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 Dog Parks, Dog Runs and Off Leash Play

 

What is a Dog Park?

: Please forgive a stupid question, but what exactly is a "dog park"?

Explore some of the dog park /dog run web sites and you will see that the term applies to quite a variety of circumstances. Actually in some places most parks don't allow dogs even on leash, so if one park pops up where dogs are allowed it gets designated by the users as a "dog park" even if the creators did not have that in mind at all. At its simplest the term "dog park" generally is used where the design of the park, and its amenities make it clear that dogs are invited, not just permitted. Most people, however, use "dog park" to mean a place dogs can play off leash.

: Of course I realize that it is a park that is especially for dogs, but I would like the answers to the following questions :

: Is the park enclosed?

Some are, some are not. Some are as small as a quarter acre; some are 50 acres or much more.

: Is there an entrance fee?

Sometimes. In many states "recreational use immunity" protects landowners from liability only if no fee is charged. It pays to check this out. Sometimes fees are assessed on an annual instead of a per use basis. Fees are most common with privately owned parks.

: How are dog fights avoided?

Dog fights can and do occur. The most successful dog parks are the ones with an active user group. An active users group can reduce the risk of dog fights significantly. They step in and encourage or demand (as the case requires) leashes or removal of aggressive dogs. Most dogs are not aggressive because they are not on their own territory. The dogs that use it most successfully are dogs that were socialized very young and had good experiences as they visited. Depend upon and learn from the dog savvy people to see indications of an impending squabble. Redirecting the dog's attention at exactly the right moment can make all the difference. Your tone of voice and your body language will also make a big difference. Keep calm, don't praise fearful or aggressive behavior by "soothing" the dog with petting and cooing sounds.

: Are the parks privately owned or public property?

Some are public, some are private. Insurance can be a problem for private parks. Public resistance to spending taxpayer money is a problem for public parks.

: What are the typical problems in starting a dog park?

"Locally we are trying to form a group to promote a dog park. What we are finding to be the road block with every authority we approach (vet school, park district) is the problem of feces disposal. They are concerned, rightly, about spreading disease if it isn't picked up and then how to enforce pick up rules. Has your group had to address these concerns? What is your proposed solution?"

In all of the dog parks I have visited the problem of feces disposal goes something like this:

1. Someone provides pickup bags. Usually it is the user group supporting the park. They raise the money through donations or fundraisers.

2. The user group tries to have someone present during the most used times. That someone spends a lot of time putting on a smile and educating. With time and effort and encouragement visitors learn that they all have a stake in seeing that the park is kept clean. Good signs help. Thus, every visitor is encouraged to speak up when someone misses a poop. The approach is to assume either that the person missed the event (very often true) or that they simply don't know better. As odd as it may seem people really may not know how to find the bags, how to use them, and how badly it can screw things up if people don't do it. They may not understand that other people - not paid staff - will have to do it if they don't (or risk losing the park). Community peer pressure. When tactfully done this works for 90-95% of visitors. It is especially effective in the smaller parks where there is no place for the careless and clueless to be completely unobserved.

The user group takes responsibility for picking up after the clueless and the careless. Many of us have the philosophy that we pick up whatever we see because surely we must have missed our own dogs poop time or two ourselves.

The agency providing the land provides trash containers, and pickup. (At least in all the ones I visited).

How Do I Start A Dog Park?

Dog Owner Group Needed

You will need a committed dog owner group. They will need to spend time and energy educating dog owners and even cleaning up after the ignorant, clueless and careless. In our local dog park the regulars will politely point out to someone that the "missed" their dog's poop. Actually with all the activity half the time it is true. So most of us make it a policy to pick up whatever we see on the theory that we probably missed our own dogs at least once, and besides if we don't we will suffer loss of the privilege.

Most user groups have special event days devoted to sprucing up the park and generating a community spirit among the users.

Promote Recreational Benefits for Humans

In general you will get more support if you focus on the recreational aspects for humans, rather than dogs. Describe things such as:
show how it is a wonderful opportunity for people who share an interest to socialize while engaged in their favorite activity,
how much pleasure it gives people to watch their dogs at play,
how it contributes to their physical fitness programs to be able to exercise with their dogs,
how it improves their mental state. Anyway, I can't tell you how impatient some taxpayers will get at the idea of spending tax money on dogs but spending taxes on people is another matter.

Note that it is common to plan areas that are exclusively for the use of people engaged in a particular sport: tennis, basketball, baseball, football . . . all these activities tend by their nature to exclude persons not involved in the activity. The thing is they all provide exercise and social activity desired by the participants. People enjoy watching their dogs at play, they are more motivated to exercise when they can take their dogs, they like recreating with other dog owners . . . think up more.

Good park planning can allow apparently incompatible activities to occur near each other, without interference.

Promote Responsible Dog Ownership

Ideally your dog owner group will show its commitment to responsible dog ownership by sponsoring activities such as Canine Good Citizen® Certificate. If it is possible for your group to offer free or very low cost manners training you will find it well worth your while in achieving your goal.

Prepare a "Show and Tell"

Make a field trip to some successful dog parks, make videotape if it is very far, if practicable take elected officials on a follow-up field trip. I took a non-doggy person to one and she was amazed and full of questions. She volunteered to talk with a reluctant board member to relate her positive experience. If you have any within suitable driving distance consider a field trip for anyone who may be involved in reviewing the idea.

Take the Dog Intolerant Into Account

Some owners with very friendly dogs get impatient with people who don't like their friendly dogs running up to them. I understand feeling slightly insulted when someone doesn't like your friendly harmless dog. Still allowing even your friendly dog to touch people who have not invited it is one reason leash laws get so firmly established. Everyone understands that even if its cute it is not appropriate for even a youngster to run around kissing everyone in sight. The same is true for dogs. Hey I wish everyone were dog tolerant. They aren't and they have the power to affect me. In promoting a dog park it helps to keep it in mind.

Taking these feelings into account means that either the use area should be designed to reduce or prevent such unwanted interactions, or dog owners must be educated not to allow them to occur. For example, the East Bay Regional Parks District in California has a very liberal dog policy. Dogs are generally allowed off leash on all trails, except those near water (more sensitive wildlife areas). A very common complaint by non-doggie park users is being approached by an off leash dog. This can ruin the day of the other park visitor who either does not know the dog's intentions or is just plain frightened of dogs. These complaints threaten the policy, yet the circumstances do not have to happen. I have gotten many grateful smiles by signaling my dog to "down" whenever I see other people on the trail. She does so at any distance, and that is what "under control" means.

Where Do I Get More Information?

Please don't write me asking if I know of a dog park near you.

I don't collect that kind of information. The links on the pages below do collect that kind of information. If someone has submitted the information, then they will have it. You can be rest assured that nothing is being hidden from you.

So You Want To Build A Dog Park? So You Want To Build A Dog Park?

Visiting The Dog Park - Having Fun, Staying Safe Visiting The Dog Park - Having Fun, Staying Safe

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Copyright © 1998-2003, Diane Blackman     Created: October 28, 1998     Updated November 12, 2007    

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