Going To The Dogs

Almost 40 percent of American families share their homes with a dog–73 million dogs in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Like children, once you have one, it is often easier to have two or more. A quarter of those who own a dog have multiple animals. Regardless of size or pedigree, dogs need exercise, and parks draw dogs and owners, like the proverbial honey draws bees.

Lisa Peterson, director of Club Communications for the American Kennel Club (AKC), the country’s oldest and largest non-profit dog club, suggests park directors “embrace the concept of dog parks as the perfect way to reach out to dog owners and non-dog owners alike so they can both coexist in the community and neither group will feel threatened.”

“A dog park,” she adds, “sets up great boundaries for everybody concerned.”

Special areas dedicated to canis lupus familiaris are among the hottest feature going in parks and campgrounds today. But to do it right, you can’t think like a park director, architect or facilities and grounds manager. You have to think like a dog.

Thinking Like A Dog

The AKC can provide invaluable assistance in developing a dog park within your park system. “We have more than 5,000 affiliated clubs filled with volunteers who love to give back to the community,” says Peterson.

From design assistance to Mutt Mitts, these individuals understand the needs and temperaments of dogs. As an example, a picnic table in a dog park appears to be a nice amenity for the dog owner. It looks quite different from a dog’s perspective. Six people at a table, perhaps some with food, with six dogs running to their masters, heighten the pack instinct among the animals and may cause fighting. Benches placed 100 feet apart might be a more prudent choice.

There are some basic design features that ensure safety in a dog park, and then there are the “doggie Disneyland” features dictated by budget.

The AKC suggests the following basic features for the “ideal dog park”:

· One acre or more of land surrounded by a 4-to-6-foot-high chain-link fence.

· Fences equipped with a double-gated entry to keep dogs from escaping and to facilitate wheelchair access.

· Cleaning supplies, including covered garbage cans, waste bags and pooper-scooper stations.

· Shade and water for both dogs and owners, along with benches and tables.

· A safe, accessible location with adequate drainage and a grassy area that is routinely mowed.

· Signs that specify park hours and rules.

· Parking close to the site.

In determining a location for a park, Peterson suggests checking the toxicity of local plants. “Holly and rhododendron are toxic to dogs. Acorns can be as well,” she says. Given the difference in size, a separate area for small dogs–generally less than 20 pounds–is an advantage. Providing a variety of terrain (i.e., dirt for digging) may be beneficial as well.

When it comes to using the dog park successfully, regulations must be stated clearly. However, Peterson puts the responsibility on the owner. “It is up to the owner to know the animal and to provide proper socialization and training to ensure a good experience for all.”

AKC also provides a list of general health and safety rules:

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

· Puppies and dogs must be properly licensed, inoculated and healthy.

· Animals should wear a collar and ID tags at all times.

· Owners must clean up after their dogs.

· Dogs showing aggression towards people or other animals will be removed from the park; animals that exhibit a history of aggressive behavior will

not be permitted.

· Puppies using the park must be at least four months old.

· Owners should not leave dogs unattended. If young children are permitted in the dog park (and you might want to give this serious consideration), they should be under constant supervision.

· Dogs in heat will not be allowed inside the park.

· Dogs should be leashed before entering and prior to leaving the park.

· Violators are subject to removal from the park and suspension of park privileges.

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