'Help, My Dogs Are Wrecking My Yard!'

Before my three dogs arrived, my yard was lush and lovely. Kentucky bluegrass stretched into an emerald carpet, flower beds popped with color, vegetables grew in peace. However, after each new canine joined the family, my yard slowly morphed into a muddy minefield of poop and ankle-turning hollows. My flower bed became a wrestling mat, my vegetable garden their salad bar.

Of course, the fault is mine. (It's always Mom's fault.) I should have trained my dogs -- Rosie the bichon frise, Chichi the husky, and Betty the Shih Tzu -- to respect the yard when they were puppies. But I got busy, OK? And my landscaping suffered.

No more. This spring I'm backtracking and giving my yard the pet protection it needs. Here's how.

Out, damned spots!

Depending on the concentration of dog urine, nitrogen-rich urea can either feed or kill your lawn; that's why yards with dogs are a mix of thick green and dead brown patches. Forget the euphemisms: Here's how to prevent unsightly pee splotches.

  • Plant clover, Creeping Jenny, or other rugged ground covers in an out-of-the-way spot, and train your dog to do its business there.
  • When you see your dog urinate, quickly dilute the urine with water.
  • Walk your dogs until they urinate, then let them loose in your yard.
  • Keep a bowl of water outside to encourage dogs to drink more, which will dilute their discharge.

Don't let dogs get into a rut

Dogs like to patrol yards -- it's their joy and job. Unfortunately, guarding the perimeter of your property can flatten turf and create ruts.

So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em: Create paths around your property's perimeter that your dog can't destroy. Flagstone, brick, and hardwood chips create attractive and durable paths. If you've got a shaggy dog, avoid laying down shredded hardwood that sticks to fur and makes a mess in the house.

My pups love to watch the world by the fence in my herb garden. So, I pulled out the oregano and created a doggy viewing area by laying an old square of carpet that's comfy and cool in the summer. Now, my dogs sun themselves and protect their people without trampling my herbs.

Create 'Keep Out' signs

To keep dogs out of your prized perennials or salad garden, erect these barriers.

  • Green barriers: Surround off-limits areas with boxwoods, shrub roses, or massive ornamental grasses like Calamagrostis "Karl Foerster" (feather reed grass), which will discourage dogs from charging through.
  • Hardscape barriers: Stone or brick walls or stacked pressure-treated wood will create a decorative focal point and make it harder for dogs, especially little ones, to trample your garden.
  • Fences: You don't have to get fancy and spend a fortune fencing verboten areas. I've stretched plastic fencing between garden stakes and discouraged my dogs from charging through. If you must throw more money at the problem, install a chain-link fence ($3 to $6 per foot), and cover the ugly with ivy, climbing roses, or vine crops such as cucumber or squash.

A run of their own

The best way to keep your beloved animals from wrecking your yard is to give them their own playground -- a place where they can dig and wrestle and pee whenever they want.

Cover the ground on dog runs with anything that can stand up to dog play and can disguise and absorb their waste, says Bob Mann, an agronomist with Lawn Dog, a lawn care company.

Mann recommends pine bark mulch, which is loaded with hungry bacteria that eat dog droppings. "Bacteria will end up consuming it before it smells," he says. Other good candidates include pea gravel, crushed dolomite marble, or pulverized concrete (rake it well to detect any stray pieces of metal).

Enrich your dog's day

A bored dog is a destructive dog. When they've got nothing better to do, dogs will dig under fences to escape or hunt for treasure, pull out bushes as though they were prey, and roll around in the petunia patch.

"Dog's get into trouble when we don't give them a job," says Helen Cariotis, a dog obedience trainer and past president of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors.

Here are some ways to keep your pups constructively busy.

  • Give your dog an excavation site. Fill a corner of your yard with sand, bury treats and toys in the pile every morning, and let your dog dig till it drops. (Hopefully not literally.)
  • Before you leave for work, throw a handful of kibble into your yard, which your dog will spend hours hunting.
  • Many breeds love digging in water. Fill a baby wading pool with 2 inches of water, and your dog will happily splash there and keep cool in summer.
  • Invest in some "busy" toys that deliver treats when dogs push them around and tire themselves out.

-- -- -- -- --

More from realtor.com: Do You Need to Remodel Before You Sell?