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Most dogs love being outside in the yard, running and playing. Some dogs, however, may shy away from these activities because of the surface they usually occur on: Grass.
Why are some dogs afraid of grass?
Your dog is likely reacting to the feeling of grass on their paws, something wrong with the grass smells or feels, or they may have developed a fear of grass from a past traumatic event. Allergies and injuries may also be to blame.
To get to the root of the problem, let’s examine the various reasons your dog may not want to venture out into the grassy yard.
Reason 1: They Hate The Feeling
The answer could be as simple as your dog doesn’t like the feeling of the grass. A dog’s paw is incredibly sensitive, and the feeling of grass between their toes may be off putting. Most dogs may start this way as puppies and get used to the feeling, but some dogs can be more stubborn and carry the aversion throughout their life.
Studies have even shown that some dogs can potentially have sensory processing disorders that affect the way their brain interprets the signals from the nerves in their feet. Whether your dog is sensitive or stubborn, they may be avoiding grass just because they don’t like it!
Reason 2: Your Dog Isn’t Used To Grass
If your dog is a young puppy or rescue dog, they may not understand what grass is!
Puppies, like humans, aren’t born with all the knowledge and skills needed to survive. Puppies need socialization, (along with plenty of training) and an often-overlooked part of socialization is the feeling of different surfaces to walk on.
For rescue dogs, grass could also be a mystery. As sad as it is, many of our shelters and rescues are understaffed and overfilled. Many dogs don’t get the luxury of playtime in a grassy yard and spend most of their days on gravel, concrete, or fake grass. This is especially true for dogs that entered the system as puppies and grew up not knowing grass.
When we think about our reactions to stepping onto a new, potentially unsafe surface, it’s easy to see how dogs could be afraid of grass if they’re not used to it!
Reason 3: The Grass Is Wet
For dogs that usually like their yards, wet grass could still pose a problem for them. Wet grass feels very different from dry grass. It’s usually chilly, may stick to their feet, and tends to be a bit more slippery.
Because many dogs tend to wander the yard and sniff before they decide on a spot to use the restroom, the feeling of wet grass as they enjoy their outside time could ruin it for them. This is especially true after a mow when the grass is loose and may clump together.
Wet grass is as unpleasant for our dogs to walk in as it is for us, and they are always barefoot! It’s no wonder they may opt to stay on the sidewalk during a rainstorm. Even if your dog is an exceptional swimmer in the pool they still may not like the feeling of wet grass on their toes.
Reason 4: Your Dog Has A Negative Association With The Grass
A dog learns much about its world by association. When something negative or traumatic happens to a dog, they may not fully understand what’s happening. As a result, they may associate their surroundings with the negative emotion they felt in the moment.
For example, if a dog was playing on grass when some unexpected fireworks when off or a large group of kids ran through, they may see or feel grass and immediately flashback to those emotions. This could relate to the actual feeling of the grass itself, or it could be the specific area of grass they were in.
Associations are common in the dog mind, and as humans we even use the power of association to create positive and powerful training experiences. But with that comes the power of negative associations. A negative association of grass can be very stressful for your dog, so it’s not a surprise that they’d rather avoid the feeling entirely.
Reason 5: They Are Allergic To Grass
Like us, dogs can be born with or develop allergies. Common allergies in dogs are food allergies, medication allergies and environmental allergies. Environmental allergies can be anything from pollen to grass to bee stings.
A dog that is allergic to grass will exhibit many of the same symptoms that a human will. Your dog may be itchy, sneezy, experience hair loss around the affected area, and/or have red, watery eyes. A strong indication that a dog is allergic to grass if they are gnawing at their paws.
The video below demonstrates these symptoms, addresses that there could be many different grasses a dog is allergic to and discusses the best way to treat the allergies.
My Dog Suddenly Won’t Go on Grass
If your dog has had no issue walking on grass for their entire life, it can be a frustrating mystery when they suddenly decide they don’t want to walk on grass anymore. This next section discusses reasons that a dog may develop an aversion to grass later in life.
Reason 1: The Grass Has Been Treated With Chemicals
Humans have always been so fond of their yard being a place of refuge for us that we often treat our yards with things that may not be natural. Pesticides, herbicides and even fertilizers can all be beneficial to the beauty of our yard, but these same substances could be very dangerous for our dogs, with some studies even showing an increased risk for cancer.
Even if you use pet safe treatments, the smell or feel of the substance could be uninviting for your dog to step on. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. When you think of how strong the smell of these chemicals is to us as humans, it makes sense that a dog would avoid the treated grass.
Reason 2: Something Is Wrong With Their Paws
We know dog paws are incredibly sensitive, but also tough and calloused from some much running and playing. While most dogs are usually very aware of their paws, it is still possible that they could have a scrape, cut, or sore on their paw pad.
Dogs are good at hiding their pain, and not good at expressing it in ways we understand. If your dog has a sudden aversion to stepping in the yard, check their paw pads for injuries. The feeling of the grass may irritate the wound making it painful to walk in the grass.
Reason 3: Something Is Wrong With The Grass
Some dogs are more particular than others. Small, minorly inconvenient issues for us could be potential deal-breakers for some dogs. Sudden avoidance of grass could indicate that the dog thinks something is wrong with the grass.
Dead and dry grass could be too rough and could poke at your dog’s feet. Grass that is too long could feel different or be nerve-wracking to walk where you can see as well. The grass could potentially have insects or other wild animals that your dog is avoiding, like fire ants or the smell of coyotes.
For extra particular dogs, it could be the wrong kind of grass than the one they are used to. Whatever the reasoning your dog has, the patch of grass you are presenting to them may not be up to their standards, so they are avoiding it completely!
Reason 4: Something Traumatic Happened
A dog that is suddenly avoiding grass may have had a recent traumatic and negative experience in, on or around grass. Maybe they were stung by a bee, attacked by another dog, or heard an overwhelming sound while they were walking in the grass.
Whatever the event, the dog somehow made a negative association with grass. This is why it is always important to supervise your dog while playing outside so we always know what is happening with them. One seemingly small event can cause your dog so much stress that they avoid grass completely!
Why Won’t My Dog Pee in Grass?
Sometimes dogs have no issue walking on the grass, but they refuse to use the bathroom on the grass. This can become frustrating for pet owners, especially if a dog is opting to pee inside while avoiding grass. There are a few reasons that your dog won’t pee in grass.
Reason 1: The grass doesn’t smell right.
If you’ve ever taken a dog outside to use the bathroom, it’s obvious that they are particular about where they relieve themselves. Some will wander and sniff for what seems like hours to their owners but won’t decide on a place to go.
A dog’s sense of smell is much stronger than ours, and they have different ideas of what is “good” smelling. A new area, a previous dog using the space, or the smell of a wild animal are all red flags to your dog. Whatever your dog is smelling in the grass could make them too uncomfortable to put themselves in a potentially risky situation by urinating in the grass.
Reason 2: Your dog is a rescue dog.
For dogs that have grown up in the shelter, the only bathroom they have ever known may have been concrete or gravel. When they are so used to their usual routine, it can be quite an adjustment for a dog to adapt to using the bathroom on a new surface.
With patience, understanding and training, they can learn how to use the restroom on grass.
Reason 3: They may need more variety in their sniffing.
Dogs love to sniff! This is no surprise to dog owners, but we may be underestimating just how important sniffing can be for a dog. Studies have even shown that while we smell unconsciously, sniffing is a cognitive and purposeful act.
Dogs use their nose to explore the world. If they have been restricted to only sniffing and using the restroom in limited spaces, they may grow bored from the lack of stimulation. This boredom can result in frustration, and the frustration can result in refusing to use the same grass they have always used.
How to Train Your Dog to Walk on Grass
Because the nature of dog ownership usually requires dogs to potty and exercise outside, it can be very important to help your dog get over their aversion to grass. Now that you know the reasons your dog may be avoiding grass, you can use the training tips below to help address the problem.
As discussed above, dogs can create powerful associations between seemingly unrelated actions or items. A great way to address negative associations is to recreate the experience in a positive light.
If your dog is avoiding grass because they seem afraid or traumatized by it, try making grass the best place for them to be. This can be done by feeding in the grass, giving them high value treats when they approach or step on grass, or playing with their favorite toy only when you are on grass.
By making memories on grass that are deemed good to your dog, you can slowly teach them that grass is good overall. Be sure to always go at your dog’s pace as counterconditioning can be a slow process for some dogs.
Try Often and Use Other Surfaces
Just like training won’t happen in one session, neither will rewiring your dog’s brain to like grass. It is important to be consistent and to make many attempts to coax your dog onto grass on their terms.
Remember that if they are overwhelmed, they are not capable of learning. If your dog won’t even approach the grass, do not force them! Instead, try other different types of surfaces that they may feel more comfortable with, and praise them when they step on the new surface. Once they understand the game, they may be more willing to try stepping on the grass for a high value treat!
Sometimes dogs have extra issues with getting over their grass aversion, but they need to be able to go outside in the yard to potty or exercise. While it is recommended to continue to address the root problem, a short-term solution is also available with dog shoes!
Dog boots are great not only for grass aversion, but to also protect your dog’s feet from snow, burning pavement, and other potential hazards that may be on the ground.
Dogs can be sensitive creatures, and there are many reasons a dog might choose to avoid grass! By examining the reasons your dog may be avoiding grass you can make the best decision on how to address and correct the behavior.