Understanding the behaviours and needs of the primary users of a space is essential to creating one that is accessible, usable, safe, and attractive.
Creating a dog park involves much more than putting a fence around a section of open space. It’s essential that architects, city planners, developers, etc. consult a professional educated in dog behaviour early in the design phase because the problems that plague dog parks can be dramatically reduced (even prevented) simply by altering its design.
Common Dog Park Problems (That Can Be Addressed Through Design):
Dog Owner Behaviour
Damage to Landscape
Problems for Nearby Residents
Dog-dog aggression, “bullying”, “predatory drift”, and dog-human aggression.
Dog owners not picking up their dog’s feces either intentionally or unintentionally.
Dog Owner Behaviour:
Not leashing dogs when walking between the vehicle and the park, congregating in congested areas (especially near the entrance), socializing instead of paying attention to dogs.
Damage to Landscape:
Erosion from excessive traffic (especially in wet areas), dog urine, and digging/chewing.
Ineffective fencing and gate systems, ground cover that can damage dogs paws, no access to potable water during hot weather; dangerous plants, no barrier to something potentially dangerous or undesirable to some dog owners, such as a body of water, a steep slope, or objects that have potential to cause serious injuries.
Problems for Nearby Residents:
Excessive barking of dogs in park or residents’ dogs, off-leash dogs running onto private property, and fence fighting with residents’ dogs.
Many of these problems can be addressed in the design phase
There are many groups opposed to the idea of redeveloping the Regent Park Par 3 Golf Course into an area with housing options because of risks to residents: specifically flooding, increased crime, lack of green space and low-cost family-centred recreation and its connection to child poverty.*
After reading the concerns brought forward by the delegates presenting to City Council, I would hope that Council will be unanimous in voting to keep the area as a green space with a vast number of 60 year old trees (over 300 of them) and incorporating hiking trails, some fully-fenced off-leash areas, and family- centred amenities such as picnic areas, spray pad, disc golf, a toboggan hill. As well, since this area is on Treaty 4 land and within the traditional territory of the Metis, the entire project should include in some way, a respectful homage to the First Nations and Metis. This solution has been suggested by one of the delegates and supported by many of the others because it will address all of the risks outlined by the delegates presenting.
Including some fully-fenced off-leash parks will be instrumental in the success of this redevelopment idea.
Flood Risk: getting rid of the trees and building on the green space will cause severe flooding for the residents in the area. This is supported by engineer reports. For this reason alone, the space should be kept as a green space with the water absorbing trees. Green space and trees are perfect for off-leash areas.
Crime Prevention: A fully-fenced off-leash park that has trees and a lovely green space will be supported by a lot dog owners from all over the city. Off-leash parks are a crime deterrent because they bring more eyes to the area, so to speak. New York proves this to be true.
What if the area could be developed in such a way that the community is able to generate income and jobs from the space?
This may sound crazy, but what if this idea for a “Family Park & Hiking Trails with Off-leash Areas” provided residents opportunities for employment and/or to generate income for their community programs. Some ideas could include a concession shop to buy dog treats, a pay-per-use dog wash station, a doggie swimming pool area (pay to use), a private off-leash area (pay to use), and selling advertising space on the dog park fencing or amenities within the dog park?
Incorporating some fully-fenced off-leash areas into the Family Park and Hiking Trails proposal is a win-win for all community stakeholders.
We can dare to dream!
*All but one of the 4 proposals include a high-density housing development (townhouses and low-cost senior housing). According to some of the delegates speaking, there is no guarantee that the developers will build low-cost housing for seniors, and some have suggested that this proposal is merely a smoke-screen for building low-cost housing that is smaller than standard housing and/or rentals — in an area where there is already a high vacancy rate. According to some of the delegates’ notes, the existing senior housing in the area has a low percentage of seniors living there, and high-density low-cost housing attracts crime and keeps people in poverty.
Many dog owners want a space to run their dogs off leash, and I would argue that many dog owners need a space to run their dogs in order to help improve the safety of their neighbourhoods. The two current dog parks are over-crowded and are located too far from many areas of the city. The seasonal off-leash areas are somewhat helpful, but more off-leash areas are needed. The chronic and increasing problem of dog owners using on-leash areas to run their dogs off-leash is a clear indication that Regina’s current off-leash offerings are insufficient (rather than a symptom of lawlessness or laziness).*
Some would argue that because of the problems in the existing off-leash areas, dog owners don’t deserve more off-leash spaces. I argue that most of these problems are because the off-leash areas are over-crowded, over-used, and not designed with dog behaviour in mind. For example, a common criticism of the existing dog parks is that dog owners are not picking up their dogs’ poop. Asking for 100% compliance for any Bylaw is unrealistic: there will always be a small percentage of the general population who will speed through construction zones, park in no-parking areas, ride bicycles on the side walks at times, or water their lawns on non-designated days during water restriction. In the case of the existing dog parks, this small percentage of rule-breakers begins to look like a much larger problem because the parks are over-used. If 5% of the users don’t pick up poop, it can amount to a lot of poop when there are 1000 dogs using the park each week.
Clearly, Regina needs more off-leash spaces, but these need to be a variety of spaces that meet the diverse needs of dogs and dog owners.
City officials must consult professionals educated in dog behaviour when creating future off-leash areas. Land developers, builders, city planners, engineers, etc. are not experts on dog behaviour.** Consider the problems if playgrounds are created without understanding the behaviour of children and childhood development. Many problems that plague off-leash areas can be mitigated and even prevented through design.
A single dog park cannot meet the varied needs of dogs and owners. Some dogs need large open spaces, while other dogs are more suited to smaller spaces, especially dogs that do not have a good recall. Not all dogs have excellent social skills and are able to get along amiably with every dog, so there needs to be some off-leash areas that can be used privately for short periods. Some dog owners enjoy letting their water-loving dogs splash around or swim and leave the park filthy, while other dog owners prefer that their dogs not enter the water for health and safety reasons (e.g. perhaps the dog has a tendency to get ear infections or the dog consumes too much water when fetching or swimming and is at risk of illness, injury, and death due to water intoxication). Currently there are no off-leash areas where small dogs and large dogs can be separated if desired, and no spaces where children are not allowed (not all dogs behave well around children).
There is not ONE solution for dogs and owners. There must be multiple options to meet the needs of dog owners and their dogs, and those who are developing the options need to consider the behaviours of dogs and dog owners.
Dog owners will take what they can get.
Certainly, many dog owners are grateful for the off-leash areas that currently exist, despite their problems, but these are not suitable options for many dog owners. Those who cannot make use of the off-leash areas (for very good reasons) will continue to risk fines by letting their dogs off leash in on-leash areas. This makes the situation unpleasant for everyone: for people walking leashed dogs, residents nearby, cyclists, children, wildlife, etc.
Clearly the status quo is not meeting the needs of many Regina residents.
The current situation is not satisfactory to many taxpayers: not dog owners who tolerate the current off-leash areas, not dog owners who can’t/won’t use the current off-leash areas, and not the residents who have to put up with dog owners trying to meet their dogs’ needs by using on-leash areas as off-leash areas.
* The fact that there is a chronic problem with dog owners running dogs off-leash in on-leash areas should be seen as a symptom of the larger problem. More policing of this is not going to make it go away. How many Bylaw officers are needed to police the entire city 24/7? Surely it makes more sense to create suitable spaces that will meet the needs of many of these dog owners.
** Entrusting the creation of off-leash areas to builders, land developers, etc. has not worked to get more off-leash areas, and it certainly isn’t going to help ensure the off-leash areas are designed to function well for the people who use them. Perhaps stakeholders whose primary interest is profit should not be the only decision-makers regarding off-leash spaces (NOTE: There is some growing evidence that dog parks increase real estate values, so maybe there is hope that things will change soon.) Do dog owners have to pool their money to purchase land from the City and then build it and run it themselves? Do parents have to do this in order to get sufficient and well-designed parks and playgrounds?
Designating more outdoor boarded hockey rinks as seasonal off-leash areas is not a suitable solution for a city that needs more off-leash areas. Hockey rinks can be a small part of the solution, but they do not make great places for off-leash play for dogs.
Many neighbourhoods have boarded outdoor hockey rinks, so letting dog owners use them from spring to fall seems like a simple, low-cost solution to creating more off-leash areas. However, when considered more closely, it becomes apparent that this is not a suitable solution.
For one thing, there are only 23 boarded rinks in Regina (according to what is listed on the City of Regina website), and many are inappropriate because of play structures nearby or because the rinks are on school property and cannot be used during school hours. Even if there were as many as a dozen suitable boarded rinks in Regina, it would still not be nearly enough to serve dog owners in Regina. It’s a start, but it’s not enough.
A boarded hockey rink is adequate for a quick 5 minute romp or some ball tossing, but not for much else unless the dogs there are well-suited to each other for play (e.g. size, play style, social skills). A rink is certainly not big enough for a large dog or a breed that needs to run. As well, the crusher-dust type substrate in many rinks is hard on a dog’s footpads and will cause cuts/abrasions if the dog spends too much time running on it or making sharp turns and skidding stops.
The inside of a hockey rink is not a mentally stimulating environment and this leads to problems. Unless a dog is meeting dog friends there for play, after a dog has sniffed the interesting spots, done some “business”, and left some pee-mail, a dog will generally stand around (along with their humans who are standing around in the barren hockey rink). A similar thing happens with children in an empty, boring playground or in a room without toys. It’s not hard to visualize the problems that will occur when dogs (often with mismatched play styles) are enclosed in a small, boring space and then forced to interact by owners who want them to play or get tired out.
Dog owners deserve a sufficient number of locations with sufficient space to allow their dogs to run off leash. These locations should be safe and pleasant for the dogs and the humans. An empty hockey rink can be useful but a empty hockey rink is not a “park” as some may suggest.