Although the connector bridge project is complete, this information is retained for archival purposes.
The search for a perfect dog run surface continues. In the meantime, we’re stuck with something that actually exists to use in the Schuylkill River Park Dog Run. A number of surfaces have been tried in our dog run and dog runs across the country. We can learn from these experiences.
Let’s rundown some commonly used Dog Park surfaces.
Woodchips were one of the original surfaces in the Schuylkill River Park Dog Run. Their use lead to a muddy mess as well as to the growth of several types of fungi, including mushrooms, which dog owners worried about their pups eating. There were many complaints from Dog Run users at the time and the search for a better surface became an important pursuit. Several other dog parks have had similar experiences with wood chips. As the Tompkins Square Dog Run notes, “The woodchips were a good, temporary solution when First Run was first established however they have posed multiple problems for long term use. They must be constantly added to the surface of the run every 4-6 weeks and quickly breakdown forming a dusty crust that prevents water from reaching the roots of the trees. In addition, this breakdown adds 12-24 inches to the top surface of the run which needs to be excavated every 5-7 years further endangering the roots of trees and preventing maintenance to the fences and surrounding gardens. In recent years, beatle blight has further endangered the trees in many of New York’s historic parks. Moving chips from one park to another facilitates the spread of the disease so Parks has drastically reduced the supply of chips into Tompkins Square in order to protect that park’s ancient elm and oak trees.” The Hoboken Dog Run has had similar experiences.
The potential dog health problems related to wood chips are not trivial, as gotopetsamerica.com notes, “Nasal aspergillosis [in dogs] is caused by several species of fungus of the genus Aspergillus. A. fumigatus grows abundantly in rotten vegetation and wood chips, compost, sewage, and moldy hay. Some species live mainly in soil. The fungus produces many small spores which can be inhaled. Some aspergillus species found in moldy feed produce aflatoxins, poisonous compounds that can cause serious injury to the liver if ingested. A local immune dysfunction is suspected in affected animals.”
Quarry fines were the Schuylkill River Park Dog Run’s solution to the woodchip problem and comprised the dog run surface until pedestrian bridge construction began in June 2011. Quarry fines are fairly stable in wet weather, good at reducing odors, not too hot in the summer, relatively inexpensive, and relatively low maintenance. We have had two major problems/complaints regarding the quarry fines. First the amount of dust produced from winds and dogs running on the surface sends up clouds around people using the Dog Run and coats the dogs present, sending them home in a blanket of dust. Second, the quarry fines have posed major problems for the Dog Run’s drains (e.g., by the drinking fountain) constantly causing clogs.
Other Types of Stone
The other types of stone we know have been used in other dog runs include pea gravel and Plymouth Brown Mix (decomposed granite sand). The former have led to reports of sinking, water pooling, and harboring insects. As one dog run notes, “Pea gravel, like wood chips, provides spaces for bugs and fleas to hide”. The latter, Plymouth Brown Mix, has generally been well received although it is not without high installations costs (it requires steam rolling every few inches). Below is a picture of the Tompkin’s Square Dog Run, which has the mix. In late summer 2011 we spoke with leadership at this Dog Run to obtain more information and they informed us that the original Plymouth Brown Mix (what they received in their first shipment) is no longer available in the same quality and subsequent shipments have provided a product that is really really dusty, akin to or worse than the quarry fines we previously utilized at Schuylkill River Park. The Tompkins Square leadership also suggested that if we have the opportunity we should install K9 Grass. They wish they had been able to do that at the time of their installation.
K9 Grass is artificial turf designed for use in dog parks. It is made from soy (plant) based polymers and as company literature indicates is knitted to create a unique flow-through backing that allows water to pass through to the ground below. K9 Grass can contain AlphaSan, an antimicrobial agent, to protect the yarn from stains and odors associated with bacteria. It has been used in several urban dog parks, does not contain lead, and has a good safety profile (MSDS Available Here). The Dog Park users we have talked with who use the material have been very positive. We have some images for download of K9 Grass in use at several different dog runs as well as before and after photos. The surface does not puddle, is clean, does not smell, and the dogs seems to love running on K9 Grass. It is made from the same components (plastics and nylon) that are used in most dog toys and baby bottles. If you’d trust your dog with a dog toy or baby with a bottle, you’d trust him/her on K9 Grass.
K9 Grass is not an AstroTurf like product and does not heat up like AstroTurf in the summer. The K9 Grass areas will be substantially cooler than the asphalt and cement dogs walk on during their trek to the dog run and unlike these surfaces K9 Grass cools immediately when hit by shade because it does not have the ability to retain heat for any duration.
Some photos from a Washington, DC Dog Park with K9 Grass:
The are few if any negatives to K9 Grass. It is a bit costly upfront, but requires much less maintenance than other surfaces, which therefore perhaps equals out in terms of the ongoing care cost of other surfaces vs. the upfront cost of K9 Grass. Additionally, any installation at the Schuylkill River Park Dog Run would need to include a wash down system that keeps the surface clean in the event that it doesn’t rain for several weeks.
We don’t claim to have the perfect solution to Dog Run surfaces (is anything really maintenance free?), but we do believe it is safe to conclude from our own and other run’s experiences that woodchips are the wrong solution. As articulated, past experiences are predominantly (in fact almost exclusively) negative regarding woodchip use in dog parks. K9 Grass is one option that may prove superior to woodchips, quarry fines, decomposed granite, and really any other surface in existence today and may be worth a try.