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Want a Dog Park in Your Town? Here's How to Plan and Design It

Stop waiting for someone to start the process for building a dog park in your area and do it yourself!

 |  Oct 9th 2013  |   1 Contribution


Dog parks have become so popular. Dogs love them, but just as important, dog owners love them. If you're planning on getting a dog park rolling in your community, here's a simple overview of what makes a great dog park and what to think about when you're designing one.

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With my beloved dogs. Photo by Daniel Stockfield.

1. First, here's why parks are awesome

If you need to garner support for a dog park, here are some ways they can benefit communities:

  • Your dog can exercise and socialize in a safe environment.
  • You can meet other dog owners while you enjoy watching your dogs run and play.
  • Apartment dwellers, elderly folks, and owners with disabilities have accessible places to exercise their dogs.
  • Dog parks promote responsible pet ownership, public health, and safety and enforcement of dog control laws.
  • Dog parks are park venues that cater to a large, legitimate constituency. They also provide a nice added feature to exisiting public parks, not unlike tennis courts or soccer fields.
  • Dog parks offer economic benefits for your community.

People need to realize that dog parks are terrific community resources, providing an assortment of much appreciated opportunities for leisure-time enjoyment.

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These dogs are taking a "love us up" break from their play activities at the dog park. Photo by Kathleen Burleson.

2. Issues to consider when planning a dog park

You're in the early stages, but you have a lot of issues to address. Is the available space at least an acre in size? Is the topography of the land conducive for building a dog park? (It'll need to be fairly level to let dogs run around.) Is there shade from trees, or will shade structures be needed? Is there access to a water line for the needed dog/people fountain?

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Small dogs and big dogs: Can they coexist at your dog park?

Not everyone will be walking to your park, so you'll have to figure out whether there's convenient parking nearby or whether a parking area will need to be created. Also, speaking of nearby venues, are there other parks nearby that are too close to the proposed dog park location? And will the dog park be accessible in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act? 

3. Getting down to design

Okay, so you've figured out the planning. What do you want the dog park to look like? Here's a basic standard design:

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A magnificent entrance to a dog park located on Florida's Intercoastal Waterway. Photo by Marilynn R. Glasser.

Your dog park should have fenced enclosures: One for large dogs (or, sometimes, for all dogs) and one for small dogs. The enclosure for the small dogs can be a quarter to a third of the total space, while the large dog enclosure will use the rest of the available space.

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Fort Woof Dog Park in Fort Worth, TX.

You'll also need a small, fenced transitional entry area of about 100 to 150 square feet. This will need a main exterior gate through which all the dogs -- safely on-leash, of course! -- and their owners will enter. You'll safely unleash your dog in this area and then choose one of the gates to guide your dog into the small or large fenced enclosures. 

4. Basic features every dog park needs 

These are the basic requirements:

  • Fencing, which needs to be at least five feet high to keep dogs safe.
  • Park benches (not picnic tables) for owners to sit on.
  • Waste bag stations and covered waste cans.
  • Water fountains for dogs and people.
  • Trees for shade, or shade structures.
  • Hardscape areas and paths (paving or tiles) where needed, to maintain surfacing (preferably grass) and for ease of maintenance. 
  • Signage with dog park name, agency name (the agency responsible for the dog park), and a listing of the park’s rules.

Of course, later on you can think about special features and optional components like agility equipment, fire hydrants, play equipment, and sculpture pieces.

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Dogs and humans get thirsty at the park. Photo by Marilynn R. Glasser.

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People and dogs enjoying time at a California dog park. Photo by Marilynn R. Glasser.

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This sign in a New Hampshire dog park speaks for itself! Photo by Marilynn R. Glasser.

5. Ready for a grand opening?

After all your hard work, you should have a grand, festive opening. Your community will be excited to welcome this newest public park, and you should prepare for enthusiastic dog owners, family members, curious folks and, best of all, dogs of every shape and size imaginable! Throw in a variety of fun features and events and it can be a wonderful community celebration.

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Old fire hydrants are common focal points in dog parks and are often whimsically painted. Photo by Marilynn R. Glasser.

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Mabel the Greyhound by a commercial waste bag station in a dog park. Photo by Marilynn R. Glasser.

If you're looking for additional detailed information, my book Dog Park Design, Development, and Operation offers a best-practices perspective from a parks professional. It offers a clear, understandable guide for how to establish and operate a safe, wonderful dog park facility. Email me at mrglasser@parksandpastimes.com to order a signed copy at the discounted price of $23, which includes free shipping.

About the author: Marilynn R. Glasser is the president of Parks and Pastimes, a recreation, parks and leisure services consulting firm specializing in dog parks, playground safety and education/training. She is an adjunct assistant professor at Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, and has more than 30 years of experience teaching recreation, parks, and leisure services courses.

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