What Type of Surfacing Should I Use in a Dog Park?
Choosing the right surfacing is one of the most important aspects of designing and building a new dog park.
By Pet Pro Supply Co. Featured Expert,
VP of Marketing and Brand Strategy at PlayCore, owners of BarkPark Dog Park Equipment
The right surface can often mean the difference between a "destination space" with repeat visitors or a muddy mess with dog and patrons alike leaving the park looking like they just competed in a mud run.
The good news is that dog park surfacing doesn’t have to break the bank. We’re going to cover surfacing options to keep your dog park looking pristine (and your users at least a little tidier).
"Why do you even need surfacing? It’s a dog park!"
Dog parks have greatly evolved over the past decade. They began as simply an open space with a fence. Fast forward to today, they are true playgrounds for our furry friends. Some of the grandest dog parks out there feature agility equipment, shade, water features, waste stations, and yes, surfacing. Where we typically see surfacing at a child’s playground, it has become quite the norm in dog park settings. The reason for the trend is simple: Constant paw traffic on regular grass wears it down and creates large patches of dirt where grass cannot grow. When you add rain and a wide-open bathroom, these dirt patches become muddy pits that not only make the ride home a nightmare for your car’s interior, but it decreases the look and longevity of the park. A grass-only dog park could see closures while the park tries to re-grow grass, or the park could go unused because patrons do not want to deal with the dirt or trying to navigate their dog around the puddles.
What are the surfacing options and what is the most affordable?
The good news is there are a lot of surfacing solutions out there that can meet any budget. We are going to look at surfacing types by two categories: Unitary surfacing and Loose-fill surfacing. Unitary surfacing means the ground covering is solid, which means it doesn’t require maintenance to rake the product back into place, but it does require extra sanitation and cleaning due to drainage. Products that are considered unitary surfacing include turf, kennel tiles and grass. Loose-fill surfacing requires slightly higher maintenance as the material displaces as the dogs run about. This requires someone responsible for putting the product back in place and refilling when the product coverage is inadequate. Products that are considered loose-fill are wood chips, sand and gravel. We will explore each of these individually below.
Unitary Surfacing Types
Turf is the standout for beauty and durability. It gives off the look of real, lush green grass, but without the wear spots. Professional installation is key. There are professional turf installers across the country who specifically specialize in dog park turf. Dog park turf includes a special drainage base layer to prevent urine from sitting on top of the synthetic product. Turf has a higher initial cost but lower cost over its lifetime. Since the product is a synthetic material, it should be rinsed periodically to flush out urine and odors. Specialty cleaners are available on the market which can be sprayed on the turf and washed out with a simple hose. The frequency of this is based on the traffic at your dog park. A park in a high trafficked area should be rinsed once a week or more. Another benefit of dog park turf is the pile height and density of the fibers. They are shorter than standard turf which make picking up after your pet a breeze.
Outdoor Kennel Tiles are another long-lasting form of unitary surfacing which requires minimal upkeep. Kennel Tiles are perfect for smaller areas or used in conjunction with other materials. The interlocking tiles are soft underfoot and the holes provide the necessary drainage for urine and other debris. Kennel Tiles can be costly and should be sprayed off regularly to prevent build up and odors.
This is a natural option and the most affordable. Grass is soft underfoot and naturally provides good drainage. Grass wears down quickly and will require frequent re-seeding to prevent muddy areas from developing.
Loose-Fill Surfacing Types
Wood Chips / Mulch
Wood chips are the most common type of surfacing found in dog parks today. They are readily available and are more affordable out of the gate than the unitary options. While wood chips are appealing due to their ease of installation, there are a few things to keep in mind. There are two types of wood chips, mulch and engineered wood fiber. Mulch, which can often be found for free around a city, can display sharp pieces or insects, which can cause splinters or hurt a dog. Engineered wood fiber on the other hand, is engineered product that knits together to avoid splinters and sharp edges. This is the material often seen in play areas. Like any loose-fill option, wood chips will displace over time and require raking back into place and adding more material as time goes on.
Sand is typically found in dog parks in beach towns. It is also found frequently in parks who use multiple surfacing options throughout one park. Sand is a low-cost option; however, it can become hot in the sun, and clean up can be daunting and difficult. As with any loose-fill option, sand is one that can bring out the diggers which can create holes and obstacles for other patrons.
Gravel or rock surfacing is another relatively inexpensive solution. It will naturally provide drainage and pet waste can easily be removed. Some dogs may try to ingest the smaller rocks and it can become hot in direct sun.
The good news is you don’t have to choose just one. A very popular solution is adding surfacing elements throughout the park in only certain high-use areas such as around agility equipment and at the entrance of the park. Using a combination of grass and other surfacing materials is an economical way to protect your investment.
A final note, it is important to remember, no matter the combination of surfacing you choose, to keep the patrons and users’ comfort in mind while selecting. Many surfaces like turf, kennel tiles, sand and gravel can get hot in the sun. If your dog park receives quite a bit of sun throughout the day, consider adding shade and water features to keep your park goers cool and happy, and coming back for more.
About Stephanie Devine:
Stephanie is the Vice President of Marketing and Brand Strategy for several brands at PlayCore and works with the BarkPark brand by UltraSite. She has worked in multiple roles within PlayCore over the past 15 years, including marketing, product development and sales. Her favorite part of her job is meeting new people across the globe and promoting her love for bringing communities together.
If you are still in the early stages of designing a dog park, take a look at this introduction to "How To Design a High Quality Dog Park" by BarkPark executive Madeline Dock.
SOURCE: PlayCore, Unleashed: Off-leash Dog Park Design Trends and Planning Tips, 2018
Check out Playcore's guide for a huge range of dog park equipment ideas and suggestions to utilize when you go to design your dog park.