(I asked this on gardening.se but it was suggested I try asking it here. Hope this is an appropriate place to ask...)

I'm a relatively new dog owner. Living in a relatively woodsy area with an acre of land.

The dog poops. I feel odd bagging it and tossing it in the trash each time. Seems a) wasteful and b) tedious.

I've been reading a bit about mulching or using a mini-septic system for dog waste.

One technique I've seen mentioned a few times is to take a plastic trash can, cut out the bottom, dig a hole about as deep as the can, put the can in there, line with rocks for drainage, and then start putting the poop in there along with some septic starter and water. Essentially, making a small septic system just for dog waste.

Has anyone used this method? Does it cause any health issues for trees in the immediate vicinity? Does it smell? I've also seen commercial products that tend to emulate that same technique (essentially a 4' hole with a plastic bucket on top that overflows into the pit).

Are there other methods (such as some form of mulch pile) I should consider?

  • 2
    Mulching is something different. I'd recommend rewording the title to something like "Will a miniature septic tank decompose dog waste?" Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 7:57
  • Good call. I expanded the question slightly to include mulching a potential question.
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 4:11

4 Answers 4


The primary concerns about manure/dung of any sort really boil down to the fact that it is concentrated organic matter (and often a concentrated source of nitrogen for plants) and that it is a biologically active substance possibly including significant pathogen and pathogen marker species (fecal choliforms generally even if not pathogenic). However Jay is right above. Sawdust (or other high carbon, absorbant material) will work fine to compost it in place and both speed up the process, as well as help prevent the nitrogen from overwhelming your plants.

On the pathogen issue, the simple fact is that animals poop in the woods all the time and we don't worry about the fact that bears don't make use of campsite outhouses (in fact, we are probably glad for the fact that they don't!). Wild animal poop is not necessarily different from domesticated animal poop in this regard. Additionally permacultural designs often incorporate animals (either domesticated or wildlife) as nutrient distribution systems specifically because they poop in the garden.

As always the issue is on scale. Its one thing to have a dog poop occasionally in the garden. It's very different to have a herd of cattle penned up in a field grinding their dung to dust and letting it get wafted in the wind. Living ecologies tend towards homeostasis and this includes microbial elements as well. The presence of such things as animals does affect this, but again the question is one of relative balance.

What we used to do is just use a shovel and scoop up the poop and throw it somewhere where it won't cause as much of a problem.

  • I'm not necessarily looking to get the poop back into the garden...rather just trying to contain it. If it can mulch, great, and maybe we'd use that for landcaping (but not the garden). I guess I'm trying to find that 'somewhere where it won't cause as much of a problem' solution and figured maybe that place could be the septic/mulch spot.
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 16:35
  • Somewhere could just be "off the lawn." Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 0:08

Animals poop in the woods all the time. Just because it's a dog doesn't suddenly change that. The main concern is if there is too much poop in one area for nature's existing systems to tolerate. A secondary concern is dog poop where you walk or wrestle your kids.

A simple technique you can use is to drop a handful of sawdust or peat moss on the poop, and let it compost in place. This will also stop it from sticking to shoes.

The Humanure Handbook goes in to detail about composting human poop. It's not hard. You can follow the same methods for the dog poop, although there isn't much research here.

  • I've heard the main problem with dog poop is the pathogens in it. Not good for wildlife. I don't know how true that is. He mainly poops on the lawn, though, so we have to pick it up. Flinging it into the woods is one option, but the kids love exploring the woods, too, so less dog poop floating around, the better, IMHO. We also live in the PNW so the poop rarely has a chance to dry out...in other words, it's always 'prime shoe ruining' consistency.
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 0:18
  • @DA, Going to add a reply to the pathogens issue as a top-level reply. Short version: in any significant space, you can safely toss the poop into the woodlands and off your lawn if you need to. Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 10:27
  • Well, I worry that it won't be safe from my kids shoes...as they love running through the wooded areas on the property. :)
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 16:35

Our family tried the garbage can method, and it did not work very well. We live in a fairly wet climate with a high clay content in the soil, so drainage was our biggest issue.

If you are going to give the idea a try, make sure that you have good drainage, and that your water table is below the bottom of the container. You don't want to concentrate the poop and feed it directly into your ground water.

I'm sure you've looked around, but here is one commercial solution: In the ground poop collector

  • I have seen that one and it seems to get mixed reviews...but it might be something I give a shot. The main challenge appears to be that one needs a 4' deep hole.
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 16:56

There are many studies (about health and approving it) about convert Human Waste into a Safe Garden Compost Fertilizer. In that way, it seems plausible that the same can be done with cat/dog feces.

For more information about "how to convert Human Waste into a Safe Garden Compost Fertilizer", plase create a new question.

  • 1
    Well, we have the human part figured out (we have a septic system). Trying to find a viable solution for the pet problem. Not sure if there are major pros/cons between pet mulching or a pet septic system.
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 16:17

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