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At Jacksonville's Dog Wood Park, Have You Ever Seen Happier Dogs?

By David Boegaard

Dog owners are a devoted bunch. People spend small fortunes on fancy treats and special beds and organic food for their dogs, and there's no question that dogs appreciate the effort. But if there is one thing that nearly every dog loves more than anything (aside from their owner, of course), it is to be able to run free with other dogs. As accessible public land becomes less welcoming for dogs, dog parks have proliferated to give dogs this unique, irreplaceable joy. And few dog parks can match the wonders of Dog Wood Park in Jacksonville, Florida.

Dog Wood Park is a 25 acre leash-free park where dogs have ample space to run, swim, play, and socialize with other dogs. "Dog Wood Park is one of a select few off-leash parks in the country of this size," says Owner Katie Kelley. With five separately fenced areas, wild surroundings, classes, and a wide variety of toys, it's fair to say that Dog Wood Park is a dream for pretty much any dog. It's no surprise then when Kelley mentions that Dog Wood is "regularly rated in the top five nationally."

The park is separated into a many distinct areas, created for different purposes. The Small Dog area, for example, has a small lake, sand-pit, and tires and tubes. It's meant for dogs under 25 lbs, giving smaller dogs the opportunity to socialize without feeling too intimidated by the larger dogs. Other areas include the Barkham Woods with 10 acres of nature trails, Night Dog which has excellent lighting and allows Dog Wood Park members to exercise their dogs until 10pm, and Swim and Play, with large open fields and Lake Bow Wow, a 5 ft deep swimming pond.

Some dog owners are also parents of young children, of course. But Dog Wood Park has these people covered, as well. "Kids and Play is the only area of the park where small children are permitted," says Kelley. But it's a wonderful place where young children can play safely while spending quality time with their beloved pet. "This area has a slide and see-saw where children can play with their pets safely."

Dog Wood Park also provides a variety of classes for dog and their owners. "Teaching your dog basic skills such as heel, sit, stay and come are essential for every well-behaved canine companion," says Kelley. These classes are not only valuable to help you control your dog -- they can actually change your relationship with your dog. After all, no dog likes to get in trouble, but they do not know how to do right until someone shows them in a way they can understand. "A good Basic Obedience class is very important for both owner and dog alike!"

Kelley opened Dog Wood Park because she saw that there was a serious need for engaging activities for dogs. Taking a dog to a place like Dog Wood is not just another luxury for the pampered poodle, it's a necessity. "All dogs need physical as well as mental stimulation to become and remain a good canine companions in the community," notes Kelley. Unfortunately, with the rapid pace of life today, families, and many other distractions, dogs sometimes end up without much exercise or excitement, Kelley remarks. "Coming out to the dog park provides good exercise for both human and canine alike!"

And the experience for dogs is not just one of exercise. The dogs have a rich opportunity to socialize and play with other dogs. "Dogs are, by nature, pack animals and enjoy the company of their 'pack,'" Kelley states. But dogs have been domesticated and have added humans as potential pack members. That doesn't mean that most dogs don't still need to experience the unique relationship that dogs can only have with other dogs, though. "Dog Parks are a great way to let your "dog be a dog" and play the way nature intended them to," Kelley says.

For dogs and dog owners, alike, Dog Wood Park in Jacksonville is an experience unlike any other. A veritable Country Club for dogs, Dog Wood is a joy for dogs and for the people who love them.

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