Guest Column - May 2020
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inPERSPECTIVE / DOG PARKS

More Than Just for the Dogs

By Stephanie Devine & Harrison Forbes


Dog parks are one park amenity that shows no sign of slowing down.

Dog parks are so much more than an area to let your four-legged friend stretch their paws. It's a place to laugh, a place to meet, a place that welcomes all and allows those with a common love to come together in a community.

Let's break down some of your Dog Park 101 questions, and talk new products and trends, and where dog parks are going in the future.

We can look at many contributing factors for the rise of the dog park. First, public demand. People who have lived in an area and utilized a dog park may be relocating to an area without one and raising the need. Second, an increasing number of millennials and generation Zs are waiting to start families, so their dogs are like children and they want the very best for them. They are seeking more activities to engage with their pet and others. Lastly, through simple trial and error, people are seeing the benefits and high use of dog parks with equipment. Dog parks have evolved from a fenced "relief area" to a real "playground for dogs"!

It should be noted that there is a difference between a relief area and a dog park. A relief area is normally a small space where dogs can enter and do their business, then leave. You see these often in airports or on high-rise apartment rooftops. A dog park, however, is a place where people with like interests gather while giving their dogs much-needed exercise.

One of the biggest questions we get is, "How big should a dog park be?" There is no such thing as too small. We have seen mini-parks that sit on only a quarter of an acre, or even space where a side alley in a metro area has been transformed into a fantastic dog park.

When laying out equipment within the park, the more spread out, the better. There are no rules as to how to space items. Best practices include using the natural terrain of your park to help with your layout. Be sure to poll dog owners who will be using the space. What do they envision? What do they seek?

Also, don't forget to ask equipment providers. They are experts in this space and have seen it all. Let them help you lay out the ideal products for your park.

Don't forget about the comfort of dog owners themselves, consider shade and other site amenities like benches and bike racks. Just be sure the benches are not placed next to the fence where a dog can use them to jump out of the park. Utilizing trees in your park provides natural, beautiful shade, but they are not always readily available. Consider fabric or steel structures to add comfort to the area.

Incorporating agility products into the dog park increases traffic as it gives people and pets an activity to look forward to and participate in together. It also allows them to "get their feet wet" by exploring agility in a fun environment, without the pressure of a professional agility or training club. For professional owners, it can be a place to do extra training or work on a specific event.

It goes without saying that owners will enjoy meeting others who share their same passion for their furry friends. Some fun trends in park equipment include instagrammable photo booths where your sweet pup can pose behind a "Pug Shot" which looks like a mug shot picture frame. Many of these items can be customized to include #parkname, which people are going to immediately post to their social media pages and tag your park, bringing awareness and recognition.

Another trend? Tennis courts! Do you have an old, unused tennis court? Manufacturers today can mount equipment and special turf surfacing directly to the tennis court to instantly transform it into a useable space. Most tennis courts already have fencing, and the size is conducive to a perfect dog park that can be converted relatively inexpensively.

If nothing else, there are three items that should be in every dog park: pet waste stations, park rules, and separate areas for large and small dogs. Pet waste stations typically include a small graphic sign, and a roll or box of plastic waste bags. Owners are expected to pick up after their dog, and having bags readily available helps to encourage this responsibility. Park rules are essential to set the expectations of dogs and owners alike. Some general rules to consider include:

  1. Fair assessment: Be honest about whether or not your dog is ready for a dog park. If they lack sociability, it is best to work that out with a trainer before going to a park.
  2. Don't force: You may need to introduce your dog to the park in phases. Be patient, remember you want your dog to associate the park with fun and a positive experience.
  3. Watch your dog at all times.
  4. Pick up after your dog.
  5. Let dogs be dogs! Dogs often play hard. Let them be a dog and get it out for the day. They will be a calmer, happier dog when it's time to go home.

Incorporating a small and large dog area keeps dogs safer and owners less anxious. Separating these areas is relatively easy with fencing and gates. Additionally, you may want to consider a bi-level water fountain at heights so both people and dogs can hydrate and be able to enjoy the dog park longer.

Dog parks, just like the growth of green space and spending time outdoors, are not going anywhere. They are evolving into social hot spots where you can meet new friends, enjoy the fresh air and get your dog moving, resulting in a happier, healthier and rewarding lifestyle for all. RM



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie Devine is vice president of marketing and brand strategy for BarkPark by UltraSite. Harrison Forbes is a celebrity pet expert, author and partner with BarkPark by UltraSite. For more information, visit www.dogparkproduct.com.