According to Wikipedia, “dog parks” have become the fastest growing segment of city parks. Perhaps this is because there are now more households with dogs than there are households with children; dog parks, in effect, are a kind of playground for pups. This makes landscaping a dog park an interesting challenge, considering landscaping contractors typically design with people, rather than pets, in mind. But recently, landscapers have acknowledged how important doggy-welfare is to modern families, and landscaping designs have been optimized to accommodate the needs of dogs. Dog parks are the pinnacle of this accommodation: they provide outdoor space specifically tailored for fetching, playing, running, and jumping.
More and more cities are installing dog parks in residential neighborhoods and existing green spaces. Landscaping contractors should note this trend and be ready to meet the demand. Designing a landscape for dogs may be a bit different than our usual projects, but most of the principles remain the same. Here are some ideas to start:
Create Ample Space
When designing a dog park, keep in mind that many different kinds of dogs are going to be sharing this space together. When handled carelessly, this can create serious problems. Consider the great variety of dog breeds and personality types that are typically represented in a residential neighborhood: big dogs and small dogs, shy dogs and outgoing dogs, dogs on leashes and dogs that go without. Putting all of these types in a small, fenced-in area easily leads to conflict. Instead, create a dog parks that has separate designated spaces: a space for leashed dogs, a space for unleashed dogs, a play area, and a “special use” area where small dogs and shy dogs can rest. All of these designated spaces should be large enough so that individual dogs can move around and play without becoming claustrophobic or territorial.
Landscapers also have to create space in dog parks for people. Dog owners need a place where they can comfortably monitor their dogs and intervene if necessary, and many existing dog parks fulfill this need by including benches, tables, and resting areas within the park. As an added benefit, creating spaces for people in dog parks helps offset the chance of a dog fight.
Think Creatively About Play
Dogs love running around, but they also appreciate more challenging forms of play. Likewise, dog owners want their pups to have a variety of activities available to them when they go to the dog park. Including an obstacle course, different kinds of terrain, and objects to jump over and interact with in a dog park design helps dogs play more creatively. It also adds interest—people are more likely to bring their dogs back to a dog park that is interesting and entertaining. Give the dogs and their owners something special to look forward to; something that wouldn’t be in a typical backyard.
Many dog park designers are now building water terrains: pools and ponds that water-loving dogs can splash around in. Though water fountains are a necessity at all dog parks, added water features are a creative benefit for dog breeds that love to swim, and they can help keep large dogs cool on hot days.
Get Tough on Weeds and Debris
When it comes to weeds, what may be a minor inconvenience to humans can be deadly to dogs. Several plants, such as the sago palm, are highly toxic to most breeds when ingested. While maintaining a dog park, take extra care to remove all weeds, and research anything you’re planning on planting to make sure it has no toxic effects.
Trash and litter left behind by people can be just as damaging to dogs as toxic plants are. Keeping a dog park clean of litter, feces, and debris is integral to upholding health standards and maintaining a clean play space.
Don’t Skimp on Shade
On that note, dog parks need plants and trees to be successful—just like any green space. Trees and shrubs provide shade and shelter to dogs who want to take a break from the sun. Trees, shrubs, and flowers are also important to human guests, who value green spaces for their natural beauty and relaxing atmosphere. Landscapers should include shaded spaces in every area of the park, paired with easy access to water fountains and bathroom stations. Including these features will help keep dogs safe and make clean-up easier in the long run.