Feature Article - March 2019
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Basic Dog Park Elements & Beyond

By Deborah L. Vence

The Basic Needs

When it comes to the basic needs of dog parks, "adequate space and fencing" are two that are at the top of VandenBerghe's list.

"We always encourage folks to capture and utilize as much space as possible right from the start," she said. "This can help to prevent 'growing pains' down the road if or when additional space that was once available isn't any longer. Once the site has been established, a fence is absolutely necessary. Some parks don't require fencing, but from a safety perspective, we believe they are a must-have. Anywhere from 4 to 6 [feet] is standard, and we recommend a double-gated system along with separate entries and exits to help prevent overcrowding in those more compact areas."

In addition, she said that other basic needs are "accessibility, water, shade, adequate parking and surfacing."

Steines suggested that "The very basic needs of a pet park are quite simple. When considering a pet park installation, one should ensure that the very high-traffic areas of a dog park have artificial turf or wood mulch. This helps reduce the wear and mess that can come with wet, worn grassy areas. Gone are the days of a fenced-in field sufficing as a pet park. Dog park patrons expect more amenities."

What's more, "finding a key location that will be central or easily accessible for everyone within that community" is a basic item to consider, Sarver said.

Dog parks are unique in that they provide multi-generational recreation. Whereas playgrounds are geared toward kids, dog parks cater to anyone with a dog.

"The space should also be safe and environmentally friendly," he said. "Once you have picked out a good space, then you need to consider accessibility to the park, how people will get to the park and park or walking sidewalks, etc."

The size allocated for the dog park also should be appropriate for the amount of anticipated usage, he said, which is defined by how many dogs might be using the space each day.

"Once you have determined these items, then outfitting the park with various play features and accessories is determined by the planning and design team based on accomplishing the desired needs of the people using the park," Sarver said. "It is best to initiate a survey to potential park users to see what the demands are. You must also consider other variables such as lighting, fencing, grade of land and proper drainage of rain water, shade, accessibility to various utilities and overall landscaping of the park area."

What's more, a range of planning and design considerations should be taken into account in order to ensure that the dog park is meaningful to the community.

"First and foremost, adequate drainage and proper surfacing is critical for these spaces. Thoughtful selection of plantings, landscaping, exercise/agility training equipment and other site amenities will increase usability and comfort," Marler said.

"Moreover, choosing the right type of fencing, gates and access will further differentiate the dog park. After the dog park has been designed, a maintenance plan should be established for proper upkeep of the facility, and rules should be put in place to ensure cooperative and acceptable behavior from both dogs and owners," she said.

"Also, it is important to keep the dog owner's comfort and convenience in mind," she added. "Providing shade and seating areas [is] a great way to enhance their experience and keep them coming back to the park, and providing bike and vehicle parking provide a convenience factor that can't be overlooked."

Dog Park Features

When designing and outfitting a dog park, some key features and elements should be included, experts say.

"Just like playgrounds need swings, climbing structures and other fun things for kids to do and explore, dog parks benefit from agility activities," VandenBerghe said. "They help to get owners up and moving, and engaging with their pets. They also make for programming opportunities in that communities can hire a local dog trainer to do a demo of how to use the equipment and educate park users on the benefits agility training offers, such as building a dog's confidence, healthy exercise and an improved pet/guardian bond."