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Agility Inspired Greenspace

Bringing agility to dog daycare

© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.
© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.

Garden designer Jo Baker recently designed and built an agility greenspace for a dog daycare Centre in Surrey. The brief was to create a practical design that would provide a stimulating and sensory environment which was fun and safe for dogs, staff and visitors. Her design encompassed the benefits of agility and combined them with horticultural principles. Most importantly, the dogs at Dogstroll love it!

My brief was to provide a stimulating and fun outdoor exercise area to occupy and stimulate the dogs. During the early stages of this project, I spent a lot of time with Mark Scott, Dogstroll Director, at his dog daycare centre in order to get the design of each component right and to deliver something that would work specifically for Mark's requirements. Altogether it took about four months to develop the idea.

© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.Research & development
My plan was to create sustainable, multi-functional systems that would benefit people and the environment as well as the dogs. Consultations with various dog training centres were necessary in the research and development stages to ascertain the correct spacing and safety aspects such as jump heights and distances.

The design needed to incorporate innovative garden design with traditional agility training features so I had to find suitable plants and natural materials to create the agility components. Primary consideration, as always, was for the safety of the dogs.

It was important that features/plants chosen would also be dog-friendly. Plants selected needed to be:-

  • Robust

  • Non-toxic

  • Able to withstand urine scorch

  • Low maintenance

Practicalities
It all began with a woven willow tunnel for the dogs and expanded from there. Willow structures represent a link between interaction, imagination and the environment - something that is appealing to both people and animals. Living structures such as this are often seen in rural settings, community gardens and in play areas for children.

The agility space measures approximately 289m2 in a fairly dry field in full sun. It is fully enclosed to provide a safe and controlled environment for socialisation, play and agility training.

The overall design has a radial form to create dynamic function. In a central position to the site, a front wheel tractor tyre was used to create a rest point, something which the dogs really love. The design radiates out from this point.

Weave poles were created using standard trees spaced at 75cm. This calculation took into account the girth of the clear stem on the tree, the desirable width for weaving and the rate of growth over 10 years. This close spacing in terms of tree planting reduces their eventual size. Eventually the top growth will be clipped to form a pleached hedge. The wear and tear on the grass caused by the dogs will reduce the lawn maintenance necessary by eliminating the need for a strimmer or weeding around the base of the trees. 

© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.The three hurdle hedges are 2m in length. The first metre is clipped at a height of 30cm for small dogs and the second metre is at a height of 50cm for bigger dogs.

The tyre hoop jumps were the trickiest obstacles, requiring the most thought. Diameter, height, materials and safety needed to be considered. The heights are changeable between three positions for small to large dogs. The dogs are clearing these well. The tyre diameter measures 53.3cm and heights range between 49-80cm diameter from the ground. The inner section of the tyre is lined with foam pipe lagging, this will soften any contact blows.

© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.The tunnel is a woven willow structure. All growth is directed upwards towards the sun. This will need clipping at least twice per year.  Weed mat and wood chip line the base. This provides a soft texture under foot and keeps weed control in check. 

Sunlight illuminates the structural elements of the components, casting strong shadows throughout the day. In winter the golden stem work on the tunnel can be appreciated and by late spring its vigorous growth provides lush green foliage and shade for the dogs.

A handler will take the dog through the agility training. Supervision also means that any undesirable behaviours such as chewing or fouling of any of the components can be checked.

Performance
The agility space is a new innovation at Mark's daycare centre and the dogs are being introduced to it at a New Beginner level.

© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.Initially he started by familiarising the dogs to the area in groups and letting them have a roam around the space to build confidence. He started training by getting them all to remain seated on the rest point and then calling them off by name, one by one. A lovely group activity, its quite impressive to watch the elegance at which they do this.

He is working towards a structured rotation, with each dog  getting one-to-one agility training for up to 15 minutes to build their confidence and ability. Even the tiny dogs are jumping the hurdles. A few dogs have managed to weave the poles but this seems to be the most challenging task.

Clients look forward to daily photo posts on Facebook of their dogs performing newly acquired agility tricks!

Reaction
Mark Scott said 'Watching the dogs’ reactions once in the enclosed agility area is fascinating. It is a place where they can use all of their senses. There are a variety of textures underfoot set against the grassed landscape. Each plant selected has its own unique smell and a physical element is provided through variation in height and width of the obstacles that they have to navigate through or over.

It has brought quite a lot of attention to my daycare centre. Local people and clients are all intrigued as to how it looks, works and feels so I have invited a few along to have a look. The response has been amazing. People have never seen anything like it before and have commented on how lucky their dogs are to be part of this unique experience.

The dogs are returning home more tired than ever. I predict that it wont be long before owners will be wanting to go with them!

This project has exceeded my expectations completely. Clients have been to visit, which is not a normal occurrence. An Open Day is planned for May 2015, weather permitting.'

Location contact: Mark Scott (Director) Dogstroll – Daycare, Walking & Photography, Ockham, Surrey GU23 6PF. www.dog-stroll.co.uk Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dogstrollphotography

About the author...
Jo Baker offers a broad and flexible garden design service in London and Essex. Established in 2007, she encompasses a wide range of skills and expertise to produce innovative and practical solutions for gardens and landscapes, private, commercial and community-based projects.

To commission a unique design for your own garden or daycare centre, please contact Jo Baker Garden Design by email: enquiries@jobakergardendesign.com Web site: www.jobakergardendesign.com

© Copyright of this design, research and plans will remain the property of Jo Baker Garden Design.

First published 25 February 2015