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Impact of Off-Leash Parks on Visitor Activities

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Results from “Changes in visitor profiles and activity patterns following dog supportive modifications to parks: A natural experiment on the health impact of an urban policy“.

McCormack, G.R., Graham, T.M., Swanson, K., Massolo, A. & Rock, M. J


Dog parks and people patterns

Urban parks are important features of the built environment that can provide mental and physical health benefits for park visitors. Modifications to park infrastructure, such as playgrounds or picnic areas, can influence different usage patterns among visitors (1). For example, the addition of dog-specific infrastructure can encourage dog-owners to walk their dogs more often (2,3). A recent natural experiment investigated the differences in visitor profiles and activity patterns in four Calgary urban parks with the addition of off-leash parks

Observations of off-leash areas

Off-leash areas were added to two of the four parks monitored in this study. Changes to the profiles and activities of visitors following the implementation of off-leash areas were monitored and assessed. The researchers observed more visits to the parks following the addition of the off-leash areas. One modified park, in particular, experienced an increase in the number of children and dog-related visits. Notably, children visiting the modified parks experienced a lower intensity of activity. Similarly, a significant increase in visitation to one of the unmodified parks was also observed, however, this park had no significant change in dog-related visits. In the unmodified parks. An increase in walking, playing, and sedentary activities and a decrease in cycling and dog-related activity was seen. Overall, park visitors with dogs were observed to participate in less intense physical activity than visitors without dogs. The modification of parks to include off-leash areas did not seem to increase dog-related visits in the short term, but may support and reinforce active behaviours among other park visitors.

Suggested Citation: McCormack, G. R., Graham, T. M., Swanson, K., Massolo, A., & Rock, M. J. (2016). Changes in visitor profiles and activity patterns following dog supportive modifications to parks: A natural experiment on the health impact of an urban policy. SSM - Population Health, 2, 237–243. doi:10.1016/j.ssmph.2016.03.002

Written by: Emma Chong, BKin (Hons.) | Posted January 18th, 2020



1. Tester J., Baker R. Making the playfields even: evaluating the impact of an environmental intervention on park use and physical activity. Preventive Medicine. 2009;48(4):316–320.

2. Westgarth C., Christley R.M., Christian H.E. How might we increase physical activity through dog walking?: A comprehensive review of dog walking correlates. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014;11:83

3. Temple V., Rhodes R., Wharf Higgins J. Unleashing physical activity: an observational study of park use, dog walking, and physical activity. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(6):766–774.


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