No Bark And No Bite

Dog owners faced with leash laws and looking for a safe place to let their dogs run and play off-leash may be scouting that seldom-used grassy spot in the park as the perfect stretch of land. But what constitutes a successful dog park, and how can you create one?

Partner Power

Most dog parks are a partnership between the government agency that owns and manages the land and local dog owners’ associations or friends-of-parks groups. “We encourage park managers to develop partnerships with dog clubs and nonprofit groups, such as the Lions Club,” says Lisa Peterson, spokesperson with the American Kennel Club, a nonprofit pure-breed dog registry and the governing body that oversees more than 20,000 events annually for 17 different dog sports. “These partnerships develop goodwill in the community, and help the park manager meet budgetary needs.”

At the beginning stages of developing a dog park, involve dog owners and dog-club members by asking them for suggestions on what would make a great dog park. Invest the time to take a day trip or two to other dog parks and see what works and what doesn’t. Also, call around to other dog parks and ask the dog park managers what they would do differently from before. Keep in mind budgeting for fencing, gates, concrete pathways and concrete pads around water sources, refuse containers and waste removal, shade structures and plantings, benches and regular mowing.

Splendid Sponsors

In Manchester, Vt., the dog park ( volunteers partnered with the local animal shelters, and sent out postcards to dog owners asking for donations. Volunteers also sent letters to area businesses, garnering support from such heavyweights as Orvis, Wagatha’s, Wellness and VPI Pet Insurance. “A dog park works when everyone comes together,” says Sylvia Carpenter, a volunteer with Manchester Dog Park. “It’s a full circle: the vets, local shelters, schools, businesses and dog owners are all important to the success of the dog park.”

Rules Of The Park

Before a dog park even opens, basic rules must be created:

· Hours of operation

· Up-to-date vaccinations and shots

· Areas where dogs must be leashed and where they can be off-leash

· No food

· No smoking

· No aggressive dogs

· No barking

· No dogs “in season”

· No dogs under the age of four months

· No running by children

· No children under the age of five

· Cleanup and disposal of pet waste by the owner.

Location, Location, Location

Site selection is critical in developing a successful dog park: not too far and not too close to residential areas, as you want people to be able to get to the park, but you don’t want residents complaining of potential noise from barking dogs. Site selection also includes the type of land--dog parks should be located in a well-drained area with grass.

Community And Canines

Dog parks can also serve as a way to improve areas. “Dog parks can become a great resource for a community because the park can also serve as a venue to host events,” says Peterson.

Creating an aesthetically appealing dog park involves more than just a fenced-in grassy area, as found in the Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert, Ariz., which includes more than 1,000 bricks commemorating pets, exercise equipment, a lake for the dogs to swim, dog-wash stations and a fire-hydrant water fountain.

“A dog park with water features becomes more formal, and presents unique opportunities for local economic development,” says Jim Cox, president of Rain-Drop, a company that provides consulting, design and sprayground equipment. “Cities and private companies are utilizing dog parks as a way to develop and draw people into specific areas.”

Size, Fences, Gates and Cleanliness

The recommended size for a dog park is at least one acre, but in some urban areas successful dog parks make do with less. For example, the new dog park in the center of urban Arroyo Grande, Calif., is just ¾ of an acre at one end of the park.

To keep the unleashed dogs contained so they do not cause problems for other park participants or motorists, the area must be fenced. “A double-gated fenced-in area keeps the dogs from escaping when dog owners are coming and going,” says Peterson.

Dog park areas are typically enclosed with a standard chain-link fence at least five feet high, like the one in Arroyo Grande. “In addition to the fencing, we have separate areas for the large and small or timid dogs,” says Cynthia Eklund, president of Five Cities Dog Park Association and volunteer for the Arroyo Grande Dog Park. “Through donations from dog owners and businesses, we’ve been able to pay for the fencing, the concrete area around the drinking water, and … the mitts for pet-waste removal.”

“When dog owners--especially new dog owners--are in an environment where everyone is picking up after their dog, they pick up after their dog as well,” says Peterson. “After leaving the dog park area, dog owners continue being responsible.”

Barking Economy

“Dogs have been upgraded from the barn to the house. They are seen as an important family member, and people want to spend time and have fun with their dogs,” says Peterson. “There are more dog-friendly venues--from grooming salons to hotels--and the dog-friendly venues, like dog parks, are becoming more people-friendly.”

In the United States, there are 44.8 million dog-owning households with an average household income of $49,000, which is higher than the rest of the U.S. population at $43,000. Dog owners typically have larger household sizes, are married, and own single-family residences. Commercial dogs parks have seized the opportunity to tap into this lucrative demographic. Commercial dog parks charge annual membership fees in the range of $400 or daily fees around $20.

WagsPark in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a commercial dog park that is tapping into this dog-owning demographic with gusto. The park includes several amenities, such as playhouses, skateboard runs, a diving dock, speed and agility courses, dog drinking fountains and dog sprayground features.

“In the ground spray fountains, inbeds provide water for the dogs to enjoy and for the owners to exercise their dogs in water without the hassles of muddy paws,” says Cox. “That’s a win-win situation for any dog owner.”

Tammy York is a professional public relations consultant to outdoor recreation-related businesses and parks. Her book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati is available via To reach Tammy, e-mail her at


Dog Parks To Review

· Cosmo Dog Park--Gilbert, Ariz.

· Manchester Vermont Dog Park--Manchester, Vt.

· Five Cities Dog Park Association--Arroyo Grande, Calif.

· Happy Tails Dog Park--Dunedin, Fla.

· The American Kennel Club’s dog park success stories