Dog Park Planning, Design & Operations

Dog Park Planning, Design & Operations

Operating or managing a dog park is like many other popular amenities. It requires a significant commitment of daily upkeep, maintenance, and cleaning.

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Operating or managing a dog park is like many other popular amenities. It requires a significant commitment of daily upkeep, maintenance, and cleaning. The most important aspect when putting together a dog park is that it is a fun and playful space that’s both clean and safe. For dogs to thrive, they need to spend time unleashed outdoors playing freely. It is good for pets to experience the sounds, smells, and elements of the beautiful outdoors. Dog parks also offer social interactions with other dogs, which can help the dogs develop and thrive. 

Some key factors to consider when planning or operating a dog park are the location of the park, the size and design of the park, the selection of necessary rules, daily maintenance and grooming requirements of the grounds, and regular cleaning and inspection of the park and its elements.

Selecting the Ideal Location

Selecting the best location is a critical part of the initial planning of a successful dog park. The park should be in a dry area that has a good balance of shade and sunlight. Keep the park at a safe distance from retention ponds and still water or swampy areas where insects and mosquitos can thrive. If there are any low swampy areas within the park, have landscaping staff resolve those. Keep the grass groomed, and the fence line should be kept to a short height by weed-eating the fence line regularly. The larger the park, the more maintenance and daily attention are required, so make sure you can service or maintain the park size as you plan your initial designs.

The size of the park should be a good balance of enough room for the dogs to play and run but not too big where people cannot be close enough to monitor their dog during play. The size of the park should be a size that is manageable for daily inspection, cleaning, and groundskeeping. Smaller parks can be just as much fun for the dogs as the smaller space can create more social contact with the other dogs. The best location for the park would be one that is in a safe, highly visible area and near utilities such as drinking water, restrooms, lighting, and adequate parking. Each type of application has its own unique settings, but generally, an appropriately sized dog park would range from a minimum of 5,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. Some public parks may opt for more space but that would also require more maintenance and daily upkeep. Make sure to plan for these things during your initial design phase.

Designing Effective Park Entrances

The design of the entrance of the park should allow for dogs to get out into the park without a lot of “bottlenecking” at the gate area, with the entrance having a generously sized, double-gated leash-up area for park visitors entering and exiting the park with their dogs. Place benches, water fountains, and other fixtures out in the park so people are not congregating around the entrance of the park. Keep the entrance free and open so people and dogs can enter and exit the park freely. Have an accessible pad area inside of the gate as a designated companion pad. It is also best to have signage near the entrance asking park guests to keep clear of the entrance when people are entering or exiting with their pets.

Ensuring Secure Park Fencing

It is recommended to use a minimum 5’ tall fence as a perimeter fence and provide a generous leash-up double-gate area that allows the main entrance gate to close before the secondary park entrance gate opens. The complete perimeter of the fence should be inspected regularly for any holes or areas from which dogs could escape, and if there are any areas of concern, they should be resolved. The bottom of the fence should be no more than 2” from the ground, and the ground area under the fence line should have an anti-dig border such as gravel stones, if possible. If using an ornamental picket-style fence, the spacing between the pickets on the fence should be no more than 3” for the small dog area and no more than 4” in the large dog area. It is good to have separate park areas for small dogs versus big dogs, an optional separate area for solo dogs, and even a designated area as a “potty area” to get the dogs to go to the bathroom prior to entering the play area. The solo dog area is for one dog at a time, and this is reserved for dogs that aren’t ready for the dog park. They may be aggressive, shy, or scared, among other traits, and providing a solo dog area for them to have a dog park experience is a great feature.

Pet Waste Management and Park Cleanliness

If you have artificial turf, it should be properly cleaned and disinfected regularly with a pet-friendly disinfectant spray. The park and its elements should be inspected and cleaned, and waste should be disposed of before opening each morning, during inspection walkthroughs during the day, and at the close of each evening. If you do put artificial turf in potty areas, make sure you are using a turf product that is designed specifically for pet use.

It is vital to have a diligent pet waste management system; a clean park is a safe park. Set an expectation goal for your park visitors – such as “please pick up your pet’s waste completely and promptly” – using the 30-second rule. Provide an adequate number of pet waste stations in all areas of the park to make it easy for the park visitors to pick up promptly. It is important that you have inclusive rules posted, and it is best to give the visitors a goal or expectation of picking up their dog’s waste and disposing of it properly in a timely manner. This is an essential and critical rule that needs to be prominently published on the park signage and strictly enforced. Please also remember that most dog parks have “favorite” potty areas where the dogs like to go to the bathroom and let’s give the dogs credit – many of the dogs will go to the bathroom in the outlying areas and corners, and they typically do not go in the same area where they play. If your park clearly has “favorite” areas, you can enhance these areas by adding artificial turf and extra waste management tools in those areas. A clean park is fun to visit and safer for your dogs to play in.

Weather Considerations and Park Closure

The park should be closed during any inclement weather or unique circumstances that may create undue risk, such as flooding in certain areas of the park. You want to try to keep things dry and clean to help eliminate fungus or bacterial growth. Make sure any cleaners and disinfectants that are used are pet-friendly. Extreme conditions such as unusually hot or cold temperatures, high humidity, and lightning are all conditions that may warrant closing a park for a period.

Enhancing the Dog Park Experience with Play and Agility Products

A fun dog park should always have play and agility products to help the dogs socialize with other dogs. Providing products that the dogs can jump and climb on with other dogs provides them with a unique experience and a new set of challenges. We can literally see it on the dogs’ faces, their smiles playing with other dogs, and their more intense faces when trying new challenges like ramps and other climbing and jumping elements. Once they complete these tasks, we notice how happy they are that they conquered the climb or whatever the exercise challenge was. These exercise products help the dogs develop cognitive skills and social skills with other dogs and other people. Having play and agility products in your dog park is also a great way to provide the dogs and their owners time to interact with each other and develop a stronger bond. When dogs are having fun, they are more apt to work with you when teaching them new commands, and they will also learn more vocabulary by listening to the people talking to their dogs and observing the other dogs. Dog parks provide a great social environment for dogs and their owners, and with the added play and exercise equipment, the park can create a very fun and interactive experience. Dogs need to spend unleashed time with other dogs and people. With some dogs, it may take time for them to adjust, integrate, and become comfortable with the other dogs. Some dogs might not ever be able to go into the main park area but having a solo dog area helps provide a play and social space for those dogs as well.

Providing Essential Amenities: Water and Shade

Providing a fresh water source for the dogs to drink from is ideal and recommended. It is best to have a fresh water supply and dog drinking fountain that drains, so the dogs are not sharing the same water and so that they have a fresh clean water supply at the park. Having a water supply for the dogs is very important as their tongue is a main source of cooling for them, and the fresh water helps keep them cool and hydrated. In the middle of summer, it is great fun to put out a small, shallow splash pool for the dogs to play in and cool off. Even for the dogs that don’t like the water, they tend to have fun around the pool area and wet areas.

Providing some shade in the park makes for a nice addition for the dogs and people to stay cool during hot months. If you use natural trees, use a tree that has a great canopy shade format. Do not use conifer trees or any tree that produces nuts, cones, or berries. It is best to research which trees are acceptable in your area or consult with a landscape arborist or horticulture specialist in your area. It is recommended to protect the bark on the tree by surrounding the tree with a barrier or small garden fence so dogs cannot urinate directly on the bark.

If you have any thin wires or posts inside of the park, mark them with safety yellow tape or paint so the dogs can clearly see them when they are chasing each other.

A well-planned and outfitted dog park provides a unique amenity and a great experience for dogs and their owners. These parks are a great way to start your day, spend the midday break with your dog, or engage in some afterwork de-stress time. Dog owners typically get approximately 2000 more steps per day than non-dog owners. Spending time at the dog park is not just great for your dog but also for yourself. Spending time at the dog park, you and your dog can develop friendships and experiences while also both getting exercise and relaxation and enjoying the great outdoors. The experience a dog can have in a dog park with the unleashed play and social integration with other dogs is unmatched and is a different form of exercise than a dog walk. Not all dog parks are perfect, and there are those “bah-humbug” articles or comments written about dog parks. However, if the park community comes together to commit to providing a safe, clean park, these places can be fun and exciting for both the dogs and their owners. 

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Source: John Sarver – Design & Development Director – Gyms For Dogs Founder of The Dog Park Company

Gyms For Dogs is a leading designer, builder, and outfitter of Dog Parks in the USA.