Designing Dog Parks

Dog parks–while nowhere near as ubiquitous as ball fields, picnic tables or tennis courts–are starting to become part of the American park landscape. Particularly in urban areas where dog owners are unlikely to have adequate residential space for their pets to run, the dog park serves as a community’s backyard.

This dog is enjoying his time at the dog park.

Various concepts exist to make municipal parks dog-friendly. In addition to the traditional fenced enclosure, other models include unfenced areas within parks where dogs are allowed to be unleashed, and the institution of off-leash hours in regular parks.

While the fenced dog park, unlike the other two, does represent a significant investment and a modification to existing areas, it is probably the best accepted alternative in a community that includes both dog owners and those who prefer not to share their parks with unleashed dogs. This article, therefore, will focus on that model, although ideas for amenities, accessories, hygiene and more can be applied to all dog-friendly areas.

The Particulars

Many fenced dog parks are areas within larger parks that have been set aside for dog use. Some municipalities have successfully seen so-called “pocket parks” (unused space at the end of a block, between houses or in other vacant tracts of city- or county-owned land) converted to dog parks as well.

No matter what area is under consideration, the location must be noted carefully. If a dog park is built too close to residences, homeowners may be bothered by the dogs’ barking, their owners calling them, etc.

Decide in advance whether the park will be open 24 hours a day, or locked between dawn and dusk. If the park is to be open at night, it should be well-lit for the safety of all users–canine and human. However, lighting must not trespass into residential areas. Investigate all zoning regulations for the area under consideration and hold meetings with nearby homeowners’ groups to make sure a consensus is reached.

The American Kennel Club’s website ( recommends space for a dog park to be “one acre or more of land surrounded by a four- to six-foot high chain-link fence. Preferably, the fence should be equipped with a double-gated entry to keep dogs from escaping, and to facilitate wheelchair access.”

Admittedly, not every city or every park has one or more acres lying unused; as a result, many dog parks are smaller than the desired acreage. If yours falls into this category, work with the health department or local humane associations and kennel clubs to get recommendations on rules regarding the number of dogs allowed in the area at a time.

The Surface

Dog-park surfaces are limited only by the budget of the city, or by the fundraising ability of those who will be supporting and maintaining them. Early dog parks were simply grass fields or bare dirt, either with or without a coating of pea gravel or crusher run. Some have been as low-tech as vacant paved areas, such as unused parking lots. These days, dog parks might be surfaced in dog park-specific antimicrobial artificial turf.

Note: Prior to construction, always have soil testing done to determine whether or not an area is capable of handling the biological load a dog park will place upon it. A soils engineer will be able to conduct this type of testing and make recommendations.


The design of the park will be dictated by available space, budget, etc. Many dog parks are simply fenced areas, while others contain natural structures, such as rocks, logs, hills and even small swimming pools where dogs can play. Some parks even feature non-working fire hydrants for dogs’ convenience.

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