Feature Article - March 2015
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Tail-Wagging Fun

Design & Outfit an Effective Dog Park

By David Mumpower

Once you are ready to break ground, choosing dog park features is seminal to the eventual popularity of the facility. There is universal consent among dog park operators that the most beloved feature is the dog pond. Any park with this feature will have no problem enticing visitors. Canines of all sizes love to splash around in the water, and owners relish in the pure joy of such a sight.

If you are going to have a pond, however, you should plan to have some sort of showering apparatus as well. Once wet dogs exit the water, they have a tendency to roll around on the ground, which again means muddy pets. Since owners will not want any of this tracked back to their cars, a pet wash station or shower is needed. At public facilities, guests will be expected to provide their own drying towels, but private owners may include them as a courtesy for guests. Purchasing and laundering towels is not cheap so remember to allow for this maintenance expense.

Of course, animal safety is a priority, so the water must be meticulously checked to ensure that it remains clean enough to guarantee the health of playful pups. For a public park, expect to check the cleanliness of a lake or pond on a frequent basis. Taking water samples is especially important during the summer months. Warmer water is a fertile breeding ground for the nastier sort of bacteria. In terms of planning for the worst, parasites such as fleas also can become a serious issue from time to time. Every few years, you may need to apply a licensed pesticide to negate the fleas, which can be an expensive process.

The topic that every dog park operator agrees is seminal is the implementation of rules. For a facility to operate properly, the guests must have a clear understanding of expected behavior. Man's best friend can be messy, impulsive and sometimes even aggressive. Pet owners must be alerted to the rules at a new dog park. Otherwise, the actions of a select few canines could cast a pall on the overall perception of your park.

Once the location is ready to open, important decisions still remain. Most dog park organizers believe that providing separate play areas for different-sized animals is a must. McMahan allows families to decide what is best for pets and children. His facilities all include play areas for small dogs, but if someone is more comfortable letting a Chihuahua run with the big boys, that's allowed. Similarly, if parents prefer not to divide their families, small children can play with their puppies in the large dogs section.

As a private owner, Kelley has different concerns. She feels strongly that guaranteeing everyone's safety should be codified in the rules. Dog Wood Park does not allow children under four feet tall into the facility. Since all breeds of dogs are welcome at the dog park, it is the only way to protect toddlers from giant animals. Small dogs do have their own play area for those owners who are concerned about the safety of their Toy Poodle or Yorkie. However, if an owner is comfortable, their small dog can play in the big dog area.

All three of our interviewed experts agree that the most important aspect is that all the owners know and understand the rules, no matter what they are. When people respect these park requirements, harmonious pet interactions are likely to follow.

Building a dog park is a major undertaking. From the planning phase until the maintenance phase, a lot of potential stumbling blocks exist. Once you have your facility opened, however, the joy of people playing with their pets will more than justify all the hard work.