Dogs love outside time, to explore, relieve themselves, and explore some more. A lot of dog owners even fence their backyards to allow the dog to have some free reign to sniff, run, play, relax, and observe the world. You may notice, however, that your dog has made some distinct and repetitive paths in your yard. It does not seem to matter what size or shape of the yard you have offered for your dog, he clearly has a pattern that he prefers when he spends his time gallivanting. There are several theories behind this behavior, none of them proven right or wrong but all interesting nonetheless.
The Root of the Behavior
It has been noted that breed type may dictate what type of path your dog will make in your yard. Herding breeds like to move in circles as if they are herding a group, so if you have a Collie, Corgi, Shetland Sheep Dog, or Australian Shepherd you may see what look like crop circles. Those bred for guarding, such as Doberman Pinchers and Rottweilers, tend to protect their perimeters so his path will most likely follow the fence or landscaping fence very closely. Dogs that like to burrow such as hounds, terriers, and the Dachshund may be drawn to low spots with softer cover, so his path may be to and from there. If your dog needs a lot of visual stimulation, he may spend most of his time going to and from the higher parts of your lawn to get the best view.
Dog walkers and trainers have all observed patterns of behavior in dogs that can lead to him making paths in the yard, regardless of where he makes the path. One theory pulls from his wolf ancestry. Wolves apparently only use trails and paths when navigating their territory. Rather than blazing a new territory, they conserve energy by staying on the tried and true path. When your dog makes a path, it is most likely the shortest point between his entrance to the yard and his preferred area of the yard. In the wild, wolves mark their paths with their scents so that they can always find their way back should they lose the pack or get confused. Your dog may simply be tapping into that instinct.
Another theory regarding path making in your pup relies more on the doggy see-doggy do theory. When you walk your dog, you tend to walk along the sidewalk and keep him walking beside you as part of the training. He also observes you walking and you also most likely keep your walk line the shortest distance between two points. Whether this behavior shapes his behavior or adds to his wolf instinct of preserving energy is not clear, but it has been noted by trainers and researchers that you can be unintentionally training your dog to create and stay on a path as often as possible. In the same vein of training your dog, he does like to have boundaries. Knowing what is expected of him limits his anxiety. Staying on a path with you while walking is clearly what you want from him, so perhaps he repeats that in the lawn to be obedient.
Encouraging the Behavior
Having a yard for your dog to play with him and give him breaks when a walk is not possible is great. However, his making paths in and around your yard can quickly turn your Eden oasis into a muddy and messy pit. Rest assured that there are several ways for your pup and your lawn to both thrive without a lot of effort, time, or money on your part. Lawn experts recommend spending time observing your dog and how he is using your yard. If he remains on a particular path, you can put pavers, cement, bricks, or concrete down along his path. This is particularly useful when working with dogs that make a trail around the perimeter. It can be stained and shaped to be more attractive, filled in with sand, and will naturally grind down his nails. Trying to plant shrubs or flowers of any kind in his path will not deter him and will only cause you frustration as he plows over and through them. When developing a path for him, make sure to not make it too curvy, as he will invariably cut the corners to make his walk the shortest distance. If your dog tends to make the roaming circles, you might consider sectioning off part of the lawn just for him and using a different kind of ground cover than your standard grass. Options include, but are not limited to: tougher grasses like centipede, zoysia, and Bermuda, an elevated walkway of wood similar to a dock or bridge, synthetic turfs that are becoming more common in doggy daycares, or good old fashion mulch or wood chips.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Along with the paths, dogs also leave behind urine and feces that can cause a whole host of other problems on your lawn. Some experts advise training him to only use a certain area to relieve himself by leashing him to a spot and telling him to ‘go potty.' Using an X-Pen in a certain area can create the same training as well. A trainer can assist you in teaching your dog that he is only to alleviate himself in certain areas of the lawn. Hiring a dog walker, if you cannot take him for two or more walks a day, can also cut down on the amount of damage he does to your lawn.
Dogs make paths in your yard because they are creatures of habit, either from their wolf line or training or both. Perhaps his path forming is about conserving energy or marking his territory too. Dogs are habitual and obedient creatures as well, which often limits their wanderlust and keeps them on the beaten path. For your dog and lawn to cohabitate, you may need to be flexible with your backyard design and materials, or give him more opportunities for walks.
By a Black Lab lover Zoe Byer
Published: 02/25/2018, edited: 01/30/2020