How to Grow Grass in the Shade if You Have dogs

Dogs and Shade Vs. You and Your Lawn

A question we get asked a lot is, "I have heavy shade and big dogs, what grass should I pick?"

Seems we want four mutually exclusive things: dogs, shade, an amazing lawn, and personal happiness. Myself included - I want these things too!

An active dog and heavy shade are a tough combo for growing a lawn. Can you guess the winning team? Dogs and shade.

Why can’t we outscore dogs and shade?

Dogs cause challenges for lawns in two ways:

  • Their urine will cause patches of grass to die (due to lactic acid) or green up more than surrounding areas (due to nitrogen). Read more about the causes of "urine patch" from NC State Cooperative Extension Service.
  • As creatures of habit, they wear down paths along fences or on their favorite routes across a lawn.

dog urine kills patches of lawn grass

Dog urine can cause patches of grass to die. This is my neighbor's zoysia - I saw the deed happen!  (For the record, it wasn't my dog that did this.)

Shade is challenging for lawns because most turfgrasses are from sunny ecosystems and require full sun to thrive and form the plush carpets of grass we desire. When grown in shade, grass doesn't get the light it needs, so it thins out. Some types of turfgrass are more shade tolerant that others and we talk about them in our video explaining Shade and Turf.

Dogs and shade are a double whammy – all the above factors come into play, plus the fact that in shade a lawn that will normally repair itself simply doesn’t have the vigor required to fill in and repair damage.

picture of dog on a lawn

Ford is sitting pretty in his yard.

Tactics to Win!

After two decades of problem solving and pushing my luck with the dogs-shade scenario, I have a few solutions. Pick those you can best balance with your lifestyle of loving dogs, shade, and lawns.

how to grow a lawn if you have dogs and shade - big dogs on a shady lawn

This doggy daycare installed TifTuf. It has worked wonderfully for them (and the dogs).

Grass Care Solutions

  • Choose a warm season grass because they have the special ability to repair themselves. They grow via runners (stolons and rhizomes) that will vigorously grow and fill in damaged areas. Bermudagrass, Centipedegrass, and Zoysiagrass are all warm season turfgrasses – meaning they grow during the spring, summer, and fall, but are dormant in the winter.

    Handsome the dog on their lawn from Ben Jr

    These kids play sports and lawn games and Handsome the dog romps all over this TifTuf lawn, but it's still green and beautiful.
  • Avoid winter damage. Keep in mind that a warm season lawn will only repair itself when actively growing. That means it won’t be able to repair itself during the winter when it’s brown and dormant, i.e., not growing. It may be necessary to take your dog on walks during the dormant winter, rather than expecting them to burn off their energy on your lawn.
  • Reduce the amount of shade by removing some trees or big limbs to give the lawn more sunlight. If you can make sure the area gets at least 5 hours of sunlight, then TifBlair Centipede, TifTuf Bermudagrass, and Zoysiagrasses will grow well in those areas.
  • Give the grass a break! An active dog will create paths that will stay visible unless the dog is kept off that area for 1-3 months so that the warm season lawn can grow to fill in the damage and repair itself. The dog will wear down those paths again, so this is a temporary solution, say if preparing your garden for a party or wedding. During this repair phase, regular fertilization coupled with extra watering of the bare areas will promote active growth for quicker repair by those runners.
  • Rinse and repeat. Monitor where the dog is peeing and rinse the spots immediately with running water. I did this for my Zoysia lawn when I put the house up for sale. It was a big effort, but it worked.
  • Are you a loyal fan of the Tall Fescue team? If so, remember that Tall Fescue grows in clumps, rather than via stolons and rhizomes, and will not repair itself. However, we recommend reseeding Tall Fescue lawns every autumn anyway, so there's already a routine of renovation in place for Tall Fescue lawns. 
  • Replant sod:
    • To repair those dog paths, you can lay rolls of sod along them to instantly get them covered. Repairing patches is one of the reasons why we sell sod by the individual roll.
    • We know a few folks who think of sod like an annual planting. When their sod declines in their shaded yard, they replace their thinning and struggling sod with new sod. New sod has enough energy reserves to last several years in the shade.

Sloan the dog on Zenith Zoysia lawn
Sloan is showing off his Zenith Zoysia turf.

Blu the dog on Fescue turfgrass

Blu sees a lush future overseeding Tall Fescue lawns every autumn.

Other Landscaping Solutions

Sometimes dogs, shade, and lawns simply can’t cohabit. In some cases we advise against any lawn because a full canopy of shade is the happy home of several large, vigorous canines. By now we know the winning team. If you can’t beat them, join them! Keep scrolling for 6 tips.

how to grow sod with dogs

Barbara Evins' dog is loving her Zeon Zoysia!

  • Mulch 3-4 inches deep with shredded bark (instead of having a lawn) to keep down the mud. Mulch again as needed; at least once a year.
  • Plant a groundcover like monkey grass or Asiatic jasmine - most other herbaceous perennials will not withstand the trampling. Alternatively, plant shade-loving shrubs which are more likely to stand up to the dogs running around.
  • Create a dedicated dog area or “dog run.” Most dogs tend to use only part of a landscape – they pick their favorite areas and gravitate toward them. Observe where your dog hangs out and let her tell you where she prefers. Let her have that area and build a fence to keep her out of the lawn areas you’d like to perfect. There are many lovely fence designs and the fence can be installed as a “design element” or focal point of your outdoor living space. When you’re there to monitor her activity, she can be in all areas of the garden with you.
  • Similar to a dedicated dog run, train your best friend to go someplace remote (other than the lawn) to relieve themselves.
  • We're seeing a growing trend in customers purchasing a few rolls at a time to make dog potties. In conversations we've learned that cheap kiddie pools are handy for lining with sod and getting man's best friend to "go" in there. 
  • So, this is not exactly a landscaping tip, but if you're looking for a new canine pet, get a male. Why? Males hike a leg to pee on the bushes, while females squat to urinate all over your lawn (as shown in the cone-shaped damage in the first picture).

We’d like to hear more tactics to beating dogs and shade. I know there are some clever ones out there - your friends and I would like to hear them!

Who are the dogs in these pics? Six of them are employees' pets and we introduced them by name. We love our pups.

Disclaimer: These dogs may or may not get to pee on their lawns. I didn't ask. No animals were interrogated or shooed of the lawn in the making of this article.

how to grow a turfgrass lawn if you have dogs

Daisy is looking forward to hearing your tips & tricks!


Super-Sod blog - dog and shade vs you and your lawn

Cricket enjoying one of our lawn displays at a Super-Sod store.