3 big dogs in backyard

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I have 3 large dogs in a backyard. They wrestle non stop and have literally either trodden down every blade of grass, dug it up or, in the case of shrubbery, chewed it up. The only thing remaining is an enormous old black walnut tree. So, not only have they completely torn up the yard, it's shady too. We need to do something to hardscape the backyard without breaking the bank. Part of the yard will have wood decking, other parts will be patio pavers. I was thinking of trying something like astroturf for the remaining areas. thoughts?
  45 answers
  • Carole Carole on Feb 18, 2015
    There is apparently a brand of fake lawn that is suitable for pets. If they pee or poo on it, you can just hose it down. Unless you can fence off an area for your dogs to keep them off the garden, then I think you have the right idea. They will only destroy any plants you put in and ruin your grass. Our dog has also ruined a section of grass that she has access to. She digs it up with her paws after peeing on it. Naughty girl. Her urine has burned brown bald patches in the grass too. You can see where she has been and the bits she does not use as the bits she does not pee on are lush thick lawn in stark comparison! Good luck.

  • Hope Williams Hope Williams on Feb 18, 2015
    Hi Jean. I have 3 big dogs too and the same problem. "Grassology" is a brand of seed we are going to try next. Section off an area, enclose it and put chicken wire over it so the grass grows through the closed circles of the wire. Hopefully, this digging will stop since they can do it through the wire! Hopefully!

  • Liz Holland Liz Holland on Feb 18, 2015
    I have the same issues with my dogs, plus they like to dig holes. I have put down chicken wire so they won't dig and I use big pots for spots of color where I want them. I have flower beds in front of the house, we put an electric fence up around it about a foot off the ground. We only had it plugged in for a week or so. Now 2 years later they still will not get in the flower beds! I have given up on having a lawn!

  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Feb 18, 2015
    See some potential for vet bills with the chicken wire. I'd think about fencing off an area for the dog's play area. Have they a variety of tough toys like Kongs to distract them from wrestling? Daughter has 3 dogs, too. Has some tough ones that she puts some peanut butter in. Keeps them real busy trying to get at it.

  • Pat Nolan Pat Nolan on Feb 18, 2015
    Thought: your dogs are bored and they need more space and exercise. I'm having the same problem with just one medium-sized dog. My solution, living in suburbia, is that I harness the dog to a bicycle and let her run until she wears herself out. She loves it. Got the harness from Amazon. It attaches to the pillar that the bike seat is on.

    • Jean Blakeley-Cook Jean Blakeley-Cook on Feb 18, 2015
      Not bored, one is a puppy. 6 months. Going to be running with my daughter, a XC runner, but can't start training until 1 year old. The old man dog, 8 year old terrier mix 70 lbs, is a digger

  • Karen Irvine Karen Irvine on Feb 18, 2015
    I have two great danes, and have the SAME problem. It's like we have a horse barn yard instead of a backyard. We resodded last spring, but that is completely gone too. Fake lawn is about $15,000 for our yard, not an option. They go to daycare so they are tired. They are just honkin' big dogs. Kongs are no match for them. They can chew them apart in about 15 minutes. We are to the point where we want to sell the house to get a bigger yard and just tell the purchasers that we will resod once we are out. Love our girls, but had I known how big dogs are, I think I would have got a toy pomeranian! lol

  • Barbara Matson Barbara Matson on Feb 18, 2015
    put down beauty bark instead of grass

  • Janet Manger Janet Manger on Feb 18, 2015
    We live in the country and also in a woods so we have no grass and mostly shade. At one time we had an outdoor dog and she made a mud area very fast which was not good for her. This is what we done and it was free. We found a local lumber mill which have large piles of sawdust lying around where they cut the trees up for lumber. We took the pick-up truck and they gave us a whole load (could have as much as we wanted) of sawdust and we put that in the dog's pen. She (the dog) thought it was the greatest stuff as she could play in it and then shake it off when she went into her dog house. You can keep adding sawdust over time if you want or it maybe something to use until you can afford something better. If you use sawdust, keep in mind any wood product attach termites of course but you can always spray. Hope this helps some.

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    • Janet Manger Janet Manger on Feb 18, 2015
      @Brenda, that is a dog (like a watch dog) that lives outdoors all the time as opposed to an indoors dog that lives inside all the time.. They have their own dog house and they are either in a large pen like ours was or chained up.

  • Marion Marion on Feb 18, 2015
    I love dogs, raised labs, beagles, had a shepherd, and a malamute. But our dogs were kept chained separately with their own houses, my husband would take the lab for a walk every evening, we lived in the country. I don't understand why people have so many large dogs, what is the purpose. I guess I will get banned, but think it's almost criminal to have so many dogs in a confined area. The best thing, make a fenced in area.

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    • Cristina Cristina on Feb 18, 2015
      @Marion You pretend you love dogs, but it seems to me that you have no idea of what they deserve. Dogs are pack animals: they need to be together, play, fight and organize their hierarchy. Chained, and separately, is cruel. And how many big dogs people have in their backyard is none of your business. You don't know the backyard, so don't criticize.

  • Grady Grady on Feb 18, 2015
    If they're outside 24/7, let them inside. They could be tearing up the yard on purpose to get revenge on you. My dogs have done stuff like that.

    • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Feb 28, 2015
      @Grady Laughed about the revenge of the dogs! So true. Daughter was expecting me for a visit, so did a good vac on the black rugs in her bedroom, and closed the door to keep the shepherd out. He associated the vac with being shut out and demolished it.

  • Focus your curb appeal in the front area for now and use natural wood bark, river rock, in the back for the dogs, I don't think you can have both happy dogs and a great back yard. The dogs give more love and happiness than a yard ever would. It's like the area under the swing set - it just is what it is. Perfection is an illusion - accept and enjoy.

  • Barbara Matson Barbara Matson on Feb 18, 2015
    Wood bark. Natural. Do not use cedar or cocoa bark as they are dangerous for animals. Just plain beauty bark. My sister uses large pea gravel.

  • Don nall Don nall on Feb 18, 2015
    artificial plastic grass

  • Gretchen Gretchen on Feb 18, 2015
    I also vote for wood bark mulch. You can get it in various sizes - large chipped wood that will not stick in the poodles fur down to finely milled pieces that will not make mud when mixed with water. Pea gravel will work too as long as it won't get wedged in the pads of their feet. Don't use rubber mulch - it often has metal pieces in it. And don't use the mulch you get from the dump for the same reason. Nothing is going to grow under that black walnut tree anyway, so create what I call a "Mulch Garden." Just put mulch on the ground - if you want to put it in an "island shape" you can use some sort of edging (I vote for rubberized so there are no hard edges to hurt the dogs) to keep it in place. If you have the money, then go for astroturf - when I lived in CA there were people putting down fake lawns to avoid having to water. So there definitely are companies out there who do it for yards. You can surround shrubs with tomato cages until the youngest grows up some. Puppies are going to play so you sort of have to choose if you want happy dogs or nice grass. For the digger? Make a sand box for him...and let him dig to his heart's content in one corner of the yard. He will love you for it!

  • Kathy Kathy on Feb 18, 2015
    Our yard is small but we had the same problem. So we poured concrete stamped to look like a brick patio in part of the yard and on either end is a "green area" one of which includes a weeping Chinese Cherry tree. Then we put fencing around this area to keep the dog out. The very back of the yard is a stoned area for the dog to do his thing. Since there is no grass, I implement greenery with lots of planters.

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    • Kathy Kathy on Feb 18, 2015
      @Jean Blakeley-Cook That is a great idea.

  • Laura Laura on Feb 18, 2015
    Natural cedar isn't dangerous to dogs, actually, its a natural flea repellent. Any chemically treated wood would be dangerous though, so just know your supplier.

  • Sue Scully Sue Scully on Feb 18, 2015
    Why don't you try exercising your dogs or at least play lots of games with them. Exercised dogs are happy dogs and are not as destructive. Try giving them a new job that is fun; such as agility, fly ball etc. I don't know why you have 3 big dogs if you are not willing to put in the time with them.

    • Tess Rollins Tess Rollins on Feb 18, 2015
      @Sue Scully I just happened onto this and was curious to see the responses because we have two large dogs and a disappearing lawn also. It is not because the dogs are doing anything destructive - it is just that they do run and play enough that it just tears up the grass. This includes us playing with them - so please don't blame this woman. It sounds to me like the dogs are getting plenty of time outdoors and plenty of exercise! I keep a mat on top of our carpet at the door where mud gets tracked in...we put down some gravel at the approach to the deck steps, but it still gets muddy...

  • I have astroturf and it is amazing! Looks very real and lush and green and soft to step on. You can also just rinse it off. The only odd thing is when it is winter around here, or grass is still green and lush while others have went dormant!

  • Lynn Whinery Lynn Whinery on Feb 18, 2015
    Do the dogs spend any time in the house? (You only mention the back yard). Dogs that are outside constantly will be far more destructive. However, multiple dogs can still be destructive. You can set aside one area in the yard for digging by creating a little 'sand box' type area. Bury their toys there to encourage them to dig there. Praise them for digging in that specific area. When you see them digging elsewhere, just call them to the correct place and praise them. There are various toys that use the same concept as Kongs. Different shapes and sizes. You can put soft food and kibble in them and freeze them, then hide them in various areas of the yard for them to find. That helps keep them busy. There are some dogs that like to play tetherball! Something like pea gravel can be used as ground cover. You can also create raised flower beds out of wood, or large pots, for decoration. I would never, EVER use electric fencing! It can cause neuroses and even aggression! If a child were standing near the dog when the dog got shocked, it could mistakenly think the child is somehow responsible, and snap at the child. Electric fences cause tons of behavioral issues. anyway, mental stimulation can be as fatiguing as physical stimulation, so see what you can do to create a stimulating environment for them.

    • Jean Blakeley-Cook Jean Blakeley-Cook on Feb 18, 2015
      Dogs are inside dogs. They are happy, healthy, exercised dogs, having Tons of fun being dogs. They have a doggy doorbell and they choose when they go out. All good, not a behavior problem or a lack of care on my part, just a dirt problem

  • Pat Nolan Pat Nolan on Feb 18, 2015
    Jean, I've enjoyed hearing the different ideas presented on this topic. Please let us know in the end what solution you go with. The only yard problem I've had is my dog walking ruts into the grass.

  • Cristina Cristina on Feb 18, 2015
    Same problem: three Carpatian sheperds in my backyard (used to be five - about 100 lb each). No way to have a lawn but a kind of meadow with a lot of couch grass. All flowerbeds and the kitchen garden are fenced in and we built a terrace in order to limit the dirt when they come in. It works. You cannot have a perfect garden and happy dogs, and we chose the dogs.

  • Rebecca Rebecca on Feb 18, 2015
    She didn't ask how to take care of her dogs. Why do people assume they just need to be exercised, allowed to come inside or she needs to play with them? I have three dogs who get lots of attention, lots of exercise, come inside, etc. But, the Jack Russell still digs holes, the Toy Poodle always wants to be petted and the Husky suddenly turns into Houdini when we leave the house in the evening and could be in a coma but would jump up and play rough if the next door husky came over. Just because a dog continues to be a dog doesn't mean it is neglected.

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    • Lynn Whinery Lynn Whinery on Feb 22, 2015
      @Rebecca For one thing, not everyone allows their dogs in the house. Not everyone exercises their dogs properly. These suggestions are just that - just in case that IS the problem. If it isn't, great! Fantastic! But since the original post doesn't give much detail, people are covering all the bases.

  • Sarah Sarah on Feb 18, 2015
    Hi Jean, I live in severe drought prone Northern California, so last year we took the grass out of our back yard and installed a large paver patio with a fountain, raised bed planters and a small 12 x 12 area of artificial grass for the dogs. We love having a bigger patio to entertain and our 4 dogs all use the "grass" patch for their business. One thing though, since we don't get rain in the summer I do have to hose the "grass" down with Pine Sol about once a week to prevent a urine odor. This year we are taking out the front year grass and creating a courtyard!

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    • Sarah Sarah on Feb 28, 2015
      Hi Melinda and Jean, here's some photos of the back yard right after we finished. The paver patio under the table was put in a few years ago along with the pergola and swing. We compromised on materials, I wanted brick and he wanted flagstone so we made the walkway out of flagstone. When we took out the grass we added raised beds for flowers and plants along the fence all the way around. Now the bougainvilla, jasmine, climbing roses and other vines are covering the fence and will look really pretty in the summer. We got the fountain for a steal on Craig' List. My wonderful hubby did ALL of the work himself as well as building the shed. I've repainted the shed and rearranged a bit now. The whole area including the shed is around 50' x 20'

  • Shari Veater Shari Veater on Feb 18, 2015
    Astro turf is really pretty nice. I have a friend who just put it in and her kids and dog LOVE it!

  • Denise L Denise L on Feb 18, 2015
    Jean - sounds like you are a good pet parent !! we live in SW Nevada and are having same issue so I am interested in the "positive" comments made. We also have 3 big inside dogs with a dog door and a fenced back yard. Currently there is old, degraded sandstone in the yard that creates a huge dust storm when we play and red mud when it does rain. We are also looking into the artificial turf for at least part of the yard but am finding it is quite expensive .....like you, we are looking for something safe for them and their paws but easy to maintain for us without it breaking the bank !! good luck with your project -

  • Betsey Betsey on Feb 18, 2015
    I have 5 dogs and have the same problem. We are going to work on some areas this spring and are going with the runner mulch. Has anyone used this before and if so what do you think about it.

  • Betsey Betsey on Feb 18, 2015
    rubber mulch not runner

  • Daveicrave Daveicrave on Feb 18, 2015
    I live in a resort area. When I first moved here everyone had rocked their backyards. I thought it was so tacky. THEN I found out most of the people are retired and have dogs and shade because we live in mostly forest. They don't have to mow any more and the dogs can have a blast. Yes, I have a lot of trees. I am a teacher so we don't have much money. EVERY time, I went to Walmart, I bought 3 bags of rocks. They have different kinds. colors, and shapes and prices. I took the bags down 3 at a time and rocked my back yard. A little at a time. Not bad....I am so glad I did it! Google landscape rocked yards and you may get some more creative ideas. Good luck

  • William Tillis William Tillis on Feb 18, 2015
    If you are handy with needle and thread, get some soft leather and sew them booties. It is hard for a dog to dig with booties on.

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    • William Tillis William Tillis on Feb 19, 2015
      @Jean Blakeley-Cook You offer wisdom from experience. Amen! However, There are essential oils that would be repugnant to the dogs, that could be used to coat the booties.Maybe there isn't the perfect solution, but addressing the action that is causing the problem seems a logical place to start.Always remember that between you and your dogs, you are the intelligent one.

  • Christina Christina on Feb 18, 2015
    A few easy ideas for a dog-human-shared yard: You can edge flowerbeds with rocks or foot-tall shrubs to protect them. I've also seen flower beds protected by a carpet of pine cones, which is pretty and also not something the dogs will want to step on. Just avoid metal edging, which could cut the pups' paws. A water feature would be awesome in the summer. Here are some other ideas for dog-friendly yards: http://www.houselogic.com/photos/outdoors/building-dog-run/slide/ramp-up-a-wood-deck/?seo_sm_sa_ch I wish I had a bigger yard for my boy. Can't resist sharing a picture of him.

  • Kelly S Kelly S on Feb 18, 2015
    We have given up on the back yard because we always have a dog. We have a gravel area right outside the back deck and torn up grass everywhere else. Our second dog started the fire pit we now have by digging a big hole in the slope. We simply let her keep digging and helped her enlarge it, put concrete pavers on the floor and surrounded three sides with nursery blocks. I just put any plants and shrubs that I want to keep in containers or painted tires. The front yard is mine and is full of flowers and a small tomato and garlic bed. Good luck and enjoy the company of your furry kids. They will be gone before you know it.

  • Lisa Kaplan Gordon Lisa Kaplan Gordon on Feb 18, 2015
    Artificial turf could do the trick. It's super durable. And you can hose it off to remove dog waste. It's come a long way from the fake looking stuff of the 1960s. I wrote a story about it for HouseLogic. Take a look. www.houselogic.com/home-advice/lawns/fake-grass/?search_link_clicked=Why Fake Grass is Gaining Popularity?eo_sm_sa_lkg

  • Jill Jill on Feb 18, 2015
    Let me guess...labs? My brother has two, with a very large yard and they have destroyed everything more than a few times. Giving them a new place to dig or play in unless it's fenced isn't going to help. Dogs are dogs, and once they start bad behavior, it's not going to stop unless you catch it early on and train them well. The best thing you can do, is to set aside a small section of the back yard and put a dog run out there or a large fenced area where they can go and be dogs in and you don't really care what they do. This will keep the from tearing up the entire yard. They have at it and redo your section of yard using plants that aren't poisonous to animals, just in case you let them out, but NEVER do that unsupervised!

  • Lindcurt Lindcurt on Feb 18, 2015
    A friend had two great Pyrenees that destroyed her yard. She put a fence within the fence that enclosed her back yard. They were allowed to run in between the outside fence and the inside fence and on the porch. The porch had s gate that allowed people to go out to the center garden which was landscaped to suit human needs.

  • Mary Tonningsen Mary Tonningsen on Feb 19, 2015
    @Jean Blakeley-Cook - I'm going through the same thing you are - 3 dogs in a small yard (about 30 x 30). They're all old (13-15 yrs) so they don't play, but the urine kills everything. I've got no ground cover to speak of and I've tried everything. Even bark, which one dog ate and then threw up all over the house. Because I'm disabled, I hired someone to plant plugs of 3 types of groundcover plants all over, hoping at least 1 type would take hold. What happened - one of them (not sure who the culprit was) pulled out the plugs, one by one, very neatly, and ate the compost out of each hole. I replanted, but they all eventually died anyway, since they seemed to be a target for leg-lifting at potty time. There went a money I couldn't afford :( My suggestion? If you try bark, start in a small area and make sure they don't eat it! If you try pebbles, start in a small area and make sure they don't eat it! If you try some new kind of grass or plants, make sure it's non-poisonous to dogs! And go cheap :) I've grown to like my large dirt spot. I plant pretty things around it in pots. In the winter I've given up and wipe the dogs feet. Good luck, Jean!

  • Birdie Berghuis Birdie Berghuis on Feb 21, 2015
    I have rubber mulch in half of my back yard.. It's shady and grass won't grow anyways. Give up on the grass.. Dogs are worth the effort so pine bark, (large nuggets), rubber mulch is the way I would go. Keep the yard cleaned up, no piles of debris for critters to hide in.

  • Deirdre Sullivan Deirdre Sullivan on Feb 23, 2015
    My mother has a yard and a dog ( I just have a dog : ) She takes the dog out twice a day for a walk in addition to letting him run around the backyard. Not something every dog owner wants to do but it cuts down on the amount of poop and pee the dog leaves in the yard. The walks have also reduced some of his destructive digging behavior.

  • Marie Cole Marie Cole on Feb 27, 2015
    Okay, i have to weigh in here. I am a dog sitter who for years has had various dogs in my back yard. The only part of the yard that has been ruined is the shaded area and it was in great shape until one winter when I cared for 3 labradors and with their " dig in to run" paws it was ruined by the time they left and I was miserable. I have yet to replace the area with anything so it is just dirt now but this year am going to put in pavers. My shrub and flower beds have always had barriers and all but the determined jumpers have been kept out and those that get in are chased out, lol! I have an " sand box" which is literally filled with play sand for the dogs to dig in and they love it! The sides are put together with the smaller landscaping timbers piled on top of one another and then screwed together to form the box and there is no bottom so if you do this there will initially be some dirt involved if you don't fill it with enough sand. I'd advise putting the sand box in a far corner and away from something you care about! This stops the dogs from making holes in my yard. I have a rough collie and as a puppy he was bound and determined to dig to the center of the earth, now he goes to his "box" and happily digs away. I have never had to go without grass and I've been doing this business for 19 years. I do make sure any deposits are picked up regularly through out the day and if a dog has acidic urine wash that area well. I also have a designated area for relieving themselves but not all of the dogs agree this is where they will go. Good luck!

  • Jean Blakeley-Cook Jean Blakeley-Cook on Feb 27, 2015
    thanks for weighing in. i think my 3 are doing something very similar to what those labs did, but on a full out all yard scale!!! I like the idea of a sandbox. I'm going to use that one. My husband thinks we're going to have to go with pavers and decking to cover most everything and use very large container planters for greenery.

    • Marie Cole Marie Cole on Feb 28, 2015
      Forgot to tell you I use containers (large pottery) too! You guys will do fine once the technical stuff gets out of the way and you let the neighbors know you won't put up with their rudeness. Take care!

  • Jean Blakeley-Cook Jean Blakeley-Cook on May 10, 2015
    I have an update folks! The backyard is still a work in progress, however, I have taken some steps that I'd like to share. The first thing we did was to expand the deck. The deck is about 6-8 inches off the ground and has no railing. Its now 24 x 16 and encircles a large tree. We then skirted the edge of the deck and fence line with railroad ties to prevent the dogs from digging under the fence and provide side for the rock fill. think of it like a giant sand box. we also put some RR ties in crossways to make a giant grid of the backyard. first we laid weed cloth, then 2 inches of sand, then 3 inches of pea gravel. The pea gravel has 2 benefits: 1) the dogs can run in it and not hurt their feet and 2) it acts like a giant litter box, making poo pickup super easy. That's where it ends though! The pea gravel is kicked up by the dogs in a giant spray when they go racing around the yard. Plus it is so small that they carry and kick it into the house. I went from having mud and dirt tracked into the house to pea gravel and sand. ugh. To resolve that problem, we started laying pavers and brick over the pea gravel in sections. here's the beauty of that: because we have gone about it section by section, it has gradually moved the dogs to going only in the pea gravel areas. we are now down to 2 pea gravel areas, taking up about 25 percent of the yard and will eventually work that down to a 10 x 10 area off in a low traffic corner. I used the cheapest pavers I could buy from Menards, once I decorate with lawn furniture and plants, the quality of the paver won' be an issue.

  • Dogs can wreak havoc on a yard for sure and I know how frustrating it can be when you're trying to have nice people stuff there too. But obviously we love our dogs and I'd choose dog over nice yard any day!


    Sounds like you found some great options to work for you and thanks for coming back to share what worked. My suggestion was exactly what you found out -- make an area for them to be nutty, do their stuff, and help them to figure out that's their spot. Great job!

  • Simple Nature Decor Simple Nature Decor on May 15, 2021

    This is a good article but not sure if you it will work with your dogs but you can try. https://www.k9ofmine.com/best-grass-for-dogs/

  • I would carve out an area specifically for the dogs if possible, using something that is easy on their paws and can handle the messes they make. Then landscape the rest of the yard as you please. How you enclose the area or direct the dogs there is up to you, but perhaps an invisible fence area might help.

  • Jean Blakeley-Cook Jean Blakeley-Cook on Aug 17, 2021

    6 Years on and the designated dog potty area is working like a charm! The older dogs taught the new ones how it works. I highly recommend