Designing Dog Parks

Dog parks provide a place for canines to socialize.


Just as with a regular backyard, a dog park isn’t self-cleaning, says Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design Group LLC in Fair Haven, N.J. The easier it is for users to keep the dog park sanitary, the more likely it is that users will become stewards of the park and encourage others to be good citizens as well.

“In addition to being a place for dogs to run, ample pooper-scoopers and trash cans or doggy out-houses (where the poop is disposed of) are a must,” says Levitsky.

Many dog parks offer receptacles filled with plastic bags that owners can use to pick up and dispose of dog waste. Bags can be those manufactured especially for that purpose, or they can be reclaimed plastic shopping bags and newspaper-delivery bags, donated by community members and dog owners.

Depending upon soil conditions, some dog parks are able to use actual septic-disposal systems into which dog waste (unbagged) can be shoveled, so that natural enzymes break down the waste. Information on such systems can be found in kennel-supply catalogues and websites.

Amenities And Accessories

Some designs include upper fountains for humans, while drinking basins at the ground level can be filled for dogs’ use.

“Of course,” jokes Levitsky, “if you have a sense of humor, you can make the fountain for a dog look like a toilet bowl.”

A hose bib and power outlet will come in handy for clean-ups, and can also be used if the dog park will host special events, such as animal-rescue festivals, pet blessings, presentations by dog-agility groups or trainers, etc.

Since owners are usually required to remain in the park with their dogs and to take responsibility for them at all times, Levitsky recommends placing benches as well as shelters, such as gazebos, in case of rain.

Other amenities might include weatherproof donation or storage boxes to hold durable dog toys, such as Frisbees, balls, etc. Some storage units can double as benches.

The rules of the park should be clearly posted both inside and outside the fence. A covered bulletin board can be used to showcase announcements, news of upcoming programs or activities, cleanups or improvements or the address of the dog park’s website.

Depending upon the local weather, the dog park may be open year-round, or if heavy snows are the norm, it may be open only in certain seasons. If the facility has synthetic turf, check with the manufacturer of the surfacing system for any recommendations regarding snow removal and other weather-related maintenance issues.

Safety First

Over the years, dog-park design has advanced, and many groups now advocate for separate areas of the park (divided by a chain-link fence): one for smaller or older dogs, and one for larger, younger or more boisterous animals.

Of course, the size and shape of a park may preclude this type of design, in which case it may be wise to post recommendations regarding the age, size or number of dogs allowed in the enclosure at various times.

Some dog parks have rules governing the presence of children as well.

The AKC’s website includes a list of suggested rules for dog parks, as well as case studies of various parks.

Who’s In Charge?

Some dog parks are strictly the responsibility of the local recreation and parks department, while others may be governed by a group of volunteers who have developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the municipality, which clearly states who is responsible for expenses associated with the park, as well as for maintenance.

No matter which setup a dog park has, Levitsky advocates organizing “a dog-lovers’ volunteer association,” which takes responsibility for enforcing the rules of the park, setting up dates for cleanups and other activities.


If the fenced dog area is large and grassy, it must be mowed, weeded, seeded, fertilized, and aerated, just as with any sports field. During rainy weather, the park will turn into mud very quickly. You might want to speak to a turf specialist about whether the park should be “rested” periodically so that grass can re-establish itself. (This decision will not be popular among dog owners, however.)

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