Dog Parks 101

We certainly love our dogs, don’t we? Pets mean the world to us, and we often see them as family members. They truly contribute to our quality of life.

Take a look at some statistics:

· There are approximately 75 million dogs owned in the United States.

· About 40 percent of U.S. households own a dog, 25 percent own two, and 14 percent own three or more.

· We spend lots of money on our pets--over $15 billion on food annually, almost $19 billion on supplies, veterinary care and medications, and close to $3 billion on boarding and grooming. Now, is it any wonder that dog parks are popping up all over the country? Clearly, we love our dogs, and it makes us happy to make them happy. Just visit a dog park to see what I mean!

· 68 percent of pet owners travel with their pet, and many hotel chains are now pet-friendly--Holiday Inn, Marriot, Best Western, Econo Lodge and Comfort Inn, to name a few--and some of these offer pet pillows, toys, treats and even a dog masseuse.

· The health benefits of pet ownership continue to get positive press in numerous studies: lower stress, lower blood pressure, decreased depression and loneliness, and pets even help prevent heart attacks.

· Nearly one in five companies now allows pets in the workplace.

· 39 percent of owners display a photo of their pet in their home; 16 percent keep one in their wallet.

· 33 percent of owners talk to their dog on the phone, or leave a message on the answering machine.

· 10 million owners celebrate the dog’s birthday, while 32 million purchase holiday gifts.

· 62 percent of owners sign their dog’s name on cards and letters.

· 32 percent of dogs sleep in their owners’ bed.

And my personal favorite:

· An estimated 1 million dogs in the United States have been named the primary beneficiary in their owners’ will!

Now, is it any wonder that dog parks are popping up all over the country? Clearly, we love our dogs, and it makes us happy to make them happy. Just visit a dog park to see what I mean!

Back To Basics

What is a dog park? A dog park is a space--usually in a public park and typically enclosed with fencing--where dogs can run and play off-leash with their owners and/or other dogs.

A dog park usually “happens” in one of two ways:

1. A group of dog owners come to their municipal board or parks and recreation department and request the creation of a dog park.

2. The municipal board or parks department recognizes the desirability of a dog park facility, and initiates its development.

A dog owners group, with or without municipal support, can be very helpful, like a “friends” group, that is willing to assist with suggestions, publicity and fundraising, if necessary. If there is only minimal support from the municipality, which is usually based on a lack of knowledge about dog parks and a refusal to allocate funding, the dog owners group will petition the municipality, often asking for an acre of land in an existing park, while offering to pay most or all the expenses for construction of a dog park.

Although a dog park created by well-meaning groups is quite common, the municipality often inherits problems and mistakes--sometimes costly to correct--due to their lack of support and interest. It’s always far better when the municipal board members and park professionals listen and educate themselves about dog parks and take the lead. The municipality can then plan, control, and oversee the development of the facility, from conception through completion, tapping its professional staff and resources for any needed additional expertise.

Considering The Project

So, why should a municipality consider developing a dog park? What exactly are the benefits? For starters, a dog park promotes responsible pet ownership and enforces dog control laws. And it provides a safe environment for people as well as dogs to socialize—I’m never surprised to find non-dog owners as “spectators” around a dog park. In addition, a park provides apartment dwellers and elderly or disabled individuals the opportunity to have dogs with an accessible place to exercise them. Finally, a dog park promotes public health and safety--well-exercised dogs are better neighbors and less likely to create a nuisance, bark excessively, or destroy property.

Getting Started

Now what are the important things that must be considered when developing a dog park?

· Appropriate site selection--ideally in an existing park

· Neighbors--avoid NIMBYs (“Not In My Back Yard”)

· Noise--typically not a problem, but still should be considered

· Maintenance--mostly mowing and garbage pickup required, occasional fencing or other repairs, landscape-related trimming, possible seeding or re-surfacing in places, etc. Dog owners are responsible for picking up after dogs--this is NOT a parks maintenance responsibility!

· Parking--should be nearby or easy to create

· Traffic

· Size--at least an acre

· Supervision--should be easy for dog owners and dog-control officers/police to periodically supervise

· Political support--always a plus!

· Proper planning--services of a consultant with expertise and experience in creating quality dog parks.

Putting It All Together

What are the components of a dog park? The fenced enclosure should be divided into two areas--about two-thirds or three-quarters of the space will be for large dogs, usually those over 30 pounds, while the remainder will be for small dogs. The entrance, sometimes called the transition entry area or “bullpen,” is placed at a point where the two areas meet. This is usually a double-gated, self-latching “box,” that is at least 10 feet by 10 feet, where a dog first enters on a leash. The leash is removed before the dog is led into either gate for the appropriate area. Before leaving the park, the dog is led back into the transition area where it is leashed. If at all possible, grass should be the chosen surface--otherwise, decomposed granite is often recommended. Do NOT use wood chips or mulch! These materials can absorb urine, make feces difficult to identify, and need to be replenished frequently. In addition, benches--NOT picnic tables—should be placed around the perimeter of the park to encourage supervision.

Additional Components:

· Fencing--should be a minimum of 5 feet high

· Shade--either trees or shade structures, or some of each

· Access for the disabled

· Maintenance access

· “Pooper-scooper” stations--should be several throughout the two dog park areas (especially at the entry)

· Covered garbage cans

· Dog fountain--access to a water line--a must

· Landscaping--enhances the attractiveness of the facility

Playing By The Rules

So what makes a dog park work? Signage is crucial--it will welcome users, contain all the rules of the dog park, and indicate usage and emergency information.

What about liability? Paraphrasing the “Dog Bite Law” Web site, the victim of a personal injury or injury to the victim's dog will probably not prevail on a claim against a local government entity that established the dog park. Generally, since there are immunities that protect government entities from many types of claims, and if the local government believed it was doing something beneficial for the community, it is hard to get around the immunity. The Web site states that signage at the entry to the dog park must make the rules exceptionally clear. Basically, you’re telling people that they are entering an area where dogs are unleashed. Thus, one must assume there may be some risk or they can choose NOT to enter.

For example:


Welcome to ______________DOGPARK!

All dogs must be licensed, current with all shots, healthy and wearing a collar and identification at all times.

All dogs must be leashed upon entering/exiting--leashes must be in owners’ possession at all times.

Owners must keep their dogs in view and in voice control at all times. Leaving dogs unattended is prohibited.


Aggressive dogs are not permitted--owners must remove their dogs upon the first sign of aggression.

Dogs must be discouraged from digging--owners must fill any holes.

Food/beverages/smoking/picnicking are prohibited.

Dogs that are ill, injured or in heat are prohibited.

Owners are legally responsible for their dogs and injuries caused by them.

Puppies under four months old are prohibited.

Limit is three dogs per person.

Children age 12 and under must be supervised.

Be cautious with dog toys; some dogs don’t like to share.

HOURS--Facility is open from sunrise to sunset, seven days per week.

CLOSINGS--Facility may need to be closed for periodic maintenance.

REPORTING--Any incident, problem, violation, emergency, etc., must be reported immediately to the Police Department, XXX-XXXX.

RESPONSIBILITY--Any person bringing a dog into this facility assumes the legal responsibility, jointly and severally, with the owner of the dog, for any damage, disease or injury to persons, other dogs or property, caused by the dog. All persons using the facility, by entering it, agree to indemnify the City (or Village or Town) and hold the City harmless for any harm resulting from the use of this facility.

For the benefit of everyone in our community, please remember to leave our dog park nicer than you found it.

Thank you!


If you are interested in creating a dog park in your community, do it right and don’t try to “wing it”! A few visits to the Internet won’t do it. Consulting a qualified professional with dog park expertise and experience can save your municipality money, time and aggravation, and can prevent many mistakes commonly seen in “homemade” dog parks. No parks department would consider developing a baseball field, tennis court, soccer field or basketball court without involving qualified professionals, so why create a dog park without some appropriate assistance?

Finally, please realize how loved these facilities are by the dog owners in your municipality. They will truly appreciate the local parks and recreation department for creating them!

Dr. Marilynn R. Glasser, CPRP, owns Parks and Pastimes, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in dog parks. She can be reached at (800) 967-2757 or via e-mail at