How to create a great dog run - how does this one score?

We found this handy guide - "20 Tips for Creating Successful Dog Parks In Your Community", at - here is the entire list of 20, with the intro. Against each of the 20 "Tips", we scored the proposed dog run at Astro Park. Let's see how it shapes up!


Park managers today are more frequently being asked to consider dedicating a portion of their parks to be used as off-leash areas for people and their pets. While not always without controversy, these areas can easily become one of the most popular areas within a park system.  Good planning will help you eliminate or reduce many of the problems associated with creating dog parks.

Here are the 20 most common considerations to address as your community moves towards opening a very successful dog park:

Topic Description (taken verbatim from the "20 tips" document, SAP highlighting added) SAP Assessment of compliance of this dog run proposal Score
1. Big Benefits to the Community Dog parks are truly a multi-generational park activity for all ages. Dog parks are more for people than for dogs, despite what opponents say. Dog parks attract the adult park users who vote to support parks, and who are more vocal in the community. Relatively low construction costs and low maintenance costs yield the greatest amount of recreation opportunities for the investment. Low (if any) user cost. Dog parks provide outdoor exercise for the majority of park users, which are those who do not participate in organized sports.
2. Community Support Informal groups, petitions, and 501C-3 non-profit groups promoting dog parks in your community can generate interest to successfully work within the system to create and support local dog parks.  However, overzealous or disorganized groups can also quickly sink a well engineered plan for a dog park.  Groups must learn to work with local agencies, instead of trying to always fight them, in order to be successful. Donations of labor, materials or funding will make officials more cooperative. We hope this isn’t an encouragement to bribe officials to get the dog run in! Perhaps this group has indeed been “overzealous” in pushing for so many dog runs in so many locations.
3. Volunteer Groups Volunteers can be a tremendous asset to the dog park to help stretch already strained maintenance budgets. Projects that volunteers can participate in can include raking leaves, spreading surfacing material, installing or repairing fencing, installing agility and exercise equipment, brush clearing and more. Advance sign-ups are critical so that volunteers commit to specific times, and helps ensure volunteers actually show up when expected! Volunteer groups can be expected to self police the area for trash, dog waste, and to replace pickup bags in the dispensers. We have yet to see any of these commitments and advance sign-ups or indeed assignment of specific responsibilities to volunteers. This “Volunteer Maintenance Model” has proven to be underperforming at other Oakland dog parks, with warnings from users about dog waste “piles”. Score 3/10
4. Know the Users Selling the concept to a reluctant community can be a challenge. However your dog park will serve a wide variety of residents. There are nearly 73 million dogs in the US and 59% of the households have at least one dog. Most park facilities are currently geared towards a narrow range of users such as ages 2 to 12 for playgrounds, or ages 12 to 35 for most ball fields. Dog parks are one of the few multi-generational park activities, that offer recreation for almost every age and ability level. Based on the number of park users and initial cost, a dog park provides more recreation opportunities per dollar spent on construction and maintenance than any other park activity. In this case, there is no “construction” cost required to set up the Astro Park site as a multi-user facility: it’s already enjoyed by thousands of local residents and Oaklanders of all ages for its vistas and openness, as well as for what they can do when they step upon its grass. Score 2/10
5. Choosing a Location As in real estate, a good location is a key to success. While neighbor’s concerns are sometimes over-exaggerated, they still need to be addressed. There may be concerned about barking, loose dogs, smells and inadequate parking. All of these issues can be resolved. Once established however, a nearby dog park becomes a huge recreational asset to the families nearby as well as the entire community, sometimes even increasing property values. Be sure to avoid locating dog parks adjacent to schools or playgrounds, to reduce potential conflicts with children! Fortunately, dog parks do not always require prime property, and many great dog parks have been located on top of old garbage dumps, power line right-of-ways and along freeway sound walls-areas which may not have been valued for other uses. Inadequate parking. Check. Directly adjacent to playground. Check. Local business owners declare property values will fall. Check. Property is already prime, and indeed valued. This plan seems to run afoul of most of the “Choosing a Location” gotchas. Score 0/10
6. Allow Adequate Space One of the biggest mistakes can be not allocating enough space for off-leash use. The popularity of most dog parks may require a minimum area of 1/2 an acre or more, although many smaller urban dog parks are also very successful.. Many successful dog parks however have been created by re-purposing existing hockey rinks, ball fields, lawn bowling or tennis courts, or equestrian arenas, even if it is just temporary or seasonal. Overgrown, neglected and unmanaged areas can become great dog parks. Inadequate parking can be a big problem especially on weekends, so even unpaved overflow parking spaces should be considered. This planned dog run skims the minimum size this group allows (only half of what the AKC recommends). And today’s Astro Park area is not overgrown, neglected or unmanaged. “Unpaved overflow parking spaces” sounds like taking over “the rest of the park” for parking. No way! Score 0/10
7. Overcoming Legalities Some communities today still have archaic ordinances forbidding pets to be off-leash in public areas. This means that city government may first need to amend local laws to allow your do park to exist. Instead of attempting to amend your community’s whole dog ordinance, consider requesting a special use exemption. A temporary “special use” authorization may help to at least get your park established, and no elected official will jeopardize his career by later attempting to close a popular dog park. Indeed yes, the time to call a halt to this plan is *now*, once the concrete has been poured and the grass removed, there is no way back.
8. Professional Design Assistance Consider using the talents of an experienced Dog Park Consultant or Landscape Architecture firm to help plan your dog park. They know how to best utilize a space, taking into consideration weather, access, utilities, drainage, vegetation, visibility, parking, and other factors. They are also very experienced at presenting plans to the community and to public officials, and can act as an important third party advocate for the park. The book “How to Build a Dog Park” by Susyn Stecchi, can be an invaluable resource. No doubt various outsiders would love to offer their professional consultation services to the people of Oakland. It’s called “growing their business”.
9. Fencing Good fences make good dog parks. Fences should be five feet or higher and be absolutely escape proof. It is smart to bury several inches of the fence beneath the surface, since some dogs have an ability to find any possible weakness in the confinement. Multiple entries into the park will help reduce worn areas. It is very important to have self-closing double gates with a 10’ transition space between the gates, to reduce the possibility of dogs escaping unexpectedly from the fenced off-leash area. Closely spaced wood slats in the fence between adjacent dog park sections will reduce visibility between sections to eliminate dogs from fence fighting. Don’t use narrow openings at the entrance which may prohibit wheelchairs or strollers from entering the park. Avoid creating any 90 degree corners in your fence system which can be used by aggressive dogs to trap unwilling victim dogs. Don’t forget to include a large maintenance entrance for large equipment like mowers. Longer, linear parks are better for playing fetch with sticks or balls. Create smaller areas for small or shy dogs. Typical installed costs are about $25-$30/linear foot for heavy duty chain link fencing, 6’ high, with gates and accessories. It is not known how much fence is planned to be buried underneath the ground to prevent or discourage burrowing. But we do know that the above-ground portion is planned for only 4ft. Clearly below the “recommended” height and certainly not “absolutely escape proof”. There would not be “multiple entries into the park” as small and large dogs get one entry each. There are no plans for “closely spaced wood slats” between the small and large dog areas, that we can see. The current plan contains no fewer than FIVE 90 degree corners. However, the maintenance entrances are there for the pickup trucks for waste (no need for mowers, as no grass!). Score 1/10
10. Water Drinking fountains are absolutely essential in any dog park for the health of both dogs and people after exercising. Without drinking fountains, users may be forced to bring buckets of standing water, which can be unsanitary, can spread disease to other dogs, or can create mosquito havens. Consider water spray features or dog wash stations, but ensure you have provided proper drainage. Mud quickly becomes a huge problem in dog parks. Irrigation systems can help maintain turf grass in any climate, and reduces smells from urine especially in arid climates. Consider two adjacent drains to prevent flooding of one drain gets clogged with dog hair. We have not yet found detailed plans of the fountains and drains. If anyone knows where there are some, please pass them on via our Facebook page (Save Astro Park).
11. Exercise Equipment Without exercise equipment for dogs, your park is much like a park without a children’s playground. You would have just a fenced area. Exercise components are for people to exercise in a non-competitive environment…with their dogs! Choose components that offer a variety of activities like ramps, tunnels, jumps and weave poles to accommodate the many different skill levels of both the dogs and their owners. Equipment can be in its own area, or be an integral part of the main play area. Arrange components 15-25’ apart from each other, and do not install components in a circle, but arrange them in an evenly spaced but random fashion which allows users to create a different course each time they visit the park. These activities make your dog park more of a destination and will increase the time users stay at the park. Because dog urine is highly corrosive, activities need to made from rustproof materials like aluminum, galvanized steel, plastic or stainless steel. All hardware should be stainless steel and avoid any products made from brittle PVC pipe or lumber. Public parks are also vandalism prone, so choose heavy duty materials that have been created specifically for public dog parks. While not intended for children, unsupervised children sometimes play on dog park equipment, so it needs to be extremely durable and safe. For the safety of dogs and park users, immediately remove any unauthorized equipment. Injuries caused by unauthorized but condoned equipment quickly can lead to expensive lawsuits. No known plans for “exercise equipment”. Both its presence and its absence seem to cause problems... what would be the manner of any future public consultation should dog run users wish to have some installed?
12. Park Furniture Dog parks help build strong community and social ties and are fantastic places to meet neighbors and other interesting dog owners.  Consider arranging your benches in an L or U shape to encourage conversations. Tables with a single center post will avoid the effects of dog urine. Locate benches away from congested entrance areas to better distribute the use through the park. Aluminum frames are more resistant to corrosion from dog urine. Allow at least a 6’ clear runway along the fence for unimpeded access for dogs to run the fence line. Climbing areas like mounds, hills and contours can add interest but can also became erosion problems. Large boulders can create mountains for dogs to play “King of the Hill” We have not seen plans for benches or tables. It would be useful to know if they will be there from the start, or will be added casually, and allowed to decay on-site. Score [unknown]
13. Accessibility for All Off-leash areas should have a wide gates and accessible surfacing materials to allow wheelchair and stroller access. Besides paved surfaces, other materials such as rubber matting and certified engineered wood fiber are considered to be ADA accessible, so ther [sic] are no barriers into or through he [sic] dog park. Our research suggests that the wood chip proposed for this dog run would not meet ADA accessibility requirements: disabled human users would be confined to small zones near the congested gate areas, and unable to move about to handle any issues with their dog interacting with others. Score 3/10
14. User Control Since many communities restrict use to their residents only or to those with passes, some form of easy to monitor control system should be used. Dog tags, parking passes, card swipes, electronic pay stations, and radio frequency ID(RFID) tags have all been used successfully to help monitor users. In some cases user fees are charged, but those fees should only be used for dog park maintenance and improvements, instead of going into the city’s general funds. No restriction, no monitoring, no controls, and no revenue to the city from use of the dog run, to use in handling any liability cases or maintenance needs. Score 0/10
15. Sanitation Pickup stations and receptacles are absolutely critical for a clean facility. Stations should dispense individual bags stapled to a card instead of on a roll, since kids will take the rolled bags and stream your whole roll of expensive biodegradable bags across the park. Receptacles can be located on the outside of the fences to make trash pickup easier for maintenance staff.  Several small receptacles will make unlading easier then large receptacles. Consider signs and/or color coding your receptacles for specific uses like “Trash Only” or “Dog Waste Only”. In-ground trash receptacles are planned for the park. Unclear whether all dog owners will bring the trash to the entrance gates for disposal, but if they do this is handled.Score 9/10
16. Lighting Timed lighting helps to extend the hours of use, but consider using the services of a sports lighting design specialist to avoid spill lighting into the neighborhood. No plans or budget to improve any lighting in the area. Current street lighting points at the street, not at the park. This creates potential for unseen and uncollected dog waste during dawn, dusk and evening periods, and security hazards to humans dealing with criminals or aggressor dogs in late hours. Score 2/10
17. Restroom Facilities While dogs are not too particular about where they go, their owners will expect some sort of facilities at the dog park, even if it is just a portable toilet. This becomes critical at larger destination parks. Video cameras on the building (even fake ones, or just signs that say video cameras are being used) can greatly help to reduce vandalism in your park. The presence of dogs in parks generally greatly reduces vandalism, despite creating much higher park usage. The plan is for human users to use the existing public restroom block next to the library. We are checking the ADA compliance of this restroom block. We are also concerned as to where owners will tie up their dogs while they are using the restroom and whether tied-up dogs here will disrupt the peace of library users. Score [unknown]
18. Surfacing While grass is ideal, it will become worn out by enthusiastic canines.  Consider reinforcing continually worn out areas with asphalt, concrete, crushed rock, decomposed granite, artificial turf, tanbark, hog fuel, rubberized grid, or a certified engineered wood fiber such as what is approved for children’s playgrounds. Wood fiber interlocks together to stay in place far better than ordinary chips, and will be wheelchair accessible while eliminating the mud problem. Depth should be 3-6”, but never use a GeoTextile or landscape fabric since digging dogs will soon be tearing it up, and dragging it throughout the park. Since excited dogs can quickly destroy the grass adjacent to the fenceline, consider creating a gravel perimeter track, and only try to maintain the turfgrass in the middle of the park. Plan is for woodchips. Not clear what will be done adjacent to the fenceline for all the running. Score [unknown]
19. Shade Shade shelters or gazebos are highly recommended to help shield users from rain, UV rays, hot sun, even in the northern climates. Fabric shade shelters are quite inexpensive and may not even require a building permit. However, the fabric roof needs to be removed seasonally in locations where snow is likely. Larger hard-roofed park shelters are a more permanent solution, and can become an important gathering and social focal point in your park. No plan for any shelter from rain or sun at this point. We can anticipate this would be a future demand after the dog run is installed - seeking funding from the city and also further degrading the sight lines across the park and baking in even further the irremovable nature of the run if it arrives here. It would be more helpful if the dog run plan described all the potential developments that are likely to come over the years in this space once it is given over to use as a dog run facility. Score 0/10
20. Signage Good signage can be an effective user education tool, and bad signage will be completely ignored. Signs should have friendly and colorful graphics, and the text should take a positive tone instead of a long list of “Don’ts”. Keep the rules as brief as possible and provide a phone number to contact parks staff in case there is a maintenance, or other problem at the park. Use materials like fiberglass and lexan that are easily cleaned of spray paint or markers, since any flat surface can become a graffiti target. Fast removal sends a signal to vandals that graffiti is not tolerated in the community, and shows park users that you care about the park. Park users will tend to self maintain the park more when they think the park operators care. We have not seen the plans for what signage will be installed. Who will man the phone number for reporting problems? What will be the turnaround time to remove graffiti from dog run signage, and who will pay for its removal? Score [unknown]
These tips should help make your dog park more successful, from concept through the grand opening. If you have any additional suggestions on how to create better dog parks, please send your tips to us at      © Dog-On-It-Parks Inc, 2010 "

So, friends of Lake Merritt, how are we doing? An overall average score of 2/10. Hardly set up for success then as a "very successful dog park", are we?