Feature Article - January 2012
Find a printable version here

Getting the Most From Your Dog Park

Play Areas for Pooches Provide Gateways to Greater Gain

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Of course, there are a few other things Dog Fancy and many of the dog park proprietors we talked with for this story would also recommend. To take your park past the basics, consider some of the following options:

Separate spaces for smaller and larger dogs: Although the dogs coming to play are usually quite social and friendly, dogs are not always so good at realizing what size they are. And no one wants to see their miniature poodle or puppy trampled by an overeager, oversized potential playmate.

When the first of the dog parks opened in Henderson, Nev., "we immediately got feedback to designate by size of dog," Becker said. Their parks now offer three size-designated dog runs for small, medium and large pets. In Fargo they provide a line 18 inches off the ground (like at the carnival!) at the dog park entrance. Dogs taller than the line go in one run, and those shorter go in the other.

Occasionally, some small dogs want to run with the big boys (see note above about dogs having no idea what size they are), but the option to stick with those of similar height and weight keeps everyone safer and happier (that includes owners). At the Hermon Dog Park, the large-dog and small-dog runs are side by side, "so the little dogs can run along the fence with the big dogs, but they feel safe because they have their own space," Riser said. It's the best of both worlds.

Water features—whether it's a dog-level drinking fountain alongside the human-level one, or a more elaborate water play area, everyone needs a little refreshment while they're having fun!

Water features: Whether this is a dog-level drinking fountain alongside the human-level one, or a more elaborate water play area, everyone needs a little refreshment while they're having fun—and Dog Fancy also includes this on their list of contest criteria. Some drinking fountain units also have faucets for dog-washing or sprays for cooling down.

Becker reported that the next phase of development at Henderson's new recreation complex will include a splashpad for people in one area, but also one for dogs in the dog park, which will be shaped like a paw. People and pets can't share a splash play area for health reasons, but no one will be left out.

And if onsite water play is not an option for your dog park, what about elsewhere in town? Provincetown's Pilgrim Bark Park does not include a water feature, but the Provincetown Animal Welfare Committee (a government board of which the PDPA's Nagle is also chair) has worked with the city to secure off-leash beach rights for local dogs during scheduled times all year round.

Agility equipment: Most of those we spoke with whose dog parks include simply space to run did agree that some agility equipment—durable features for dogs to jump over and run around and through—would likely enhance their park. In some cases it was an issue of maintenance (it is harder to mow or rake around an obstacle than in an open area) or a matter of space or available money.

But, if you can include this option, it can open a lot of doors. Look for equipment made by a manufacturer that specializes in dog parks, and select challenges that are adjustable for dogs of varying sizes and skill levels to help avoid injury. When chosen wisely, agility features make your park more of a "destination" for dogs and their owners in search of a special outing.

In Henderson, the agility-course-equipped park can even accommodate small dog shows. They also rent it out occasionally to the local cocker spaniel club, which has used it for events as well as group meetings. But best of all, "even if we're not having an event, someone just going through with their dog can use the course," Becker said. "It's available even when it's not programmed."

Other tips: Other features that may enhance your dog park include adequate shade, appropriate lighting and parking. Each of these is a factor considered by Dog Fancy, and Riser reported that they've gotten great feedback from planting additional trees for shade at the Hermon Dog Park. She also suggested careful consideration of the surface material you choose. While grass is lovely, the Hermon Dog Park has decomposed granite, which Riser said dries much more quickly than turf would after a rainstorm and prevents them from having to close their whole park for maintenance, as they'd need to do periodically if they had grass.

She also suggested posting the rules and local ordinances that apply to your park somewhere prominently to avoid any confusion. Hermon Dog Park notices include that owners are responsible for their pets and everyone enters at their own risk. They also have a large sign that indicates only neutered dogs are allowed in the park.

In addition, the American Kennel Club offers some excellent suggestions for dog park features (along with accompanying explanation to help you convince your community) at www.akc.org/canine_legislation/dogpark.cfm.