Creating a Safe Dog Park for Your Residents


It’s no secret that man’s best friend is becoming an apartment owner’s or operator’s BFF as well.

Dogs and pets are becoming as big as part of the resident amenity culture as a good internet connection and a cool breeze from a ceiling fan.

Creating a Home for Canines

Late last year, a National Multihousing Family Council study from a sampling of residents from 12 leading multifamily firms listed pet-specific features among the most desirable amenities for apartment living. In recent years, numerous properties have incorporated dog parks, along with grooming stations, pet spas, dog walks and outdoor runs. One Boston community even offers “yappy hour”, where residents and their pets can mix it up socially.

Apartments and common areas are not just a place for neighbors to gather and spin tales. There is plenty of other wagging going on.


With all that mingling, however, the potential for mutts to butt heads – residents, too – is an ongoing possibility. Finding that balance, says canine behavioral specialist Sue Sternberg, is essential to successful operation of any pet amenity, including dog parks where chances for group interventions are much higher.

Sternberg operates a non-profit community animal shelter in upstate New York, and knows of numerous instances of dog fights at public parks

“Many can be prevented by owner intervention long before the first snarl.”

Owners who actively participate in their dog’s experience at the dog park or any other venue will lessen the chance for a potentially dangerous situation to occur and put the apartment community at risk.

“People make healthy dog parks,” she said while taking a break from her duties at Rondout Valley Animals. “Human behavior trumps everything else, including aggressiveness of a dog. The best humans are up watching their dogs, interrupting their dog when something is getting too rough or their dog is getting picked on.”

Participation helps dog parks succeed

Sternberg, a former animal control officer and nationally known speaker on dog behavior, says properties should condition residents with dogs to be Triple A Owners and be:

Alert – Look at who’s coming into the park and make note of what dogs are already there. If there is a visibly aggressive dog present, an owner should leave and come back at a later time.

Attentive – Owners should not take their eyes off their dog. This is to prevent from the dog from causing or getting into trouble.

Active – Be prepared to step in between your dog and another, if necessary. Ally yourself with your dog and be ready if it needs assistance.

By practicing these human behaviors, the likelihood of a particularly dangerous – or deadly – confrontation is reduced, Sternberg said.

“Participation is really important, and what makes a great dog park.” she said.

In some cases, however, the dog simply may not be a good fit for the park. Earlier this year, a dog was killed by another in a fight at a Missouri public dog park. Nobody, she says, likes to see that outcome at a place intended to be a positive experience for animal and owner. Owners need to understand that being around other dogs is not always ideal.

One way to tell if there is going to be trouble is to observe the dog’s posture in the company of others. According to the Humane Society of the United States, a dog with raised hair on the back or that growls and show’s teeth or a prolonged stare is an indication of aggression.  A dog that crouches with its front legs on the ground and the rear in the air is, however, an indication of play.

Also, dog parks are no place for passive owners.  An owner who is not responsible or incapable of being responsible may also need to find another venue. “There are humans who don’t belong in dog park, either because they are irresponsible or through their own violent behavior,” Sternberg said.

Picking up after dogs helps safeguard against diseases

Pet professionals generally agree that a good dog park has plenty to offer for residents and canine tenants. A dog park, especially in dense, urban areas, may be the only outlet for the pooch to run and play.

“Having a place where pets can socialize is good because dogs not only need to be comfortable with people but (also) with other dogs.” said Dr. Steve Willis, a Texas-based veterinarian. Parks also offers a chance for residents to come together and mingle, building a stronger sense of community.

Willis, however, is concerned that parks that aren’t regularly policed for waste pickup can be a health hazard to both humans and pets. A few years ago, CDC reported that almost 14 percent of the U.S. population has been infected with Toxocara, or round worm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that children are most at risk for being infected by dog and cat parasites, including Toxocara larvae.

“The data has been there a while but the problem is steadily on the increase,” Willis said.

Dogs and cats that carry the parasites look normal and detection is only available through prior testing. Commercial deworming medicines help keep the instances of parasitic invasion low, and ideally all residents dogs’ should be on preventatives, Willis said. Even so, a dog park visited by an outside guest could be put others at risk.

Willis said. “If they can pick up after their pets, participate in strategic deworming and have a way to control the pets, those are the ideal situations. While it may be hard to control, it is important for people to take these precautions.

Well-designed dog parks helps everyone to go home yappy

Properties, says Sternberg, can help dictate the success of their dog parks through effective design and management.

A good dog park will need to be short on seating areas and big on organization. Sternberg suggests the park should have plenty of obstacles like trees, tunnels or giant cable spools to help keep dogs from roaming in packs. Dog waste stations and watering areas should be away from entrances and frequently maintained. A double entry way should be incorporated into the design so that the only way in and out isn’t through a single gate. Such an area will help dogs calm down as they enter the park and generally prevent escape.

Also, the park should be designed so that smaller animals don’t mingle with larger ones.

“In an ideal dog park, there should be a separate area for small dogs,” she said. There should really be no mixing animals by size.”

Most of all, dog parks should be a place where everyone has a safe, enjoyable experience, and the dog goes home yappy.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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