Feature Article - March 2016
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Four-Legged-Friendly Parks

Well-Planned Dog Parks Unite the Community, Whether Canine or Human

By Joe Bush


Mimi Hampton Marler, marketing manager for a Red Bud, Ill.-based manufacturer of dog park equipment and site furnishings, said dog owners must be accommodated. After all, not only do they bring the dogs, they may have been early advocates for the park, as well as financial donors to fill the gap between what's needed and what the municipality can afford.

"It honestly has more to do with the owners than one would think," she said. "While designing your space you must put the owners' comfort as a priority. If it is not comfortable or there isn't appropriate seating and parking, then you will not have a successful dog park. Provide seating options throughout the park in sunny and shaded areas to increase comfort, and be sure to keep them away from fencing as dogs may use it as part of an escape route. Lastly, providing adequate parking for the dog park users is critical, as most users (95 percent) drive to them."

VandenBerghe said, if possible, a third area for "shy" dogs, is ideal. Shy dogs are those that are meek or simply old, and just want to enjoy being outdoors, off leash, without any play or chase. Fencing is key for many of the aspects of a well-designed dog park, and VandenBerghe said her company suggests also adding exits separate from the entrance.

"A double-gated entry is a must, and offering a separate exit is a good idea as well," she said. "These areas tend to become crowded, particularly during peak times, and the additional stress of dogs both leashed and unleashed encountering each other in a small space can be problematic. This can possibly lead to leash aggression so anything that can be done to separate park users and help prevent those types of situations is worth incorporating into the park design."

Rover Budget?

Other than preparing the grounds of a dog park with surfacing, grading or irrigation systems, what does it cost to equip an area that pleases both man and canine?

VandenBerghe said there is more to consider when purchasing dog play equipment. It shouldn't be more than three feet high, she said, should be free of perforations or step strips that could easily catch a dog's nail, and the walking surfaces should be highly textured for slip resistance.

"We encourage our customers to avoid products made with galvanized steel due to rust issues, as well as products made from PVC or wood which are not safe or appropriate for use in public parks," VandenBerghe said. "All of those materials degrade quickly in an outdoor setting and can become unsafe."

"The cost is often a direct reflection of available space," said VandenBerghe. "A smaller park such as something you might see in an urban setting might have $5,000 worth of amenities, including a few select agility components, benches, a water fountain and a fire hydrant.

Larger parks, such as a new 10-acre park in Fort Worth, Texas, offer dedicated areas for large and small dogs, a natural themed play area, and water features. VandenBerghe said if synthetic surfacing such as turf is incorporated into the design, larger parks can easily run well over $100,000 for amenities alone.

John Sarver, designer and developer at an Indianapolis-based provider of dog park solutions, said he got into the business as a result of writing a book about spending outdoor time with dogs. On his third Labrador, Sarver said the best exercise for dogs is climbing, whether inclines or stairs. Their hindquarters don't get much exercise on flat ground. He recommends dog parks offer at least one climbing apparatus; more is better but he suggests that too much equipment takes away running space, which is also important.

"If you don't have the equipment in the park you typically go to the park and get on your iPhone and your dog smells other dogs and you go home," he said. "They don't get the hindquarter work and you don't get the interaction between the owner and the dog. Typically most all equipment, you have to work with the dog and the dog works with you, so it's a collaborative effort and that's what makes going to the dog park fun—that time you spend with your dog."