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Parklife

Research into dog parks reveals that seeing your little friend getting their daily exercise is only half of the story.

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Parklife

Sabrina Märky is a self described ‘dog enthusiast’. Her passion for the four legged kind was spurred on by living next to one of New York City’s dog parks. Märky would visit the dog park each day, purely with an interest in the dogs, when one day she decided to look beyond our furry friends and see why the park was so popular.

Dog parks in America first evolved in California around the late seventies. Before this, the idea of an ‘enclosed area devoted exclusively to canine activity’ was a foreign concept. Dog parks can now be found in every state but Alaska. In NYC, the dog park is an integral part of the daily routine for the majority of dogs who do not have the luxury of a backyard to roam about in.

Initial research by Märky into dog parks found that seeing your little friend getting their daily exercise was really only half of the story, that in fact the dog parks popularity was equally about social interactions for people, as well as dogs. She then went on to formalise her research into the project Human Socialisation in Dog Parks.

Märky found that social interaction was difficult to start with people in NYC, except if you were at a bar ‘which doesn’t typically result in a lasting relationship’. She found that “the dog parks facilitate the perfect place to get to know people in a fun environment”. These community interactions are sometimes difficult, though it doesn’t seem isolated to NYC. Speaking with Emily, a frequent Canberra dog park user, she mentions that, “it’s one of the few opportunities for ‘community’ style interaction you get these days unless you’re a member of a church, sporting team or something related to babies/children”.

Back in NYC it seems that social interaction is not just limited to dog owners at the dog parks. Märky says that “crowds of people come to the Halloween parade just to see the dogs, which makes for such approachable conversations such as ‘your dog is so cute’… [the dogs] make conversations with strangers much more approachable.” Although Märky says “it’s hard to say how many of the relationships go beyond the dog park” she’ll always say hello if she meets someone again outside of the park.

Märky’s enthusiasm for her study translated into a long-term relationship. Six months after completing her study she got herself a miniature Australian shepherd. ‘Waldo Emerson’ now allows her to visit the dog park as often as she likes.


Download a PDF of the complete research here

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