A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do jugs filled with water keep dogs off your lawn?

September 29, 1989

Dear Cecil:

Out here in the northwest, it's becoming increasingly common to put gallon milk jugs half filled with water on the perimeter of your lawn. Supposedly this discourages dogs from relieving themselves and they move along to a jugless lawn. Can this possibly be true? Or is this the pink flamingo of the 90s?

Cecil replies:

And Oregonians think people from California are flakes? This silly practice has been floating around since the late 1970s, and by now has spread all over the world. Folklorist Jan Brunvand, who tells the whole story in his book, Curses! Broiled Again!, says he saw plastic bottles on lawns everywhere during a trip to New Zealand, and apparently they were common in Australia, too. Where the idea started nobody knows, but numerous early instances have been reported from California.

"Explanations" for it include: (1) dogs won't foul their own drinking water; (2) they get spooked seeing their reflections and/or the glitter of the water; (3) it ain't the water, it's the bottles — the water just keeps the jugs from blowing over; (4) you have to put ammonia or mothballs in the water — the smell is what repels the dogs.

With the possible exception of (4), all are unlikely. As one of Brunvand's correspondents notes: "I was not completely convinced of the efficacy of such a system [upon first hearing of it]. My skepticism proved justified when, a block later, my dog backed directly onto one of the plastic bottles and left one large turd delicately balanced on top of it." Next case.

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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams

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