Dog parks are by far one of the leading features on the wish list of municipal and community parks. Dog parks can be wonderful additions to a community, whether as an inclusion to an existing community park or as a stand-alone, dog specific park. People who are thinking about building a dog park should be aware that there are many pitfalls to be encountered along the way. Although important and necessary components, building a dog park is not just about the business plan or the architectural illustrations. It is not just about that perfect parcel of land you want to use, the type of fencing you will install or the unique sign you want to place at the entrance. Before you do anything, learn about your market, learn dogs and the people who own them.
To have a safe park, you must have rules and make sure they are adhered to – you must have a supervised park. While many who use dog parks may be experienced dog owners who realize they still have a lot to learn about dogs, a lot of people are first time dog owners who think they know everything. Dogs have to be interested in being social in the first place for them to have a positive experience at a dog park. Imagine mixing all dogs into an off-leash environment? You really never know what will happen, so it’s imperative to have supervision. There are several models of dog parks. Municipal dog parks are usually free and open to the public 24/7. Although most have posted rules, there is no one to make sure people abide by those rules. These parks are the ones where most problems are encountered. Member based parks usually charge a fee and require people and their dogs to be registered. Many fee based parks require dogs to pass a temperament test before they are admitted to the park, and people are asked to attend an orientation session. It is not a good idea to mix small and large dogs together in an off-leash environment. Many dog parks have both a small dog area and a large dog area.
According to a recent study from the Humane Society, at least one dog can be found in approximately 39% of American households. As a result of this, America’s largest cities have seen a comparable 34% increase in the number of dog parks within the last 10 years. With dog parks on the rise, park and recreation departments now have a variety of equipment, pet waste solutions and other products at their fingertips.
Though not always possible, successful dog parks are often launched in spaces that are not currently being used. To determine the right location, look for areas that:
- Currently see high dog usage
- Are outside the parameters of main parks
- Will not affect wildlife or water quality
- Are evenly distributed throughout the city
- Are close to parking
- Are away from existing playgrounds, residential areas and heavy traffic
- Are dry and irrigated
- Are at least 5,000 square feet
*It can also be helpful to place your dog park along a trail system to give dog owners greater opportunity to walk their four-legged companions.
While grass is currently the most common surfacing option for larger dog parks, bark chips (pun intended), sand, gravel, granite or synthetic turf can also be used. Budget, climate, park size, usage and the surrounding park amenities should be considered when determining what surfacing should be used. Splitting a dog park in half, alternating which side is open, can help preserve the surfacing of larger dog parks while letting a smaller dog park go to dirt may be a better option.
Depending on the dog-breed demographics and the needs of the pet owners in your area, fencing is typically pretty standard in smaller off-leash areas while larger ones are often left without a fence. To create a smoother dog park operation, park and recreation departments are becoming a little more strategic in their fence placement while many parks are simply using a typical setup. This setup includes two sets of gates at the entry areas to allow pet owners to close the outside gate and unleash their dog before opening the inner gate and heading into the main area. Others, however, use a separate entry and exit area. If your potential dog park area contains a pond or other water feature, it is a good idea to place an additional fence around the body of water to prevent dogs from taking an unnecessary bath.
Today’s dog parks range from basic parcels of land to elaborate pet playgrounds with ponds, spray features, agility equipment and other park amenities. The basics are now becoming standard especially when it comes to staying cool and refreshed. Though a little less important in more moderate climates, whether it’s a shade structure or trees, providing shade from the heat is especially important for both pets and their owners. Ranging from a simple pet water fountain to a more elaborate spraying fire hydrant, water is a welcome amenity for all dogs. Since dogs often use anything upright as a marking post, water fountain placement is important. It may be in everyone’s best interest to place the water features in areas where owners still have control over their pets via a leash.
Though the equipment in public spaces should not be of a professional grade, more recent dog parks also feature play amenities such as agility equipment. This adds a little extra fun and gives people the opportunity to do more than simply sit on a park bench. When selecting your agility equipment:
- Look for equipment covered by a comprehensive warranty
- Choose various pieces that will challenge and accommodate dogs of varying sizes and ability levels
- Use rust/rot proof materials
- Select equipment with slip-resistant surfaces
- Avoid equipment that is more than 3 feet high to prevent dog and child injuries
Here are a few things to consider that may help you choose the right spot for your future park:
- Size It Up: The size of your park may depend solely on the availability of land. It is recommended at least 1 acre but they can be as big as your community can manage and maintain. If space isn’t an issue, consider an area large enough that it’s possible to rotate high traffic areas annually or even seasonally.
- Pack It In: Consider how your community will use the park. Remember that people need to enjoy the park too! It’s important to plan for seating and shade so everyone stays comfortable when they visit your park. Don’t stop there! Do you want to include room for agility equipment, a sand box, pond or fountain, climbing wall, walking trails or anything else you can think of that your community and its dogs would love? A community meeting can help determine what’s feasible and preferred by the future park patrons.
- Water, Water Everywhere: Consider a water source for humans and dogs as well as a dog rinsing station. On especially muddy days, being able to rinse your dog off to keep cars from getting the full dog park experience can make a nicer day for everyone.
- Plan For Clean Up: To help keep your dog park pleasant and as clean as possible, place waste stations and trash receptacles a decent distance apart (approximately 4 per acre depending on the layout). Ensure the park is easily accessible for landscaping crews so it’s simple to keep your park lush and neat.
- Show Your Spirit: Remember that designing your dog park extends to the spirit of the park. One key way to do this is to set the stage for responsible pet-ownership and behavior in the dog park by developing and posting park rules. Some sample rules may include:
- Dogs must be properly vaccinated and it is recommended that they be spayed or neutered.
- Puppies under 4 months of age and female dogs in heat are prohibited.
- Do not bring dog food into the dog park.
- Owners must clean up after their dogs.
- Dogs with a known history of aggressive behavior are prohibited.
- Dogs must wear a collar with identification at all times.
- Dogs must be leashed when entering and leaving the park.
- Leaving dogs unattended is prohibited.
- Children under the age of 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian.
- Maximum of 3 dogs per person, per visit.
- Watch for dogs on the other side of the entry gate when entering or leaving to prevent escapes.
Whether your dog park is a basic plot of dirt or completely packed with high end amenities, it should be a place that your community pet owners appreciate. The knowledge and products now available give park and recreation departments the ability to create a dog park that fits their specific location, needs and budget.