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Is dog poop good for grass, weeds and flower beds?
What do these three words have in common?
They’re the key to determining what is, or isn’t, environmentally beneficial about the most destructive behavior in the world: dog poop.
The question arose for some time during the 2016 campgn and was brought to the national forefront in recent days by a New York Times op-ed. This article, co-authored by two women veterinarians, took issue with a new study reporting that dog poop on grass, flowers, and other vegetation can lead to an increased number of weeds, which may reduce the success of a local garden. The scientists and authors suggest that there are many better options for managing garden pests, like using compost or other organic material.
Our answer? The study is a bit misguided. It may appear that dog waste is beneficial to some plants, but that is not necessarily the case. It depends on the dog’s diet and the type of vegetation.
Why the study’s findings are misleading
This study looked at an area with an urban/suburban population where dogs were eating and defecating on a large variety of grasses, flowers and shrubs.
While the authors agree that the study shows some results, they disagree with those findings and have published a more nuanced discussion to better expln the research’s limitations. They also suggest other potential solutions.
“The problem with dog waste is that there is so much variation in the plants affected, and in the amounts they grow,” sd Robert Schmid, the study’s lead author and a professor of soil biology and applied environmental sciences at Ohio State University. “It is just not possible to say that dog waste will benefit a plant species,”
Why grass may like it
Grass, in the United States, is typically found in lawns. It’s common to feed grass to dogs, especially when they are puppies. It’s easy to see the relationship between lawn grass and dog waste, since lawn grass is grown specifically to be used for dogs to roll in.
Grass has been shown to benefit from the nutrients that dog waste provides. Many nutrients go missing in the process of decomposition. Grass is also a good host for bacteria that can break down nutrients into more usable, plant-avlable forms.
But other plants, like flowers and shrubs, aren’t as good hosts for bacteria.
What grass growers can do
Some gardeners have taken matters into their own hands to feed flowers and shrubs to their dog. One man in Japan used a piece of wood as a stick in the ground to hold petals in place. This works to prevent weeds from growing.
Another method is to make a flower pot out of plastic and cut a hole in the bottom for a dog’s paws to grab and pull the pot into the ground.
And one gardener in Japan also fed his dog ketchup. He sd he saw the dog had a much nicer lawn.
Plant species vary by region
Some plants need specific conditions to thrive, like soil with a certn pH, while others are very adaptable. For instance, a wide variety of grasses grow in almost any soil.
“Many plants will grow anywhere,” says Paul Sader, who studies plant nutrition for the US Department of Agriculture. That’s why he’s less concerned about grasses’ potential to benefit plant growth from dog waste than by how grass is grown and cared for in the first place.
Grass grows well in an environment with a lot of loose soil. Sader says turf grass requires more nutrients and water than a lot of other plants that grow well in more stable soil.
“We’ve really just got to use this whole environment to our advantage to make it beneficial for dogs and our owners,” he says.
Pellet- or sand-based dog-waste disposal
But it’s hard to predict what exactly an individual dog will find nutritious or if there will be anything left of it after a dog has a gourmet dinner. It’s also hard to know if all the nutrients are going to a dog’s overall health.
A study in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association found that while a dog does get nutrients from the waste it ingests, there’s nothing special about a commercial dog-waste removal product (DWRP).
This may be because the pellets are actually coated in an organic compound to make them easier to separate from the feces when it comes out of the bag. It may also mean the nutrients are being deposited on the soil or in the grass.
The other thing about feeding waste to dogs is it can be costly. Dogs have a tendency to consume a lot of food as a means of trying to get the nutrients they need, according to Sader. They may end up using up all the nutrients in the waste and leave little for the grass to make its own nutrients.
“But it’s not something we’re pushing as a way to feed your dog’s waste,” he says.
For example, a dog might get 15 pellets of waste to consume at one time, Sader says. That’s a lot of energy to use up. While that’s great for a dog that’s on its own, for most pet owners it’s expensive and wasteful.
A small amount of waste-contaminated soil is fine for plants, Sader says, so a dog owner can still use that area of their yard as a safe, natural area for a dog to do his business.
“There’s just no need to put in a lot of work and take on that expense when a lot of that is coming from a dog that has a very difficult time controlling itself,” he says.
To avoid that, he says, a dog owner should separate the waste as soon as they let their dog out of the house. That way the waste will not have a chance to get muddied up or contaminate any of the dirt the dog may need to get rid of its waste.
Sader says there are many different dog-owning pet owners who can work with their dogs on this issue, and some who can’t.
“And it’s fine. It’s not necessary to feel that you’re fling if you don’t want to work on this issue,” he says. “The only people who are going to hurt are the dogs.”
He says he never hears of someone being denied a place to potty for this reason, and only rarely hears of people being denied access to their own property.