Feature Article - February 2020
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Canine Comforts

Implement Best Practices, Deploy New Ideas in Dog Parks

By Dave Ramont


Cater to Nature

When planning a park, Lowe said she considers how dogs in a natural setting explore the outdoors. She discussed her current project in Michigan, which is 40 acres, but even much smaller parks can offer features to keep dogs stimulated. "They like different textures, they want to climb on things, they like variety in terrain. They actually want to explore, so give them that opportunity. When I don't have a bored dog, I reduce the negative interactions."

Rocks, logs, tunnels—these are items that Lowe likes to incorporate. "Sometimes it's found stuff—a big tire or a concrete culvert—those are fun obstacles. Look what's in the maintenance yard; how can I utilize that? Is it safe and durable?"

She explained that she won't design a park without visiting the area. "I want to get a sense of the community, of the geography, of the architecture, and I want to start building a relationship with the parties involved, whether it's a parks department or a nonprofit group."

To avoid injuries and potential conflicts, everyone agreed that separating dogs by size is a wise idea. "We continue to see a strong trend in the public municipal sector where they separate large dogs from small dogs by offering different space for each," said Sarvis.

VandenBerghe added that the 30-pound range is a good baseline. "Space-wise, small dogs need less room to stretch their legs, so when designing parks, we typically allocate about 70% for large dogs and 30% for small. Some communities have a higher ratio of small dogs to large, so then a 50/50 split is recommended."

Some dog parks offer larger water features, like pools or ponds, and Lowe stressed that water quality is of utmost importance. "Monitoring and testing the water, proper aeration, drainage issues—and it's not just the water, it's the area surrounding it." She points out that fish and certain plants—like cattails—are beneficial in keeping the water clean. With artificial splash pads—which dogs love in warm weather—the water is filtered and recycled.

VandenBerghe said spray hydrants are popular, with options for spraying from the front or the top, activated by a push button. They're water-efficient and more cost-effective than maintaining a splash pad. Dog-wash stations can provide a place to clean up dirty dogs, and there are many options for drinking fountains with pet bowls and bottle fillers, as hydration is important.

Last Words

As far as considerations for those planning a dog park, VandenBerghe offers this advice: "The must-haves would be accessibility, dedicated small and large dog areas, along with a separate entrance and exit (both double-gated) to help prevent overcrowding and stress when entering and exiting the park, play equipment, waste pick-up stations, and amenities for the two-legged park users—adequate shade and shelter, potable water with a fountain, seating and surfacing that's ADA-accessible."

There are so many variables to consider when planning a dog park that Sarvis highly recommends getting an experienced planner involved as early as possible, "so the planner can even help with proper sidewalk designs and even proper placement and positioning of the park."

"We need to stop thinking about dog parks as just 'put up a fence,'" said Lowe. "We need to design a space thinking about how dogs interact, how people interact, and put the same thoughtfulness into our designs that we're seeing in playgrounds and everything else." RM