Best Dog Park In The World


Here are my thoughts about dog park design. This is the result of 10 years of watching and playing with dogs in 10 dog parks in middle of the San Francisco Peninsula where land for dog parks is limited. I originally submitted this to the officials now at work on a new dog park in San Mateo, CA at the new Seal Point Park by the San Francisco Bay. This will be the culmination of many meetings and hard work of a lot of local dog folk who worked hard to get to breaking ground soon. Maybe October 2004 opening? Make it so Maggie.

These principles are based on dog parks in an urban setting and may need to be modified for areas where land is plentiful and differing from flat earth. Parks where water is one edge of the park such as a lake or ocean have other considerations than many of those presented here.

Dog park Entrance: To prevent fights between entering dogs and inmates, the dog park entrance should be far from the main center of dog activity. The main center of dog activity is usually a bare spot in an all grass dog park. This design is discussed further in the section below on separation of large dogs from small dogs.

Dog Park Gates: The entrance should involve a double gate design to minimize escapes from the park and also to prevent fights at the entrance by inmates and newcomers. The entrance location is the single most important consideration to prevent the gathering at the gate spate. Just as a dog will rush to greet you at the door, dogs in a dog park will rush to the gate to greet all new arrivals. Often the greetings break into fights. This can be lessened by locating the gate far from the center of the park where most dogs play.

Dog Park Gates in Large and Small Parks: In large parks, the location may be less critical. A park with 10 to 20 acres would rarely be full unless it is located near a major metropolitan area. Gate location should be near the parking lot so that the inmates don't have a chance to watch the new arrivals for too long as they approach the entrance. For a rectangular park, a location might be on one side of the park. Gate location in corners don't work as dogs can easily be cornered; but gates along the side don't have the "corner effect". Dogs entering now have 180 degrees to travel vs. 90 degrees in a corner entrance. A double gate is a must and the entrance vestibule of the double gate might work better if it were out side the DP. That way the entrance is less prominent. If corner location is the only option, the Safety Gate for Dog Parks design may help stop fights.

Surface: Decomposed granite (DG) is the most durable dog park surface. DG needs no water except to manage dust in high wind or high dog activity. Water requirement for this is less in the rainy season. The park in Belmont has a 3 times per week schedule for watering. DG surface now has the "green" factor of using less energy than any other choice. DG is weathered granite and this material is non water absorbing. DG varies in particle size from sandy to a larger particle size up to 3/8 inch material. DG is easily brushed from a dog's fur. DG is more sterile than soil as it is devoid of organic material and microbial life present in soil that will support the growth of grass.

Redwood Shores Dog Park, the new dog park in Burlingame and Mitchell Park in Palo Alto have areas of grass surface. In these parks, grass is losing in the dog vs. grass arena. Mitchell's grass is now thin all over. Redwood Shores Dog Park has all DG at the entrance of the big dog section and extends into the park where traffic is greatist. A grass border surrounds the DG area further removed from the entrance gate. The grass in the small dog is doing well area but even this small dog section has surface damage. In the big dog area, the grass is doing well around the edges. On the negative side, complaints are many about small flying insects in the grassy area in this park during the warmer months. The new dog park in Burlingame is a mix of DG and grass. The grass in the park is thin all over except at the little used western end. The loser in this surface category is the all grass San Bruno Dog Park where the grass surface is swamp like in the rainy season from poor drainage.

The impasse with grass:

Grass needs more water.

Grass adds mowing and maintenance costs.

Grass is not compatible with traffic. Or few dogs gives good grass.

Grass is incompatible with dog urine or few dogs gives good grass. A grass surface in a dog park will be OK if the park is as large as an 18 hole golf course and has similar foot traffic. Devots are not as bad as dog digging and golfers go in the bushes rather than anywhere on good grass like dogs.

Separation of large dog area from small dog area: The most important design for parks having small and large dog sections is to plan a center of activity in the big dog area removed from the little dog area. The design at Redwood Shores works well. In this park, the double gated entrance area is large enough to prepare your dog for the entrance and acts in part as a space barrier between the two areas. The parks at Belmont, Foster City and Mountain View have no space separation. I personally favor a space separation of some design between big and little dogs. Were I a little guy, I wouldn't want to be around big dogs on my day out. Do little dogs think this? Ask them.

Access: Belmont dog park flunks the ADA rules. Only those with superior wheel chair skills would bother going there if so disabled. Mitchell Park has special parking rules depending on school activity. In that case, parking is far from the park and the park path goes through squirrel territory so your dog might enjoy that. The lot at Mitchell adjacent to the park is off limits during school hours but is used after school lets out and on weekends. To get to the entrance, entering dogs are on display as they walk the entire length of the short side of this rectangular shaped dog park. It's often a noisy display as the inmates greet more of their kind. At Mitchell the dog park is next to the Stevenson House, a low income retirement facility and the barking led to a showdown at city hall in Palo Alto in 1995 from complaints. A better design would have the parking next to the entrance as at Burlingame's new dog park or like Foster City. Redwood Shores Dog Park also has parking next to the entrance. The Sunnyvale dog park has a high fence which is covered with additional wood slates that further restrict visibility through the fence. So if a promenade is the only access, then the Sunnyvale example might work to prevent commotions. The other solution is to have the center of dog activity far from the entrance. Again Mitchell Park dog park is an example of the center of activity close to the dog park entrance. There are 3 benches next to the dog entrance and dog and people fights with name calling are common. Newcomers are often put off by the antics of dogs committed to defending the park.


Other design thoughts

Drinking water for children and adults as well as dogs.

2. Rest room accommodations close by. Of 10 parks in the area, only 3 have rest rooms nearby (Belmont, Mountain View and Burlingame).

3. A covered gazebo or ample shade. Mountain View is the first and only park with a covered structure but it is the only shade. Trees at Hoover Park make this park in PA shady all day long; too bad it's so small. Trees are ideal for with their shade comes the ability to adsorb surface moisture by their root systems and add aesthetic appeal to a barren strip of DG.

4. A cooling off cage. The Burlingame dog park has the only structure designed to confine bad actors. This kind of confinement for trouble makers is an alternative to park banishment for rough necks. Mitchell Park has a structure that has been used for this kind of discipline but it's use for this purpose is unintended not allowed.

5. Benches. Wood is preferable to metal as it is not as damaging to dogs that run into them. The surface should be incapable of allowing a dogs limb to get stuck in a narrow slot typical in the design of park benches.

6. Plastic chairs: there are a number of new births of plastic chairs at Redwood Shores dog park I suspect were donations (?). These are handy to move around if you want to sit with "the gang" while you watch your dog. Or you can move a chair to an unused part of the park to play with your dog only.

7. Fences: 6 feet or more. Dogs can easily jump the fences of most parks I've been to except Sunnyvale, San Bruno, Foster City and Burlingame.

8. Bulletin board that allows users to post notices instead of the key only boards at Belmont and Redwood Shores.

9. Accessible phone. This might seem superfluous in the Valley to some but they never come to you when you need them. Dog parks are not safe areas for children under 8 or the elderly as both can be seriously injured by spontaneous high levels of dog activity. A 75 lb. dog running at 40 M.P.H. has the same amount of force as a 2000 lb. car at about 10 M.P.H. Children can easily get life long trauma by being in the way of a dog running for a tennis ball.

10. Hours of use: If it's in an isolated area the hours can be longer especially if additional night lighting is installed. Foster City closes 10 PM. What about 24/7 with maintenance closings? This is a hard sell to most government bodies as all kinds of bogey men arise like phantoms of any number of evils for any 24/7 area.

11. A well designed watering area: One design at Redwood Shores that works is a 4-5 Ft. concrete square surrounded by a border of 1-2 inch pebbles and some kind of metal or plastic(?) partition from the grass surface. However the same watering area design at this park at the entrance end is a mess. So this design does have a failure factor that may limit it's use.The good watering area is at the highest portion of the park and against the fence separating the park from Radio Road. To refill the bowl it's an easy toss to the low bushes through the fence or into the street if you think perhaps that the close bushes getting more water might lead to an unbalanced ecosystem. The fountain at the other end is cornered with one side being the double gate area and the other is the separation fence for the little and big dogs. The fence to throw the water over or rinse the bowl is +6 ft. away over usually muddy terrain. Finally it is the lowest point of the park. The simple fix is to move the watering area 6 ft. so that the little dog side is the same but now on the other side of the fence is the lagoon. In that position, water would drain directly to the lagoon from any over flow at the bowl and dirty water can be added to the lagoon or to the soil on the bank of the lagoon if you're worried about polluting the lagoon with bugs in the dog water. So soil bacteria would gobble up any bad guys.

12. Pooper Scooper for clean up: and a roll of plastic bags for fecal removal with waste bins closely spaced. The big loser here is Mitchell Park as the city refuses to pick up from containers on the inside. This means a long walk to the dumpster outside the park (you can toss it in without having to exit the park).

13. Dog management: everyone's nightmare is bad fight. High pressure water noses are one simple and safe method. This was suggested by Michael Heppler in the south bay who was planning a doggie day care center. Any successful plan still means moving faster to a control point than the dogs are at fighting. The time it takes from peace to fight is far shorter than the average persons response time capability even for the trained. Water bottles are for some standard equipment for controlling dog skirmishes.

14. Dog limit: Most parks have a 3 dog limit. This is rarely inforced and a number of dog walkers in the area break this rule but there have been few bad consequences.

15. Dog park shape: rectangular or square, flat or hilly.

Dog Runs on the San Francisco Peninsula

 Belmont, CA Dog Park PHOTO, Small Dog Part  Burlingame, CA Dog Park PHOTO
  Foster City Dog Park PHOTO. Small Dog Part  Mountain View Dog Park PHOTO Small Dog Part
 Palo Alto Hoover Park Dog Park  Palo Alto- Mitchell Park Dog Park PHOTO
 Redwood Shores Dog Park PHOTO Small Dog Part  San Bruno, CA Dog Park PHOTO
 Sunnyvale, CA -Los Palmas Dog Park PHOTO  South Bay Dog Parks, Santa Clara, San Jose. & More


Design Flaws

Mitchel Park Dog Park in Palo Alto, CA


The layout of this park illustrates poor location of the gate. The fence along the path to the entrance is a promenade for the inmates to survey (BARK AT) the new arrivals. In all but the hottest days most people and dogs in the worst case hang around the entrance, bulletin board and the benches. Most skirmishes occur as a result of the center of activity next to the gate. On hot days, people and dogs gravitate to the shade near the water hole in the map above. This allows the incoming dogs a more peaceful entrance.  The diagram shows how location can restrict design changes. Only 2 sides of the park are available for a different location of the double gate. One side is the path to the park and the other is a slope of a hill in the park. The Hoover School parking lot is available after school lets out and in the summer. When school is in session and you can't sneak in this lot (routinely patrolled by the school), the available parking lot is a long walk through squirrel land and past tennis courts. This lot is next to the library and tennis courts available via Middlefield Rd.




This drawing (Fig 1) shows a double gate design to prevent entering dogs from interacting with leaving dogs. In this plan, the double gate area is covered to prevent exiting and entering dogs from seeing each other. Often the worst situation is a dog leaving confronting a highly excited entering dog. This is my own design but have no objection to public use of the plan and also am not libel for any damages arising out of any implementation of such a plan or variations of design.


Design options

Gate #1 would not open if gate 2 or 3 were open. Gate #3 would not open if gates 1 or 2 were open. This more detailed plan could involve voluntary compliance or be forced with added electronic gate open mechanisms and whistles, bells or other noise makers to force compliance.


Fig. 2

This design courtesy of Jack Schwartz shows

2 gate designs in Fig. 2. In Plan A the separate in and out gates are along one side of a dog park.

In Plan B, the in and out gates are located in the corners of the dog park. In both plans, the in gate

opens only in and the exit gate opens out. In this design, the entering and exiting dogs have have

separate runs to navigate in order to enter or exit without interference from dogs still in the park.

An optional gate can be added to the entrance runs and exit runs. Also the entrance runs in plan A or B

can be covered to restrict the dogs in the park from watching the new dogs entering.

last change 1/3/2004