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July 2016: You Asked.

How can our community plan for and regulate dog parks?

Our residents have expressed interest in establishing a dog park within the city. How have other communities planned for and regulated this use?

We Answered.

The past several decades have seen a steady increase in urban dog ownership as well as in a coincident demand for dog parks. In many communities, dog owners make up a significant portion of public park users. Consequently, owners often feel like park departments should provide space for their dogs’ recreational needs in the same way that many city parks have dedicated ball fields, skate parks, and playgrounds for other user groups.

Despite the demand for dog parks, these uses are not always popular neighbors. Dog play areas can be loud, odorous, and alternately frightening and captivating for small children. Ideally, dog park site design should consider both the needs of the dogs and the concerns of adjacent residents and other park users. A number of cities have experimented with a variety of off-leash policies and programs, including scheduled designation of park areas for off-leash activities, but fenced, designated dog parks seem to be the preferred option to minimize user conflicts and mitigate potential nuisance effects. 

The basic requirements from the dog park user’s perspective are adequate shade, fresh water, and site drainage. To minimize neighbor conflicts and public safety concerns, dog parks should ideally be buffered with dense vegetation and secured with fences and gates of sufficient height to prevent escape. Finally, the ground cover in a dog park must be conducive both to the dogs’ need to run and dig and to the park managers’ need to protect both the natural environment as well as the aesthetics of the recreation area.

A number of communities have conducted feasibility studies or background research on dog park planning and development best practices, and some have adopted dog park master plans or policies. Those jurisdictions that have designated and operate dog parks often adopt rules of use and operation for dogs parks within their municipal codes.

Resource List

Alexandria (Virginia), City of. 2016. City Code. Title 6, Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Activities; Chapter 1, General Provisions; Section 6-1-2.2, Same—Dog Exercise Areas; Designation by City Manager; Prohibited Conduct.

Ann Arbor (Michigan), City of, Park Advisory Commission Dog Park Subcommittee. 2014. Recommendations and Guidelines for Dog Park Site Selection, Design, Operations and Maintenance.

Bellevue (Washington), City of, Parks and Community Services. 2009. Off-Leash Dog Study. Draft.

Denver (Colorado), City of, Parks and Recreation. 2010. Dog Park Master Plan & Policy Recommendations.

District of Columbia, Department of Parks and Recreation. n.d. Dog Parks: Design Standards and Process.

Dolnick, Fay. 2001. “Doggedly Pursuing Solutions: Planning and Regulating Dog Parks.” Zoning News, September.

Gillette, Felix. 2004. “Who Let the Dog Parks Out?” Landscape Architecture, January.

Harnik, Peter and Cerise Bridges. 2005. Creating Dog Parks—Without Rancor. Washington, D.C.: Trust for Public Lands.

Krohe, James, Jr. 2005. “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Planning, February.

Maplewood (Missouri), City of. 2012. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 36, Parks and Recreation; Article IV, Dog Parks.

Salt Lake (Utah), County of, Parks and Recreation. 2008. Salt Lake County Off-Leash Dog Park Master Plan.

San Francisco (California), City and County of. 2002. San Francisco Recreation & Park Department Final Dog Policy.

Stickney (Illinois), Village of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 12, Animals; Article I, In General; Section 12-23, Dog Parks.

Wenatchee (Washington), City of, Parks and Recreation. 2010. Wenatchee Dog Off Leash Area Potential Study.

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