grass because it is also very durable and can be mixed in with the St. Augustine grass.  Both grasses will go dormant in the winter time and little care is needed except for a fall fertilization and a spring pre-emergent to keep weeds at bay. 

                                         Vigoro Weed Stop.jpgFall grass fertilizer.jpg

A fescue is also a choice for grass but it does not hold up well when the dog urinates on the lawn.  Visit you local Home Depot or other nursery supply in your area to see what is readily available in your area.  Regardless what you find on the internet, St. Augustine grass seed is not available anywhere in the USA.  Once you have researched the grass you want to use, it is time to prepare the soil and to add a sprinkler system to the lawn.  Since the lawn area is going to be turned over to ad soil amendments, this is a great time to put your sprinkler system in.  I recommend the pop-up style sprinkler which will disappear back into the ground once the cycle is complete. 


Depending on the size of the lawn area, you have the option of using a roto tiller or just turning the soil over by hand.  It is easier to use a trencher to install the sprinkler lines and much quicker than doing it by hand unless you want the exercise.  Once you have put the lawn in, be sure to water frequently.  The ground should always be damp around your newly planted grass for the next two weeks at least.  This will give the seeds or seedling grass a chance to grow and establish a healthy root system.  You can use a starter fertilizer when starting a newly plant lawn.  A starter fertilizer is high in Phosphorus which will help the grass roots develop quicker.   Be sure to give the new grass at least a 3-4 month head start before you let the dogs start to romp around on it.  Be sure to take some before and after pictures of your lawn and share them with the rest of the garden enthusiasts here on our community.   When you are ready to put your new lawn in let us know and we will guide you through your lawn installation process, step by step.  Thank you again for your question.


 This has been another of,

Posted 2011-03-12T00:08:25+0000  by Rick_HD_OC



I am in rhe same situation. I have two great danes, my yard has become a sea of mud, especially on the sides from them running up and down the yard next to the fence.. I have vinyl coated chain link now. i am considering doing a privacy fence to minimize the fence running behavior.   i cannot take another year of them tracking dirt and mud into the house.



Posted 2013-02-24T17:47:35+0000  by marthabugg

Hi marthabugg,


Thank you for our question and welcome to our community.  I can relate to your dilemma.  It sounds like your Great Danes have some outside stimulus from the neighbors.  To accomplish the task of turning your mud pit into a green grassy yard for your Great Danes to romp in, will require a little extra work.   Depending on your area St. Augustine grass may be a good choice for you. 


Do you have a male or female Dane?  Female dog urine tends to be more concentrated than the male.  Even with a St Augustine, this could cause spotting in your lawn.  The St. Augustine will recover in a few weeks if you can treat the area with a little soapy water to dilute the urine in the soil.  How old are your dogs?  As they get older, they will start to wait for you to get home so that you can play with them and give them more exercise


Sod may be your best bet if you want to completely cover the yard right away.  If you are able to keep the dogs off the grass for about 2 months this will give the grass a chance to take hold.  This would be the ideal situation. 


A courser Tall Fescue mixed with a Bermuda grass may also be a good choice.  The tall fescue is a wider bladed grass and once established will hold up under higher traffic.  It will require regular feeding and over seeding to maintain the health and thickness of the grass. 


Whichever type of grass you choose, it will be necessary to prepare the soil.  This means that the bare areas will have to be loosened up and possible some soil amendments added.  Having a good soil will help to increase the production of new growth in your lawn. 


Another thought would be to plant a Creeping Fig along the fence line.  This will require a little maintenance once a month but it will nicely cover the fencing and provide more of a barrier between the yards.  The trick will be to keep the dogs off the newly planted creeping fig.  The creeping fig will do best in a sun/part sun environment. 




Be sure to take pictures of your project from what it is now to your completed project and share them with the rest of the community under “I Did This” in our project library.  Please let us know if we can be of further assistance to you.


This has been anther of,



Posted 2013-02-26T19:53:39+0000  by Rick_HD_OC

Thanks Rick,


We have a male Great Dane who over the last few years has destroyed our backyard lawn as well.  Our problem is not just his romping, which after a good day of play made our lawn look like a polo field, but urine spots that eventually killed the grass and left lots of bare spaces.  We re-seeded the lawn last year and tried to get it back into shape by restricting access.  The drought from last summer gave us less than what we expected so we are planning to turn the lawn over again this spring.  Can we get the St. Augustine sod/flats from a Home Depot store?  I think one of our problems is we are not planting a durable grass that is hardy enough to stand up to our dog's running and playing.  Is there something too that can be sprayed on the lawn that will detract him from urinating on the grass directly that won't harm the grass?



Posted 2013-03-10T17:35:35+0000  by divvadoll
I too am having the same issue. I have a 2 year old female St Bernard who has ripped up our backyard. We live in a high traffic area so when she sees people she takes off running and comes to sliding stop at the fence, it's like watching a cartoon. The area is also very shaded so it has never grown grass very well. So I'm looking for a solution for those two problems. If you have any suggestions that would be great!
Posted 2013-03-16T17:06:11+0000  by RJRL4

Hi Divvadoll,


My sincere apologies for my delay in getting back to you.  I just got the email this morning.    The key to a solution, is allowing the grass to take hold and mature.  I am on the West Coast and have St. Augustine throughout my back yard.  It seemed to tolerate the activities of both of my large 120 lbs German Shepherds.  The one exception was that we would go out to the park frequently to chase the ball and I would jog 5-7 miles with them several times a week as well as going on long hikes a couple times a month. This activity helped to calm the dogs down so that they were not as active in the yard. 


That being said, as long as you have full sun in the back yard and a sprinkler system, you should be good with the St. Augustine which comes in flats and sod.  The sod will give you an instant lawn and a head start on becoming established.  Using plugs also works but it takes longer to spread.  I have used the Alaska Fish Emulsion on new St Augustine with great success.


                                                                       Fish Emulsion Alaska 5-1-1.jpg


It is tolerated well and gives great results when used with new growth St. Augustine.  The most efficient tool has been the Miracle Gro Garden Feeder. It is usually used with the crystalline Miracle Gro but works well with the diluted Fish Emulsion.


                                                                                    Miracle Gro Garden Feeder.jpg



As far as the dogs urinating on the lawn, this is inevitable but the St. Augustine will tolerate it much better than a Fescue, Bermuda, Kentucky Blue grass or the like.  The grass may yellow but with regular watering and a few watering cans of diluted dish soap used on the violated spot, which will dilute and break down the urine, the grass will recover nicely.   Regular watering will be your saving grace.


They key to the solution, is allowing the St. Augustine to become established.  Once the root system has developed, this grass is very durable.  Regular watering will be the key. (I know, I sound like a broken record).  Be sure to water in the early morning and never, never in the evening.  Nighttime watering can lead to a lawn fungus which will kill off large portions of the St. Augustine. 


In addition to the fish fertilizer, you can also use a “Starter Fertilizer” which is high in Phosphate, which is the middle number on the fertilizer bag.  The Phosphate/Phosphorus aids in a more rapid root growth for a new lawn.    If you use the granular “Starter Fertilizer”, be sure to water it in immediately after the application. 


                                                                        Scotts Starter Fertilizer.jpg



The St. Augustine will stay green all year long, providing that your winter temperatures do not dip below 55 F.  If that happens, this grass will go partially to completely dormant.  Here on the West Coast, our winter temperatures vary, but I have had several winters with weeks of night time temperatures in the 20 F range.    The grass recovers in the spring but that brown winter look can scare people.


There is a product The Home Depot carries that can detour animals from urinating on your grass.  It is by HavaHart called “Critter Ridder”.  It is composed of course ground pepper with oil of pepper added to increase the potency.


                                                                      Havahart Critter Ridder.jpg


This does not harm the dogs.  It is just a potent and offensive smell for them.  This needs to be applied every 30 days to be effective.


Please let me know if I can be of further assistance to you.  Be sure to share you adventure with us in our Project Library under "I Did This" on The Home Depot Community.



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Posted 2013-03-19T18:45:33+0000  by Rick_HD_OC



Thank you for your question and welcome to our community.   You do have a challenging situation there.  I see a couple of options for you.  Since you are not able to get rid of the passerby traffic, you will need to keep the dog away from that area to make the more suitable for your St. Bernard’s excessive romping.  This is a game for her but at the same time it is causing her stress as well.  I have had two large breed German Shepherds over the past 30 years (110 lbs plus) and my solution was to increase their activity level and go jogging regularly for about 5-7 miles on foot  or use my mountain bike for a long slow ride.  It is better in the cooler weather when going on longer walks or hikes.


To prepare the area she is playing in so that it does not receive further damage will require that you keep her away from that area until the plants have a chance to grow in and fill out.  Is this fence to the outside area a chain link fence?  This is probably the root of your issues if you do.  It will help if you are able to put a short wall in front of the fence, say about 3 feet high and then use some climbing plants such as the creeping fig to cover the rest of the chain link fence.


                                                                       Creeping fig on wood fence.jpg


This plant comes in a 1 gallon and 5 gallon container.  The 5 gallon will have a larger root system and will be a more mature plant.  Depending on the amount of sunshine this area receives, you will need to choose plants that will tolerate that condition.  The creeping fig will work in a morning sun environment.


For a full sun plant,you can also use a plant called a “Privet”, which is waxy leafed bush that can grow into a very sturdy hedge if given the opportunity to grow.  Even the "Boxwood" may be a good choice.  This bush has much smaller leaves and is much denser than the Privet.   The Euonymus & Holly would be another good choice in a full sun area. 



Euonymus-shrubs.jpg  boxwood-green-velvet.jpg 

Euonymus shrub.jpg  Holly shrub-Princess Holly.jpg




These plants as well as a large number of other suitable shrubs, also come in a 1 and 5 gallon containers.  There will have to be some sort of change in the environment your St. Bernard is playing in if you are to be successful in regaining control of this area. I know it may be a hard decision but you may have to use a temporary kennel in you back yard to give you plant walls a chance to grow.


                                                   Kennel large breed.jpg


There is no magic bullet, just time and patience.  Please let us know if we can be of further assistance to you.  Be sure to take pictures and video and share your project with us in our Project Library under "I Did This"


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Posted 2013-03-19T23:08:23+0000  by Rick_HD_OC

Thanks so much Rick!


We live in Chicago so dormancy of the lawn is something we are used to.  It is still rather cold here so as soon as the weather warms we will use your suggestions to get our lawn strong and green again.  I will get the fertilizers you mentoned so we'll be ready to start the project in April when the grass should be available.  I will definitely take photos of the process and post them up!



Posted 2013-03-23T21:05:06+0000  by divvadoll
I see these posts are several years old,  but I  need some advise. So here goes. I recently built a home, the builders slopped the lawn on both sides of the property, so when it rains or I water the sides stay soggy for days. I no longer water because of this. What can I do about the drainage problem? I also have 2 small dogs that have caused paths in the St Augustine lawn, beside stepping stones, what else can I try to get grass back in the paths? Is there a grass that can tolerate high traffic and only a few hours of sun? 
Posted 2015-04-12T13:01:41+0000  by Dim88ples
Hi Dim88ples,

St. Augustine grass requires at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to thrive. While it is a very durable lawn grass that stands up to traffic, it has to have adequate sunlight to grow at its best.

When the conditions are less than optimal, rutting can occur where the dogs repeatedly travel. Turning the dogs in another direction could give the grass a break so that it could repair itself, but you would probably need to put temporary fencing up to accomplish that.

The water situation will contribute to the grass going into decline. If the soil stays soggy, the grass will suffer and become weak to the point of dying.
Eliminate any contributing water sources that you have control over.

  • The downspouts from your gutters should be diverted to areas that drain that water away more effectively.
  • Areas that hold standing water need drain basins that can move the water away.
  • Prevent water from your neighbor's property from entering your yard with curbing or edging.
  • Aerate the areas of concern when they eventually dry out and add soil conditioner to improve the soil texture.

One grass alternative for shady lawns is fescue. You can apply fescue seed in the fall, but while it tolerates less than full sun, it will remain green in the winter months while your St. Augustine grass will become brown.

I hope that these ideas will help you.


Posted 2015-04-14T15:43:39+0000  by Travis_HD_ATL
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