Dog park

Dog park
The recently renovated Tompkins Square Park dog run was the first in New York City, and it was recently named one of the top five dog parks in the United States by Dog Fancy magazine.
This article is about the exercise area for dogs; there is also a Dog Park (movie).

A dog park is a facility set aside for dogs to exercise and play off-leash in a controlled environment under the supervision of their owners. Parks vary in accoutrements, although a typical dog park offers a 4' to 6' fence; separate, double-gated entry and exit points; adequate drainage; benches for humans; shade for hot days; parking close to the site; water; tools to pick up and dispose of animal waste in covered trash cans; and regular maintenance and cleaning of the grounds.[1] Dog parks may also feature wheel-chair access, a pond for swimming; and a separate enclosure for small dogs. In the U.S. the first official dog park opened in 1979 in Berkeley, California's Ohlone Park. Today, more than 600 city- or county-sanctioned off-leash areas in the U.S. exist,[2] and more than 1,100 exist in the U.S. and Canada combined (, 2002). In Australia, dog parks feature water taps rather than hydrants, garden benches, and mature trees for shade. Some (e.g. Pymble, New South Wales) have solar lampposts for after dark use.


Benefits of off-leash dog parks

The Danny Jackson Family Bark Park in Houston, Texas is a dog park operated by the Harris County government

Off-leash dog areas, or dog parks, provide a community setting in which people can gather and socialize[3] and where they can observe the interaction of groups of dogs at play. Dog parks the world over allow owners and their dogs to spend time together while the dog satisfies its cravings for canine play and companionship.[4]

Respected organizations like the ASPCA believe that dog parks are beneficial to both dogs and their guardians.[5] According to Dan Emerson of Dog, proponents of dog parks cite the following benefits: "They promote responsible pet ownership and the enforcement of dog-control laws; give dogs a place to exercise safely, thus reducing barking and other problem behaviors; provide seniors and disabled owners with an accessible place to exercise their companions; and provide an area for community-building socializing."[6] Dog park regulations vary from park to park, but some are quite extensive and comprehensive, like this poster from The New York Council of Dog Owner Groups attests. The guide Public Open Space and Dogs includes plans and illustrations.

Pet ownership in the United States increased by over 1 million households between 1990 and 1992, up to 54 million, or 58% of all U.S. households. Of the pet-owning households, 38% included dogs, which translated to 1.5 dogs per dog-owning household or a total of 53.3 million dogs.[7] By 2005-2006, the U.S. Pet Owners Survey showed that the number of dogs Americans owned had shot up to 73 million dogs, a significant increase.[8] The Humane Society noted in 2007 that approximately 60% of U.S. owners had one dog, 25% had two dogs, and 15% had three or more dogs,[9][10] and 75% of dog owners consider their pets to be a significant part of the family.[11]

In Great Britain dogs and cats were owned by 39% of people.[12] A 2007 Pet Club article noted: "The Blue Cross Pet Census shows that we spend an average of £406 per year on our dogs, a 20% increase from last year and £128 more than the average expenditure on pets."[13] Australia has one of the highest incidence of pet ownership in the world, with 2.8 million Australians owning dogs in 2005.[14] While none of these statistics address the urban dog, one can surmise that more dogs than ever live in urban environments where yards tend to be small and strict leash laws are enforced. In her 2007 Master's Thesis, Dog Parks: Benefits and Liabilities, author Laurel Allen wrote:

"In urban environments dogs are generally confined to a crate, portions of the home, or small sections of the yard most of the time. Typically, dogs are taken on daily walks, but because of strict leash laws, they cannot run free or easily socialize with other dogs."

Dogs playing "catch"

A leash can cause a dog to become territorial.[15] Dog parks where dogs can run unfettered can seem like a good solution for urban dogs, but before embarking on such a project designers should "consider legal ramifications, social behavior of dogs and dog owners, environmental and health issues for dogs and people, and the costs of building, maintaining, and policing dog parks."[16] Proponents of dog parks are encouraged to advocate at the local level, work closely with public parks and recreation staff, and have rules firmly established before bringing their case to the public. As the dog population increases in high density environments, regulations need to be in place to promote responsible pet ownership, and facilities need to be provided to allow pet owners and their canine companions to exercise and play together.[17] The provision of ample quality space for the human/dog companion recreation promotes the physical and mental well being of both dog and human.[18]

Scientific studies have shown that people find it easier to talk to each other with dogs as the initial focus, breaking down the usual social barriers that make people in our society perceive others as strangers.

"Dogs act as social 'ice breakers' and help people strike up friendly conversation with others," says Dr. June McNicholas, senior research fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. "We are probably much more sociable than society allows us. It is difficult for us to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger – all sorts of ulterior motives may be suspected. But being with a dog (or other pet) gives a safe, non-threatening, neutral topic to start a conversation."[19]

Research has also shown that dogs improve people's health (by lowering their blood pressure) and increase resistance to disease by giving people unconditional love and companionship. They reduce anxiety and depression, stimulate people to exercise, connect people with others and help redevelop a sense of purpose.[20][21] The unconditional love of a companion animal is very beneficial for the elderly,[22] many of whom are unable to properly exercise their dogs and who stand to benefit from taking their dogs to a dog park.[23]

Additional benefits of a dog park to the community include:

1) Promoting responsible dog ownership,[24]
2) Socialization and exercise for dogs (which leads to a healthier dog in both mind and body),
3) Bringing dogs and owners together in neutral territory, which can reduce fear and aggression in dogs,[25]
Dog beach at Coronado, California.
4) Offering elderly and disabled citizens a place to exercise their companions,[26] and
5) Accommodating dogs and their owners in a public open space (this has been shown to lead dog owners to higher levels of compliance with relevant laws).[27]

The benefits of exercise for dogs is well documented,[28] although dogs can learn and reinforce bad behaviors if owners are not vigilant or careful.[29] Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, cautions that the dog park should not be used as a substitute for a daily walk. He suggests that the owners walk their dogs briskly for 35 minutes to calm them before placing them unleashed inside a dog park enclosure.[30] Dogs that are highly socialized and exercised are healthier and happier, and less aggressive in behavior.[31] They are less likely to bark, or be destructive or aggressive if they are able to expend pent-up energy during regular play or exercise.[32]

Concerns with off-leash dog parks

Not everyone is enamored with dog parks and establishing one can create contention within a community when residents worry about noise, smell, and traffic.[33] The town of Leesburg took eight years to approve a small dog park in Loudoun County, Virginia that will hold only 20 dogs at once.[34]The town of South Windsor, Ct built a Bark Park on town owned land within a few hundred feet of private residences, without discussion nor notification of the homeowners. The homeowners hear barking dogs and car traffic while in their homes. This has led to a lawsuit against the town for noise nuisance. Laurel Allen, author of Dog Parks: Benefits and Liabilities points out that very few experienced experts in park design or dog behavior are consulted during the design process of dog parks:

Most dog parks result from the perceived needs of a local dog owners' community without guidance or input from experienced park designers, veterinarians, or experts on dog behavior. There is no comprehensive reference manual outlining the requirements for the design of a safe and well-maintained dog park. The only available reference for local dog park advocates is Susyn Stecchi's So You Want to Build a Dog Park? (2006), which was written from the perspective of an AAHA certified animal hospital practice manager and dog owner and co-founder of the first public dog park in Florida; Susyn operates a business that promotes dog park construction, called DogParks USA. Untapped authorities who could be used to assist novices in the design of dog parks include livestock farmers, cattlemen and ranchers, game-farmers, veterinarians, kennel owners, and zookeepers most of whom have had decades of experiences with animal husbandry.

Some experts caution that a dog park is no substitute for the daily walk,[35] and contend that if owners walk their dogs on the leash for at least 20–30 minutes per day and play with them for 15 minutes daily, their dogs will be well-adjusted to the urban environment.

Before introducing a dog park to the community, it is best to plan thoroughly,[36] advocate for a park on the local level with partners that can help,[37] like public parks staff,[38] solicit for funding, and establish a set of firm rules that will be strictly enforced by dog park officials.[39] A primary objective - and one of the toughest - is to ensure that the location is appropriate for the dogs, their owners, and the community.[40] The park should not be placed in environmentally sensitive areas, and it must be free of poisonous plants that might hurt the dogs and dangerous topography such as steep cliffs that might present a danger to their owners. The second objective is to ensure that the park is safe for dogs, people, and wildlife. This generally will require the park to be a some distance away from traffic to mitigate any concerns, and always requires an appropriate fence or barrier to ensure that dogs do not run away and end up in precarious situations, and adequate lighting if dog parks are open past sunset. A third objective is to make sure the size of the dog park is appropriate. Dog parks that are too big can result in opportunities for dogs to learn and demonstrate anti-social, dominant behavior, which can result in fights without swift intervention by their guardians. Smaller dog park allows an owner to react more quickly if their dog becomes unruly, but these allow only a few dogs in at a time.[41]

Allowing dogs off-leash in the safety of a dog park is an excellent way to socialize dogs, but they must be supervised at all times. When people converse with each other they can lose sight of their dogs, which can lead to trouble.[42] Some owners are unaware of "dog language" and inadvertently read signs of aggression where there are none. Still others ignore warning signs or mistakenly think that a stiff wagging tail means that a dog is friendly.[43]

Some people keep their dogs locked up in a crate during the week, only to unleash their dogs in a dog park on the weekend without proper exercise, creating issues; and still others allow dogs with illnesses or unvaccinated dogs to run alongside healthy dogs.[44] Dogs who are shy or aggressive can learn to interact safely with other dogs if their owners take the time to learn about dog behavior and acclimate them at the dog park.

The right kind of socialization is essential to the normal development of a family pet. Dogs are social creatures that crave the attention of people and the companionship of other dogs. This ability to spend time productively with both people and play with other dogs does not just come about naturally, it must be carefully fostered.[45]

Offleash Area Segregation: Some dog parks have separate play spaces for large and small dogs. Others have one large area for dogs of all sizes. There is debate about this issue, as some argue that dogs should be segregated by size (see reference for one example in an editorial column of a newspaper),[46] while others feel that dogs of all sizes can and should socialize together.

In any case, dog owners must make sure their dogs are well-socialized, and watch carefully so that they can intervene if the dog acts anti-socially towards other dogs or humans.

Children in dog parks

As a rule small children should not be taken inside dog parks, although opinions differ. Many dog parks forbid children from entering for the obvious reason that an over excited dog can bump a child during aggressive play, causing a fall, or, worse, bite the child.[47] Some dog parks allow children inside if they are properly chaperoned by an adult.[48] The general agreement is that adults should be cautious about bringing children inside a dog park and be aware that it is hard to keep a careful eye on both the dog and their child. Before entering a dog park, children should be told about the dangers of petting a strange dog; cautioned not to run or scream inside the enclosure; and to stand still if a dog turns aggressive.[49]

Community solutions: Instant dog parks and unfenced dog parks

Standard poodles at a water hydrant in a dog park

Instant Dog Parks: Communities that desperately need cheap or free new off leash parks can simply re-purpose an underused tennis court as a new off leash area. Some communities have great success using pools, ice rinks, hockey rinks[50][51] and tennis courts in the off season as makeshift dog parks. It's an inexpensive, practical, and quick way to solve a problem. Equestrian facilities, riding rings, warehouses, abandoned lots, tennis and basketball courts with cracked or poor surfacing, all make good off leash areas. For an example see an image of a converted baseball field at Joe Station Dog Park in Tulsa. Municipalities can offer a zoning variance and/or tax incentive, and liability waiver to anyone with a fenced pasture who is willing to let local dog owners use it.[52] This along with allowing a property owner to install a donation box at the pastures gate provides incentive for a private land owner to help out the community at little cost to citizens and taxpayers. The constant traffic to and from dog parks can add safety to a community. The dog park at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. was planned to deter local drug transactions and was successful in this endeavor.[53]

Unfenced Dog Parks: Dog owners can find suitable off-leash space in many fenced dog parks and in a few unfenced areas where dogs are permitted off-leash. Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a national model for incorporating off-leash space without fencing, into a large multi-use park.[54] Portland offers several unfenced off-leash dog areas with limited hours and restrictions.[55] An unfenced dog park can present challenges to residents who live nearby or whose property abuts the park, especially if dog owners bring dogs that are not properly trained to follow commands.[56]

Weather considerations

Canine friends enjoy wintry play in an Ohio dog park

Hot Weather: Unless plenty of shade and water are available, dog parks can be brutal for active canines in hot weather. "Symptoms of heatstroke include restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark tongue, vomiting, and lack of coordination."[57] Dehydration, canine sunburn, and overheating can result in serious health problems.[58] On stiflingly hot days dogs must have easy access to water and should not be permitted to run and play for too long. It is best to take pets to the dog park early in the morning before temperatures rise.[59]

Cold Weather: Except for puppies and old dogs, and hairless or short-haired dogs, most dogs don't notice the cold in winter. They may take up to a month to acclimate to cold weather, however, and it is advisable to keep them inside if the temperatures dip too far below freezing.[60] Water might not be readily available at dog parks in winter, so owners should make sure that fresh unfrozen water is available. Barker Field in Richmond, Virginia notifies owners that the water tap is turned off during the cold months. After exercising their dogs in cold weather, owners should check tender paws and provide their dogs with warmth as soon as play time is over.[61]

Dog park locations

World Dog Parks

Australian & New Zealand Dog Parks

Canadian Dog Parks

European Dog Parks

U.S. Dog Parks

External links


  1. ^ How To: Starting a Dog Park
  2. ^ How to Start a Dog Park:
  3. ^ The Benefits of a Dog Exercise and Education Park
  4. ^ Creating a Dog Park for Your Community
  5. ^ ASPCA Position About Dog Parks
  6. ^ How to Start a Dog Park
  7. ^ "1992 National Pet Owners Study", Pet Business, August 1992
  8. ^ New Survey Reveals U.S. Pet Ownership at All Time High
  9. ^ The Humane Society of the United States: Pet Ownership Statistics
  10. ^ U.S. Pet Ownership 2007
  11. ^ Dog Parks Offer Lots of Perks
  12. ^ Dog Owners Dish Out More Dosh on Their Pets
  13. ^ Dog Owners Dish Out More Dosh on Their Pets
  14. ^ Pet Net
  15. ^ Avoiding Onleash Dog Aggression
  16. ^ Dog Parks, p.10
  17. ^ Dog Parks: Benefits and Liabilities
  18. ^ The Benefits of a Dog Exercise and Education Park
  19. ^ Studies Show Walking the Dog Helps Meet People
  20. ^ Benefits of Owning a Pet
  21. ^ "Pets and People: The Bonds Grow Stronger", Pet Business, February 1990
  22. ^ Therapeutic Aspects of the Human-Companion Animal Interaction, Sandra B. Barker, Ph.D. [1] Retrieved 3-18-2009
  23. ^ What Are the Community Benefits?
  24. ^ What is a Dog Park?
  25. ^ Dog Parks Offer Lots of Perks
  26. ^ Low Gap Dog Park: What are the community benefits?
  27. ^ Why Go to a Dog Park?
  28. ^ Exercise an important routine for pets and their humans
  29. ^ Dog Parks: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly [2] Retrieved 3-19-2009
  30. ^ 4 Tips for the Dog Park [3] Retrieved 3-19-2009
  31. ^ Puppy Socialization - Don't Neglect This Important Part of Training Your Dog [4]
  32. ^ Why It's Important for Dogs to Play
  33. ^ Neighbors Oppose Proposed Dog Park
  34. ^ First Dog Park Approved in Loudoun County
  35. ^ Cesar Millan, p. 15
  36. ^ The Case for Space
  37. ^ Town of Chapel Hill Dog Park Memorandum
  38. ^ Position Paper, Santa Barbara
  39. ^ Rules of the Park
  40. ^ Dog Parks, Dog Runs, and Off Leash Play
  41. ^ 4 Paws University
  42. ^ Dog Parks and Dog Park Behavior
  43. ^ Understanding Your Dog's Body Language
  44. ^ Why Dog Parks Are Bad
  45. ^ Avoiding Onleash Dog Aggression
  46. ^ Size Matters at the Dog Park
  47. ^ Children in Dog Parks
  48. ^ Houston Dog Park
  49. ^ Houston Dog Park
  50. ^ New Dog Park Possibilities Proposed
  51. ^ City of Eden Prairie Dog Parks
  52. ^ Play ground or dog park?
  53. ^ Congressional Cemetery Dog Park
  54. ^ Dog Runs NY City
  55. ^
  56. ^ Neighbors Growl About New Dog Park
  57. ^ Hot Weather Can be Deadly for Dogs
  58. ^ Dog Summertime Dangers
  59. ^ Tips for Caring For Pets in Hot Weather
  60. ^ Cold Weather Complications
  61. ^ Heating Up Chilly Dogs

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