Dog parks are the fastest growing sector in city park systems with 89 percent growth since 2007, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL). As a landscape architect, I have seen this growing trend first-hand through my recent work on dog parks in communities across our region. One factor contributing to this rapid growth in our area is that Arkansas and Oklahoma are among the ten states with the highest rate of dog ownership, according to a 2018 study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). As this popular amenity continues to gain steam in our region, there are crucial planning and design considerations that can help ensure a successful dog park.
STRATEGIC SITE SELECTION
I approach the design for a dog park much like I would any park or public space. If it is not a desirable location, it doesn’t matter if the dogs like it because their owners won’t go. With this in mind, site selection is vital to the success of your park. One way to attract pets and their owners is to incorporate the dog area into an existing park. Areas already designated as public are likely to hit many of the criteria needed for proper site selection such as varied topography, connectivity aspects, benches, lights, shade, and water sources. This information is not to say stand-alone dog parks are out of the question; just that integrated areas are an excellent way to get started. A successful park serves many purposes for different parts of the community. Part of my job is adapting designs to accommodate as many features as a space allows in a harmonious way. Selecting a site that is both interesting and practical is crucial to the future of your dog park.
PROVIDE SEATING AND SHADE
As with any public space, dog parks are about the social elements as much as the design. People are more likely to visit regularly if there is ample seating and shade where they can rest. If the area itself doesn’t provide an abundance of natural shade, you can incorporate pavilions, shade sails, umbrellas and many other means of artificial shade. Providing lighting, benches, and picnic tables encourages visitors to stick around and socialize with one another. Most people want places where they can exercise and gather, and they want to be able to include their dogs; especially in urban areas where open space might not be as plentiful.
KEEP IT CLEAN
In addition to social aspects, cleanliness and safety are top priorities. An ideal park needs waste stations and bag dispensers as well as proper drainage and signs to specify the rules. There are many options when it comes to the type of turf that best suits your area. Smaller parks lend themselves to the use of K9 grass, a permeable and low maintenance form of artificial grass designed specifically for dogs. For larger parks, a combination of natural grass, sand, and crushed gravel is the most cost-effective option. Splash pads and small wading pools are also gaining popularity in dog parks across the country. Each community has unique challenges, and there is a design solution for them all.
Perhaps most importantly is designing a safe park. A two-gate entry sequence is a critical design element, ensuring dogs are unable to escape while also allowing wheelchair access. Another design element aiding in the safety of the dogs and the owners is adding respite areas or smaller divisions within the park to separate large and small breeds. Setting aside a space specifically to separate overly excited dogs helps mitigate conflict between the pets and their owners.
With pet ownership at an all time high and more young professionals flocking to downtown areas, dog parks are becoming more and more pervasive. Organizations like the American Kennel Club offer abundant resources for communities looking to build safe, clean, and successful dog parks no matter the budget or size.