How to fix your yard after your big dog ruins it

So you had this nice lawn, and now, you’ve got this big dog and he’s destroying your yard.

He’s peeing on it and leaving dead patches, he’s running on it and digging up the grass with his nails.

Your lawn looks terrible. You consider throwing in the towel and getting gravel or concrete, but you want to try one last time to try to save your lawn.

This was me. I got a wonderful black Labrador a couple of years ago and he totally destroyed my lawn. He can dig a foot deep ditch in 1 minute!

This is what my yard used to look like:

Don't let your big dog ruin your yard

I was at my wits end. I would try to fix the bald patches and grass would struggle to grow. Then, my dog would run on it and ruin the seedlings. And I was back to square one.

Strategies I tried that didn’t work

I watched a lot of videos on YouTube to try to solve my issues. One video suggested that I follow my dog around with a watering can, so I could dilute the urine and prevent it from making brown patches and killing the grass. Who has the time? Often, I just want to let my dog out to pee all by himself while I make coffee, etc. I don’t want to have to be his bathroom chaperone!

Another video just had tips for patching dead spots destroyed by urine. But my problem was bigger than that – new grass wasn’t really sprouting fast, so I spent so much time and money fixing patches of grass only to see it wither again.

I even explored ways to pave over my yard, or put down gravel or dog-friendly wood chips because it seemed so hopeless.

But then I discovered some simple remedies for my lawn that let me enjoy my yard and my dog.

The role of pH

Wanting to give it one last try to attempt to salvage my lawn, I went to my local garden shop and the owner suggested I test the pH of the yard. That began my journey of using pH. I bought this pH test kit and discovered that my yard had a pH of only 5.5! Ideal pH for growing grass is about 6.5, or at least in the range of 6 to 7.

So how do you get your yard pH up? The best way is to spread lime on it. For an area of about 1,000 square feet, I spread about 30 lbs of lime. That raised the pH to 6.5.

Before you put down lime, you can help it do it’s magic by raking or breaking the surface of the soil up a bit.

Lay down your lime and with a push spreader, and then water your yard thoroughly so that the lime is absorbed into the soil. If you want to save water, put lime down before a heavy rain is forecast.

Use of fertilizer

In past years, I only fertilize when I seed new grass. And because I’m always seeding new grass, I never saw the need to add additional fertilizer. But I figured I need to give the soil all the help it can get.

I personally used Pennington Utra Green Starter Formula.

Before you put down lime, you can help it do it’s magic by raking or breaking the surface of the soil up a bit.

Lay down your fertilizer with a spreader, like with the lime.

Grass selection

Just as I was considering giving up, I was passing though a NYC park and noticed that their grass was holding up even though dogs use the park quite a lot.

Through droughts and dogs running and playing off leash, the NYC park looks better than my yard, even though I tend to my yard all the time! Watering and planting constantly.

So what’s the trick?

Well I began researching what grass they plant. And I discovered that they plant particular types that are extra hardy and branch out on their own. As opposed to mine which just made single blades of grass. Park grass has better root structures and is hardier, handles dog pee better and is less finicky.

Here’s a guide I found for NYC parks.

Based on the list of grasses in that guide, tall fescue seemed like the best variety to plant. It’s study, not fussy, can withstand harsh conditions and spreads out on its own. It has a nice, deep root structure. Based on the list in the guide, I chose to go with Pennington Smart Seed which has a very similar mix of grasses to NYC parks.

Patch repair

Even if you correct your pH and fertilize and plant the right kind of grass seed, inevitably you’ll still have to do some patch repair. But correcting the pH, fertilizing and selecting the seed makes it A LOT easier to do patch repair, because the grass will grow better, faster and with healthier roots, cutting down the time and money you spend.

To do patch repair, what you do is, water the area well, then rake away the dead grass. You want to put the new seed in with some fertilizer and fence it off from your dog so it has a chance to grow.

A nice product I’ve found for patch repair is Pennington Smart Patch. I guess I’ve mentioned a lot of Pennington products here, but I don’t get any money for mentioning them. I’m just telling you what I picked. There are plenty of options from other brands if you look for equivalents.


If you don’t want gravel or pavers and want a nice lawn AND you want your big dog to have fun without too much work on your part, there are really three components to having a nice lawn and a big active dog:

#1: check the yard pH – if the pH is really off, you won’t be able to grow grass well. Fix it with lime and an appropriate fertilizer.

#2: Select hardy, zone appropriate grass, like they use in your local park that can branch out and form deep roots. If you don’t know what to plant, find your local park people and ask what they find works best with the least maintenance.

#3: Accept that you’re going to have to do a bit of patching, and that’s ok. It doesn’t take long, just rake, seed, fertilize and fence.

Enjoy your big dog and your grass!