I just found the ideal dog park. It’s in Grass Valley, California, in a gorgeous public park called Condon Park.
It’s large, and set in a forested setting, with tall pines overhead, and the footing is thick with pine needles.
It has two separate areas, with a smaller section (but still quite good-sized) reserved for “small and shy” dogs. I love that the folks who set it up did not specify small dogs only. What do you do when you have a dog who needs to really run and romp and get tired, but isn’t reliable off-leash yet . . . who could benefit from some socializing, but isn’t yet ready to be accosted by large, high-energy buddies?
There are multiple entrances, each with a double-gated “airlock.” But the park planners have improved on the norm by including signs that encourage people to use one of the other entrances if there is a crowd by the first one they approach. And there is also signage that instructs people to remove their dogs’ leashes in the airlock area before turning them loose in the large area (which prevents owners from getting caught in the middle of a rambunctious group of dogs who are trying to greet the incoming dog, and prevents the dog whose leash is not yet released from being hindered from running or defending himself from the onslaught of even fun-loving, well-meaning playmates).
The entrance of each area includes a paved sidewalk that extends well into each of the two play areas – something that was being taken advantage of by a guy I saw who was there in a wheelchair with a big Lab-mix. In my home-town dog park, at this time of year, and there is no paved path into the play area at all; the entrance is quite muddy. The sidewalk, by the way, extends all the way in both play areas to a concrete patio-type area where fresh water is provided; there are several big bowls and a faucet with a hose to fill them with. The water was cleaner (and the dogs were cleaner) than in the parks I’ve seen where the water is provided in a gravel (or dirt/mud) area.
There are multiple benches for people to sit on, and organizers had sought out donations to help support their installation and maintenance; signage on the benches thanks the donors and advertised their services where appropriate. There are also agility-type obstacles scattered about for people to explore with their dogs - fun! I counted at least six dispensers for poop-pick-up bags, and as many barrels for disposing poop. There were also several poop pickup tools in various spots.
At the main entrance, there is a bulletin board with an area where anyone can post signs about lost dogs or dog-related services, and a locked area under glass where the organizers can post official notices that couldn’t be ripped down or altered. A large sign with clear, firm, and reasonable park rules appears there. There is more signage acknowledging the major community sponsors of the park.
When I first approached the park with Otto, I thought at first no one was present, because it was so quiet, and because the park is so large that I didn’t see several groups of dogs playing at the far end of the park. When we entered, there wasn’t an immediate rush of over-amped, anxious dogs racing over to rudely greet Otto; the dogs there were playing energetically, but when they approached, it was with casual interest, not with the kind of drive that makes you think of a mob with pitchforks and torches. It was clear to me that the pack’s mood was a result of the relaxed, calm atmosphere.
I don’t take dogs, any dogs, to the dog park in my town. It’s just not a pleasant place to take a dog. And in my former home town, there is a lovely park, but it’s so overrun, and so heavily populated by dogs who seem to LIVE there (they are there for so many hours a day, and so many days of the week), that they are quite belligerent and territorial. I’ve seen and photographed many dog fights (and human fights!) there that were caused by too much out-of-control, hyper energy – too few rules with zero community enforcement, and too many bullies (canine and human). It’s the kind of place where the loudest voices bully owners into making bad decisions for their dogs, for example, as the scared adolescent dog is running in a blind panic, being chased by three or four larger, intense dogs, the kind of person who says, “Don’t be overprotective, dogs have to work it out! Your dog needs to learn to defend himself!” Blech.
But this park? I would bring any nice dog there, anytime. Kudos, Grass Valley.