Start a Dog Park

A Dog Park is a public park, typically fenced, where people and their dogs can play together. Similarly, a dog run is a smaller fenced area, created for the same use, that is often located within an existing park. As the names imply, these places offer dogs off-leash play areas where their owners can enjoy a park-like setting and the chance to socialize with other canines and their owners. Dog parks, which are sometimes managed by park users in conjunction with city or town officials, are being established all over the country and offer a wealth of benefits to dogs, dog owners and the community as a whole.  

 Steps for Creating a Dog Park 

1. Start with a core group of committed dog park activists.

Talk with a half dozen other individuals who are concerned about the lack of off-leash spaces. These may be people you already know, or you may want to put a notice in the local paper. This group may form a park association and will be responsible for meeting with public officials, making presentations, maintaining the park and defusing any problems that arise. 

2. Hold a public meeting.

Once the core group is in place, a larger community meeting will help you get the word out to supporters and solicit input and suggestions. Contact other dog owners, dog-related clubs, veterinarians and humane society and animal control officials to gather interest and support. Do so by posting, mailing or distributing notices in areas such as neighborhood bulletin boards, pet supply stores, animals hospitals and shelters. Encourage people to write letters of support to public officials and the media and to make presentations to community groups whose backing would be valuable. 

3. Educate your fellow dog owners on the need to be responsible.

The owner who neglects to pick up after his dog or who allows an aggressive or un-socialized dog to run loose can do a lot of damage to your cause and undermine your chances of success. 

4. Write a clear mission statement that details the need and purpose of the park, stressing the benefits to dog owners, their canine companions and the greater community.

The Redwood City, California Responsible Dog Owners' statement says it all: "To establish a fenced in, off-leash dog park where well-behaved canine citizens can exercise in a clean, safe environment without endangering or annoying people, property or wildlife. To develop a beautiful, well-maintained space open to all dog lovers and friends who are willing to uphold the park's rules and restrictions. To view this park as a community project, in partnership with the City of Redwood City, designed to satisfy the needs of dog-owners and non-dog owners alike." 

5. Choose a site.

The ideal area will be a safe, accessible location that takes into account the needs of park users as well as the effect the park will have on neighbors and the environment. 

6. Create a budget.

Determine how much it will cost to construct and maintain the park -- costs for grass, fences, garbage removal, lawn maintenance, drinking water, field drainage, lighting, benches and a dog waste station. Some cities are willing and able to finance a dog park; others would rather share the cost with a group committed to maintaining the park and ensuring that park rules are followed. Securing sponsors also demonstrates support from the business community. Keep in mind that, if it is within your budget to do so, sharing expenses with the city can be a great public relations tool. It shows officials that you are committed to the project, will help foster good community relations and may increase your chance for the park's approval.

Depending on your situation, you will have to determine how you will generate revenue for your budget. One possibility to consider is user fees--requiring all park users to pay an annual or daily fee. Permits could be obtained from the city or town or through the park association. Fundraisers such as a dog wash or concession sale at a local dog show can also help to generate money to cover expenses and maintenance costs. Consider the sponsorship opportunities, businesses will find numerous benefits to having their ads printed on dog waste mitts and dispensers used in the park. Finally, consider soliciting town and city sources. By convincing elected officials that there is wide support for a dog park among tax payers and voters, you may help encourage funding for the park. 

7. Solicit the input and seek the approval of significant organizations in your community.

Meet with the proposed park's neighbors before talking to city hall. As soon as someone brings up a concern, address it and try to come up with a solution. With a little good will and cooperation, neighborhood differences can usually be resolved.   


                                                                    Gathering Resources 

1. Create a Proposal.

A well-prepared presentation will include your mission statement and goals and should address issues such as location, funding, maintenance and enforcement. Committee members will be expected to establish and enforce reasonable health and safety rules for the park, and these should be included in the proposal as well. Suggestions for these guidelines can be found in the "Rules and Regulations."

2. Demonstrate Need.

Do this by gathering statistics on the dogs and dog owners in your community:

How many dogs would use a dog park? What are the demographics of the population in your city?  Who currently uses city parks -- and who doesn't? Downplay the "dog factor" and emphasize people issues. Dogs don't pay taxes, or vote. 

3. Demonstrate Support.

In many communities, organizers found that a simply worded request, circulated on a petition, helped convince city officials that there was indeed both a need and widespread public support for a responsibly run dog park.

Place petition gatherers at supermarkets, pet supply stores and other high-traffic areas. Enlist the support of local veterinarians, groomers, dog walkers and others who have a real interest in seeing a community filled with healthy, well-socialized dogs. Involve them in gathering petitions, writing letters to the editor of local papers and generally spreading the word. Organize local residents to contact their community representatives, parks department officials and media in the form of letters, e-mails and phone calls, asking for their support. Consider sending press releases to local media, explaining the how the community will benefit from a dog park and providing information about the success of existing parks in other areas. 
You'll need to get the neighbors' approval, too. Explain your proposal to them, as well as the ways that a dog park will benefit them and ask them to sign a separate petition stating that they are willing to have the park in their neighborhood.
Get to know local officials -- your city council members and the director of your department of parks and recreation.

Attend meetings, join them at fundraisers. Find out what they need from you to move the dog park forward. To help you get started, AKC's Government Relations Department can provide you with brochures offering tips on working with government officials.

When you're ready, request a hearing with city government to discuss your proposal.

Have two or three carefully selected, knowledgeable and articulate members of your group present your plan, clearly expressing its many benefits to the community and calmly addressing any concerns. Be prepared to deal with a range of concerns, including the risk of dog fights, dog bites, noise level, parking and traffic needs, liability issues and maintenance. Explain why some of these are non-issues -- the park's dogs, for example, will be well-socialized and therefore less likely to fight, bite and cause accidents in the community. Have a plan to address legitimate issues, like traffic and noise. 

4. Be Patient and Flexible.

Dealing with city government is rarely a quick process. But don't give up. Follow-through with continued letters and e-mails and be willing to work toward compromise.   


 Rules and Design 

If your efforts have been successful, the development of the dog park is moving forward. Now is the time to thank everyone who helped bring the park to fruition, including volunteers, government officials and community residents. As a result of everyone's hard work, many dog owners will soon have a new opportunity to enjoy their canine companions! 

The key to future and continued success of the dog park will lie in responsible park association members and users who strictly enforce the rules. For the most part, this will mean getting people to clean up after their dogs, quiet excessive barking and curtail any aggressive behavior. Occasionally larger issues may arise, and it will be up to you to help settle disputes in a responsive, flexible manner.

Maintenance will be another important consideration. In some areas, park associations work in conjunction with local kennel clubs and parks department officials to organize volunteer "park clean-up" days. Kennel clubs and other dog organizations may also be willing to donate funds for future supplies of dog waste bags, trash bags, dispensers, stations and cans.

The development of a successful dog park requires a great deal of planning and effort. But your involvement and dedication will hopefully lead to the ultimate reward -- the joy of creating and maintaining a special place where dogs and their families can run, romp and socialize. 

The Ideal Dog Park Should Include:

One acre or more of land surrounded by a four-to six-foot high chain-link fence. Preferably, the fence should be equipped with a double-gated entry to keep dogs from escaping and to facilitate wheelchair access.

Cleaning supplies, including dog waste stations and dog waste bags. There should be sufficient bags dispensers and trash cans to encourage owners to pick up after their pet.

Shade and water for both dogs and owners, along with benches and tables are important, and
a safe, accessible location with adequate drainage and a grassy area that is mowed routinely.

Signs that specify park hours and rules.

Parking close to the site. 

Members of a dog park committee should establish and enforce reasonable health and safety rules for the park, such as the following:

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 always wear a collar and ID tags.

Owners must clean up after their dogs. Dog Waste Stations are provided for your convenience.

Dogs showing aggression towards people or other animals will be removed from the park.  

Animals who 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 their dogs unattended or allowed out of sight. If young children are permitted in the dog park, they too should be under constant supervision.

Dogs in heat will not be allowed inside the park.

Owners must always carry a leash. Dogs should be leashed before entering and prior to leaving the park.

Violators will be subject to removal from the park and suspension of park privileges. 

Conclusion: With good planning, group input and a focus on your goals, planning and establishing a dog park will be a fun and productive project that enhances your community.  

Good Luck and Thank you.