Consideration should be given to design, whether the off-leash area is fenced, partially fenced or unfenced. Design is more critical in fenced off-leash areas because of the potential implications associated with a large number of dogs in a confined area which is often too small for the number of dogs attending the space.
The issue is exacerbated because the majority of dogs in the community are not trained to respond immediately to recall commands, and because some dog owners take inappropriate dogs into these environments.
Design needs to take into account that many dog owners:
- do not actively supervise their dogs in off-leash areas
- are unaware of the warning signals given by their own dog and other dogs as a show of fear or aggression, and as a result
- do not take preventative or timely action as a precaution against anti-social or fearful behavior.
Effective design that incorporates landscape and sensory elements, will help to manage issues associated with poorly controlled/behaved dogs but will not eliminate them. Effective design will include a variety of landscape elements and installations that:
- create visually separate spaces by mounding of earth or rocks, low level and dense vegetation barriers, rock clusters, simple feature/artistic installations
- break dogs’ sight-lines between different spaces, entry/exits
- attract dogs because of their contrasting tactile, scent and noise elements
- encourage dog owners and their dogs to move around the site such as paths and different activity or sensory features. Paths have the added benefit of enhancing access for people with limited mobility and, if distance markers are installed, of encouraging dog owners to exercise
- include a variety of sitting areas or ‘perch points’ around the site rather than one congregation point.
If the space allows, consideration can be given to separately fenced areas for quieter or more timid dogs. These areas should not be designated for ‘small dogs’, rather they should be designated for ‘quiet dogs’.
The purpose of introduced design elements is to:
- disperse dog activity around the site and minimise the likelihood of large packs of dogs from forming
- create visually separate spaces that dog owners can retreat to if their dog becomes overly agitated or is timid
- create a number of varied sensory environments that will attract dogs away from the main activity area
- keep owners as active as possible and moving and giving them the opportunity to locate themselves around the site and away from the main activity area
- create spaces that encourage people to engage with their dogs.
A Word on Fencing – Fencing should not be installed in order to keep untrained/uncontrollable dogs contained. These dogs should not be off the leash in public places. Generally, fencing should only be considered where:
- dog off-leash areas have to located close to incompatible parkland areas or activities because there are no other opportunities to provide an off-leash area in the catchment
- there are safety consideration associated with roads or commuter bicycle trails etc.
Consideration should firstly be given to alternative forms of barriers such as landscape features, before fencing is considered.