Feature Article - January 2012
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Getting the Most From Your Dog Park

Play Areas for Pooches Provide Gateways to Greater Gain

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Location, Location, Location

To maximize both human and dog enjoyment of a dog park—and perhaps some of your other offerings as well—appropriate placement is key. Locating your dog park within a larger park space or near other recreation options may increase crossover usage of all your facilities.

Locating your dog park within a larger park space or near other recreation options may increase crossover usage of all your facilities.

There are 11 tennis courts in the Los Angeles park where the Hermon Dog Park is located, and Riser said a number of people have mentioned that they "stumbled on to the tennis courts" when they brought their dog to the dog park, then returned later, sans dog, to play tennis. She also believes a variety of non-dog-owners get a kick out of the dog park. "We do have people who just come and watch the dogs play," she said. "Maybe they recently lost a dog, or they just enjoy it. Families bring their kids to watch the dogs."

The Henderson park district has nine wildly successful dog parks located within larger parks, and their community's enthusiasm was so great that when they began building their 160-acre recreation complex, they included a five-acre bark park, complete with agility equipment for dogs, dog-themed benches, water fountains, restrooms and an 18-foot-long statue of the park's mascot, Barcules. And, they're still not finished.

The next phase of construction will add walking paths and 13 ball fields, "so it will bring people in who may not [otherwise] have gone to that side of town," Becker said. Now when the kids come to softball practice, parents can use the paths to go over to the dog park. "We've had good results with dog parks within other parks and near other facilities," she added. "That's what people told us they want."

Fargo's dog parks are also both attached to larger parks, one near a community garden and one near the children's museum, "so there's lots of traffic through the area," Whittlesey said.

The Fargo Park District has also realized that an essential component of dog park location is finding adequate space. "When we started our dog parks we had no idea they would be so successful," said Whittlesey. "They could be twice as big. We've had trouble keeping grass [because of] heavy usage."

But, if they were surprised by the parks' popularity, they were downright insightful when they chose their locations. Neighborhoods with sprawling backyards won't be nearly as desperate for dog-exercising areas as more densely populated parts of town. Scout the map for dog-friendly apartment complexes, suggested Whittlesey. "Those are the people who need it." The dog park closest to such a complex in Fargo? "That's the one we can't keep grass on," he said.

Amenities and Design

When it comes to what your dog park actually includes, there's a broad spectrum of choices. Some parks focus on simply providing protected space for dogs to run, while others go further and include an assortment of agility equipment, dog-themed amenities (for people and pooches), and even water features for both drinking and frolicking. Another helpful feature seems to be some means of maintaining order, and a well-thought-out design as well as meticulously posted and enforced rules can make sure that's happening.

As a point of reference, Dog Fancy requires the following three features for dog parks that would like to be considered for their "top dog parks in the country" list each year:

  • Fencing: Particularly in busy urban areas, and in any town with leash laws, there aren't many spots where dogs are free to roam. A dog park should be one of them, so secure fencing is an imperative. No pooches-at-play should inadvertently end up in traffic.
  • Double gates: Double gating is another safety feature that also enhances furry crowd control. The first gate opens into a "foyer" area, if you will, where dogs can be unleashed before entering the main play area and re-leashed before exiting the park and returning to the civilized world. This extra layer of fencing also helps cut down on escapees. Should a dog slip out the main gate as another enters, they'll be contained by the second gated area.
  • Free cleanup bags: A well-loved dog park could easily become a (literal) minefield without the proper cleanup protocol. In most cases dog owners are conscientious, but you can ensure more complete adherence to waste-disposal ordinances by providing owners with everything they need. Cleanup bag dispensers are available from a number of companies in a variety of styles—including recycled-material options—so you're sure to find something that will work in your space. A trash can specifically designated for pet waste may also be a nice touch.

And that's it. Pretty simple. "It's very inexpensive and easy," Whittlesey said. "Just green space and a fence."