Atlanta’s dog parks are the new social hub

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Pets frolic, exercise and meet new friends while their owners socialize

Most nights Bella and her mom, Mallory Fallon, walk about two miles to the park where Bella plays with her friends while Mallory watches and talks to the other moms. Domestic bliss scenes such as this play out every day all over metro Atlanta. What makes this a little different is that Bella is a terrier mix and the park is the Newtown Dream Dog Park in Johns Creek.

“We moved into our house and routinely would walk our dog, and then one day we went to the dog park,” says Fallon, an engineer. “Now we walk to the park or we don’t walk at all.”

Credit: Mallory Fallon

Credit: Mallory Fallon

Dogs may be man’s best friend and municipalities and private businesses are realizing that dogs and their owners like to meet up to socialize and exercise. And it’s good business. According to realtor.com, 89% of millennials who bought a home in 2019 owned a pet with 79% saying the purchase was contingent on it also meeting their pet’s needs.

Several housing developments — including 400 Winchester in Vinings, Modera Buckhead, Harlow in Alpharetta and Seven88 in West Midtown — all include dog parks as part of their amenities. Restaurants such as ParkGrounds, Lucky’s and Botica have places for pets to hang while owners dine. Those who don’t have their own private dog park can frequent local municipalities’ dog parks for free, or go to Fetch Park, a membership-based dog park/social club that just recently opened in Alpharetta, its fourth location.

Bella’s park, Newtown Dream Dog Park, features ramps, tunnels and a seasonal sprinkler in the larger breeds section. The area for 30-pounds or less features a giant milk white decorative dog bowl.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“Our park is unique in that it offers a half-acre of artificial turf and a half-acre of wooded land. We have exercise stations with faux rocks and fire hydrants,” says Robby Newtown, parks manager of Newtown Dream Dog Park. The park, which benefited from a grant from a dog food company, is a magnet for those wanting a premium pet experience. “It’s a regional draw for north metro cities,” he says. “We have people come 45 minutes to an hour just to get here. It’s always busy, even when it’s raining. It’s a super popular amenity.”

And, if the citizens of Johns Creek want to know where their tax dollars are going, well, about $1,000 a month is in doggie waste bags.

Woofstock Park opened in 2013 and features about 25,000 square feet each for the small and large dog sections. “It’s very busy and we’ll be adding new agility equipment, dog ramps and hopefully shade and benches,” says Michael Huffstetler, parks and recreation director. “We have morning groups that come and hang out with their dogs and then a different group in the afternoon.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Fallon takes Bella after work and has gotten to know the owners and their dogs. “Bella’s a socializer and has her best friends at the park. She’ll also come up to the adults and sit on anyone’s lap. She’s in the small dog section and they just love to run around and chase each other; that’s where the action is. For the larger dogs, they have hoops to jump through and more stuff to do.”

Fallon also likes the socialization. “I’ve meet some really great people and I enjoy their company — and their dogs.”

Credit: Mallory Fallon

Credit: Mallory Fallon

Most municipal dog parks are like Woofstock, which requires dogs to be vaccinated, legally licensed and wear a visible dog tag. However, there is rarely anyone to enforce it, which is one reason why Summer Benton, takes her labradoodle, Willa, to Fetch Park.

“They not only require the dogs to be vaccinated but they check the records. One time I went in and they told me that Willa’s vaccination was due. I had totally forgotten,” she says.

Credit: Summer Benton

Credit: Summer Benton

“I think dog owners, in general, are hesitant to go to dog parks. It’s like the wild, wild west. You don’t know what you’re going to get and some owners don’t care if their dogs are aggressive. They have that ‘dogs will be dogs’ attitude,” says Stephen Ochs, founder and CEO of Fetch Park. Each dog has a profile with vaccination records, a picture and behavior report. Bark Rangers ensure the dogs behave and will break up any squabbles. In case of a problem, the owner are called in to discuss their dog’s behavior. Three strikes and the dog is banned.

“We have strict guidelines for specific behaviors and if we notice extreme dominate behavior that’s an automatic ban,” he says. “We’re not in the business of banning dogs and, if the owner worked with dog and a trainer to correct the issue, we’ll welcome the dog back,” he says.

Even in public parks, there tends to be few problems. “Every so often there’ll be an issue but most of the times the dogs break it up themselves. The dogs tend to know each other but a new person coming in should acclimate their dog when they come to the park,” says Fallon.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

She supports separating the dogs by size. “Some of the big dogs, who aren’t used to smaller dogs, are overbearing and will get all over them,” she says.

Fetch not only has Bark Rangers to make sure the dogs play nice, but has an Airstream that helps the owners play nice with drinks, food, live comedy nights and karaoke. “It’s all about building community and making it the happiest place on earth,” Ochs says. “We want the owners to unwind, have a drink and not worry about their dog’s safety. We want people to get off their phones and meet people.”

Benton, a homicide detective for the Atlanta Police Department, says Willa loves Fetch so much that “even when we drive past it, she goes nuts. She’s a single child and she’ll stand up in the car whining and seeing her friends and seeing friends she hasn’t met yet. She’s constantly making new friends and running around. She’ll come over just to see if I’m still there and then go back to her friends.”

Credit: Summer Benton

Credit: Summer Benton

Benton enjoys the camaraderie, especially since the park attracts a variety of people and dogs. “You learn about new breeds and it’s cool to meet people you typically won’t meet. You just start petting a dog and talking. It’s a relaxing atmosphere. Even if you’ve had a bad day, it totally changes you.”


Newtown Dream Dog Park. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday; 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Wednesday. Free. 3150 Old Alabama Road, Johns Creek. 678-512-3200, johnscreekga.gov/recreationandparks.

Woofstock Dog Park. 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 150 Dupree Road, Woodstock. 770-517-6788, woodstock.recdesk.com.

Adair Dog Park. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Free. 600 Trinity Place, Decatur. 404-377-0494, decaturga.com/activeliving/page/dog-parks

Piedmont Dog Park. 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. Park Drive NE, Atlanta. 404-874-7275, piedmontpark.org/dog-parks.

Chattapoochee Dog Park. 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Free. 4291 Rogers Bridge Road, Duluth. 770-476-3434, duluthga.net.

Fetch Park. Times vary each location. $10 day pass; $30 month; $300 year. Old Fourth Ward: 520 Daniel St., Atlanta; Buckhead: 309 Buckhead Ave.; Alpharetta: 11440 Maxwell Road, Alpharetta. fetchpark.com.