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Solving the Dog Waste Problem

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

The last question a new northern dog owner will ask is, “What do we do with the dog’s poop?” Often the family adopts the dog, takes it home and 2 weeks later, asks this question, or a variant of it. It is an important question and one of the least asked.This article may save owners and potential owners some embarrassment, and hopefully offer a solution that will work in their home environment. At CCNDR/ADRTC, we have tried several possible solutions, and it seems only fair to share our knowledge with the adopting public.We recommend that a pooper scooper be one of the first purchases a dog owner makes — along with the food dish and dog food. What goes in, must come out, and the wise owner is prepared in advance. Clean up should be a daily chore and integrated into the chores of the day as a regular habit. This is especially true of persons living with their dogs in urban areas, where houses are close together.Once the poop is scooped, where does it go? The answer depends on each owner’s situation. We offer 6 quick solutions in this article.

1. Using poop to discourage digging.

Northern dogs dig. Young ones dig a lot. Sometimes, as they get older, they give up digging, but I had a 11 year old, who still liked to turn a paw to digging regularly enough. One solution for poop disposal is to fill in the dog’s holes with poop. Then add soil. The result is a hole that will not so quickly be dug out again by the dog. If this is done regularly, with great consistency, then the dog will eventually give up digging holes. In the meantime, one has gotten rid of poop, while teaching the dog that one disapproves of the digging.

2. Fertilizer

After one has taught the dog not to dig in the yard, one has to resort to digging out one’s own holes. This might be done in areas one wishes to convert to future flower beds, vegetable gardens, or where one just has to build up the soil, or for providing additional food for trees nearby. Dog poop is rich in organic and mineral substances that improve the soil. Do not hesitate to use it for fertilizer just as one might use expensive manure purchased from the garden shop.

3. Worms

Contrary to popular belief and the opinions of worm farmers, worms love poop. We tried it. We purchased red worms. Our home and neighborhood had no worms in the soil at all when we bought our home, as it was newly developed land, and all top soil had been removed. The back yard was all subsoil — raw and exposed. It would grow nothing but weeds. Poop and worms can reverse that.

Worms will consume poop, and turn it into usable soil quickly and easily. I tested this by taking a very large pot and filling it with soil and poop — mostly poop. I put worms into the poop and covered the pot. We added to the pot regularly until it was full. The worms did not die — in fact, they prospered enormously. We went from a few dozen worms to a yard full in a short time. Today, those worms have spread from the back yard to the front, and I am sure, through much of the neighborhood.

I had been told by “worm experts” that one should not attempt to use worms to eliminate poop. I beg to differ with those who are convinced that worms will not consume poop, readily and easily.

If one has the space, inclination and interest, it is easy enough to bury poop in one area and keep it as a productive worm farm. My estimates are that an area of approximately 60 square feet is required per 50 pound dog. This area is sufficient to bury poop regularly. By the time one repeats a place for disposal, there should be no poop left from the past — only improved soil. The composition of the soil makes a difference. Clay works well, as does normal loamy soil. Sand may not work nearly so well, unless first mixed with dirt. This is only because worms find sandy soils more difficult, as the sand abrades the worms.

If an owner has the room, a small worm farm is a great method for eliminating poop and maintaining a clean property. Worms may have to be added at first, over several weeks. They can usually be procured cheaply from a bait store. After 2 to 3 months, no further purchases should be necessary. One could farm the worms and sell them.

The worms will not stay in one area. They will spread through the soil to nearby areas — even to the property of neighbors. This is good for all the surrounding soil, and the birds do not mind either. Our redworms spread this way.

4. Ground Cover

If a lot is large enough to provide a place for extensive ground cover, or has a hillside where ground cover might be an excellent plant to grow, then poop disposal is made easier. Often such areas are ideal for poop disposal. The poop scooper can be emptied into the ground cover, and the rest is up to nature. This works best for just one or two dogs, as it does require a larger area of ground cover.

Many northern dogs prefer to eliminate in such areas, so the need for scooping can be eliminated, too. The dog can be taught to use this one area, which will maintain itself over time. Adding worms can only help. I calculate that typically, some 300 square feet of ground cover are necessary per dog. The downside of this choice is that it does require more area, and that it can be difficult to know the quality of a dog’s waste. This may mean that an owner is not as aware of a dog’s health problems, such as worms in stools, bloody stools, or other irregular stools. These health concerns may not be as noticed when ground cover is present. This is why it may still be desirable to scoop the poop from one area and move it to the ground cover each day.

5. Doggie Dooly

The pet industry has created the Doggie Dooly — a doggie waste elimination system that works like a septic tank. It might work with just one dog, or a couple of smaller dogs, or in areas where the ground temperatures are warm year around. It did not work for us on the Central Coast of CA. Several adopting families tried these, too. None have had success for more than a few months during the summer. For the amount of work and costs, other systems work far better.

6. Trash collection and kitty litter

One of the best systems we have perfected is to collect the poop daily into a containment system, double bag it each week and add it to the garbage. Our garbage goes to a land fill, so the poop is returned to the soil. Our collection company encourages the double bagging of such pet waste, and permits it to be added only to the garbage. Owners should check the regulations in their own area to see if this is an option.

We generally have large numbers of dogs — perhaps 10-12 on an average busy month. 500 pounds of dogs eating and eliminating generate a lot of poop. This may be far more than owners will ever have to manage.

Our yard is primarily concrete and rock. This makes clean up much easier. The wastes are scooped and placed into a simple containment system. The containment system consists of 2 nesting garbage cans. They are simple, metal garbage cans of 20 and 30 gallon capacity. One fits into the other, with only a small amount of room around it. We put a 20 gallon kitchen trash bag into the inner can and hold it in place with a simple bungee cord around the edge of the 20 gallon can. This makes it easy to empty the pooper scooper into the inner can. We cover that with its own lid, and then cover the outer can with another lid made to fit it properly. This second lid was slightly indented at 4 corners to make it stay in place firmly. This provides some safety from having the can overturned, or popped open by curious, mischief adolescent dogs.

We remove the inner bag once a week, place it into another bag after it is tied off, and tie off the second bag. The bag is then put into the garbage. This has worked for years now, and it remains a simple and effective system. It ensures that flies cannot get to the waste and that the odor is never annoying to anyone.

A variant of this disposal is to use the week’s accumulations to fertilize soil, or add to a worm farm area. It may be easier to move an entire weeks savings to a different area, as opposed to moving it by the pooper scooper each day.

When we started rescue, we had a dirt yard. It was clay and was not much use for growing things, as it had eucalyptus trees all around it. The eucalyptus tree is a nice smelling tree, but it changes the soil in a manner that nearly eliminates the possibility of growing anything under the trees.

We found that the bare soil was fine for drainage and that poop was easily scooped from the surface. To keep the yard nice, as we had close neighbors, we spread kitty litter over the area. This resulted in a pleasant odor, and it kept the yard nice all the time. Over time, a curious thing happened.

We cleaned the yard regularly and about once a month added garden lime to the soil to sweeten it. The mix of kitty litter, garden oyster shell lime and water with the clay created a “hard pan” type of soil. The surface became nearly as hard as baked brick, but remained porous. Water would soak into it slowly, but it did soak in well enough. The surface was easily cleaned by scooping, raking and sweeping. Nothing would grow in it — not even weeds. It became easy to maintain. We used that system for 4 years efficiently. Most of that time, we had only one dog, and for the last 2 years, seldom more than one additional foster.

I report it here, as the knowledge may be useful to someone needing a novel solution. I feel it was tested well enough to make it a viable option for some owners.

Copyright© May 2005 Please respect the copyright. For permission to distribute this article, contact ADRTC.ORG.