Feature Article - January 2010
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Barking Up the Right Tree

Tips & Trends From Today's Hottest Dog Parks

By Kelli Anderson

Sit, Spot. Sit.

A relative newcomer to the recreational scene, the dog park, like other recreational spaces before it, is also expanding its role and tapping into the public's interest to do more. Offering classes ranging from puppy training and etiquette to teaching new dog games and sports like flyball or agility training is a win-win for both the individuals and the community at large.

Studies show, for example, that well exercised, trained dogs are not only better-behaved companions, they also make for a safer community. Dogs deter criminal activity; those parks with dog parks generally have less crime.

"I see programming for dogs as a new thing," said Larry White, superintendent of the park district in Oak Park Terrace, Ill., whose district has only just started to offer dog obedience classes for beginners. "It's better for everyone. If a dog is uncontrollable, it's not good. You have to train them to be a good citizen. You want everyone to be safe. In our last class the dogs ranged from 5 months to 3 years and had had no previous training at all. And for the people who stuck it out—their dogs were a heck of a lot better."

White also sees the recreational benefits of dog training for the people of his community. "If you can get people out to have fun with their dogs, the dog not only behaves better but you are getting people outdoors, too."

And Oak Park Terrace's foray into recreation for dog owners and their dogs doesn't stop there. This past Easter they hosted two egg-hunting events: one for children and one for dogs. The park district used the canine event to showcase local pet businesses and to further educate those who attended about the rewards and benefits of having a well-trained pet.


End-of-season pool parties for dogs and owners, Mother's Day celebrations or birthday parties, pet parades and festivals that feature local pet vendors, games and events are just some of the creative ways other communities are including those who count canines as part of their family.

At Shaggy Pines Dog Park, the special event has been known to do double doo-ty. "We have April Stools Day," Stanley explained about their playful combination of fun and practicality. With 14 acres of open space, hiking paths and play areas, they need all the help they can get. "We have a poop and pizza party after the spring thaw to help clean up the park." The members get to enjoy the pizza and camaraderie of fellow dog lovers; the park gets volunteers to clean up for the spring season. There's no denying this is a dedicated demographic.

For those just warming up to the idea of creating a dog park and the many opportunities it offers, it pays to think it through carefully with the help of an architect and the involvement of user groups to get it right. For those dog parks already in existence, however, there's even more ways to improve on a good thing. "There are endless possibilities on how to make it happen but it will involve work—lots of work," Stecchi said. "It's worth it, though, to get a dog park in your community. How could you not when dog is your best friend?"