Dog runs are vital parts of the city's social infrastructure: the rare dedicated outdoor space for humans and their beloved pets to mingle off-leash, with no fear of disturbing bark-averse New Yorkers. They are our modern-day canine salons, and much like the famed French salons of the 17th and 18th centuries, they too are responsible for the dissemination of "good manners and sociability." It can be a place to teach your dog a fancy new trick; a safe space to let dogs expel their slobber and use up their pent-up energy; and a forum for passionate debate about poop etiquette.
The Parks Department currently oversees 84 public dog runs throughout the city in various states of upkeep, thanks mostly to the community members who work tirelessly to keep them running. (There are also dozens of private dog runs.) In the wake of the popular McCarren Park dog run in Williamsburg shutting down last week after several dogs died from allegedly catching leptospirosis there, we asked readers to email or tag us on social media to help identify the best and worst public dog runs in NYC.
Below, you can check out some of the highlights from that survey, broken down by borough. But first, to get a dog's perspective on all this, I interviewed my very vocal dog Teekay about the state of the city's dog runs.
Rocky's Dog Run, located in Fort Washington Park in Washington Heights, got high marks for being one of the largest dog runs in the five boroughs. "It's huge, easily the biggest dog run I've seen in the city," said Alliana Semjen, who gave it an A-/B+ grade. She noted that it's outfitted with wood chips that get replaced about once a year, trash cans and doggy bags are available for visitors, and there are no water features (nor any flooding problems). Also, she said, she has never once seen a rat there.
The Morningside Park Dog Run, located inside of Morningside Park near W. 114th Street, was strongly recommended by multiple readers. "Its location, on top of a tall outcropping, provides generous views of Harlem," said Laura MacDonald. "It's surrounded by shady trees and there's always a breeze in summer. The ground is covered in wood chips — no concrete here — and there are trees inside which the dogs use to play chase around. Very friendly. Good mix of people. Chill approach to the dogs. Also there's a small dog/puppy area."
Kacie Dillon, who gave the dog run a B+ grade, noted that it is completely maintained by volunteers from around the neighborhood. "Everyone does a good job of keeping the run clean, trash gets taken out weekly, and glass and litter is always picked up and discarded," Dillon said, adding that the mulch is replaced quarterly. There are toy bins around the park with tennis balls and frisbees, as well as a donation bin where people can leave jackets, toys, leashes, and other items their dogs have outgrown out or no longer need.
Communication among park regulars is key. Using a WhatsApp group, Dillon explained, they "regularly post and ask for volunteers to help lay down the mulch or volunteer to take out the trash that week." They also "update the Amazon wish list for the park that we can contribute to. We have special events to lay down mulch, holidays, take out the trash, clean up the run. We also have events that highlight small businesses in the area that are geared towards pets (daycares, grooming, treats, etc)."
Both Dillon and Suzanne Kessler, who gave the park an A- rating, noted that the run can get muddy when it rains, but the WhatsApp group helps in that respect, too: "People regularly message the group chat asking if the run is muddy after rain and snow storms before heading over," Dillon said.
The popular Tompkins Square Dog Run may have gotten the most glowing reviews, with several people calling it the "best" in the city. "The ground was raised to provide drainage and prevent puddling," explained Garrett Rosso, who said the park is mostly maintained and funded by the community. "A tree deck was installed to protect historic trees. K9 turf is used to keep the surface less muddy and paw friendly. Concrete bath and dog drinking areas were installed to keep it hygienic and prevent the spread of disease such as kennel cough and leptospirosis."
Another reader wrote, "It's clean and shady, with lots of places to sit, and enough room for the dogs to run and have fun. In other words, it's great for both dogs and their owners. Every dog run should be as beautiful."
The dog run in Manhattan that got the most mixed reviews was Marcus Garvey Dog Run, located near Madison Avenue and E. 120th Street. One reader said it was not a very good space for smaller dogs in particular.
"There is a small, very long and thin area for small dogs with nothing there but a broken bench; it's an afterthought, and sitting in it would feel like an insult. In both areas, the ground is covered by dirt over which large (about 3 inches) bits of wood are spread. Maybe that's fine for large dogs, but small dogs are soon filthy after running around in that muck. I can't understand a way to go there with a small dog without needing to bathe the dog immediately after visiting, and since it's not good to bathe dogs too frequently, how can small dogs use that dog run for daily exercise?"
Katherine Ocheret had nothing but positive things to say about Kensington Dog Run, located at Coney Island Avenue & Kermit Place. "It’s a well-maintained dog-run with AstroTurf, solid fence and even benches for dog owners," she said, giving the place an A rating. "There are two separate areas for big dogs and small ones, but small dogs are always welcome to the big area. There is a water fountain which doesn’t work in winter, but it’s in great demand in warm weather." (For what it's worth, water is almost always turned off at all of the city's dog runs in wintertime.)
There were more mixed reviews from several readers for Herbert Von King Park Dog Run in Bed-Stuy. "We have a dog run that could be great," said Linda Jones. On the plus side, it has separate areas for big and small dogs, big trees for shade in the summer, lots of benches for humans, lots of tennis balls lying around, and "even a pup-friendly coffee shop across the street on Greene!"
The problem is that the run doesn't have any water features for dogs to drink from or hose off, there's a lack of lighting for evening trips, and there's no drainage at all. "When it rains, both sides of the run turn into giant mud lakes, and it takes a few days for them to drain," said Jones. "Our pup LOVES those mud lakes and hurls herself into them, but we're worried about what else is in there — bacteria? Rat poop? Worse? I can't imagine that it's good for dogs or humans. So we avoid the park for days after it rains."
In addition to the lack of potable water, Anthony Howard, who gave the park a B-/C+ rating, said another problem is garbage building up in the summer: "The only Parks Department maintenance I’ve seen has been them taking care of the trash bins that quickly fill up, but sometimes the bins are full for days before they get collected. Imagine that smell on a hot summer day!"
There were similarly mixed sentiments toward the Cooper Park Dog Run, near Morgan Avenue and Sharon Street in East Williamsburg. According to Laura Arenas, the park has similar drainage issues, but the bigger problem is the lack of lighting: "We were told other dog owners have found needles INSIDE the dog run, which leads to another big issue with the dog run: lighting," she said. "In addition to making it hard to watch what our dogs are doing after the sun sets, it encourages people to use the dog run for illegal activities. Hence the needles on the ground in the area."
Also earning a harsh assessment is Washington Park Dog Run in the Park Slope/Gowanus area. This was supposed to have been reconstructed by now, but much of that work has been delayed because of the pandemic. Several people complained about how dusty it can get: "It’s just a gravel pit with the fabric underneath it coming up," said Nicole Regan. "Dogs get so dirty, it always turns into a giant mud pit."
On the plus side, it does have a water fountain for both humans and dogs, benches for people to sit, and a double gate so dogs can't easily escape when someone is entering or leaving. But Lynn Bernstein agrees that the pebble and gravel surface is not an ideal situation for dogs: "Dust is all over. Dogs leave with fur coated with fine pale gray gravel dust. The thick dust gets into the crevices of shoes, boots and sneakers, will coat your pant legs and coat hems. And the pebbles and gravel are not kind to puppy paws."
However, Bernstein had nothing but praise for Prospect Park, which has off-leash hours at the Long Meadow and the ever-popular Dog Beach in the early mornings and late at night: "Well, that’s a 10-star winner, everything a dog could want," she said. "Room to roam, run, chase, catch frisbees, swim, dig, roll in grass or mud, chase a squirrel. Doggie water-fountains, sticks to chew. Wow. That place is heaven. That’s my idea of a dog run!!!"
The facility that garnered the most responses was Maria Hernandez Park Dog Run, located on Irving Avenue in Bushwick, though much of the feedback was less-than-enthusiastic, even from park volunteers.
"The dog park at Maria Hernandez is really awful," said Jude Banks. "Broken water fountains for dogs, not paw safe gravel, gross standing water and gross gravel in general. My dog consistently tears up her feet there."
Katharine Overgaard, who gave Maria Hernandez a B- grade, praised the contributions of the community, who organize cleaning events several times a year. She, too, is frustrated by the gravel: "I have been told point blank by the city that the gravel, which is sharp, grimy, and dusty, that coats the surface of the dog run cannot be replaced by a higher quality surface (i.e. something smooth, or softer — mulch, pea gravel, etc. — that doesn't irritate dogs' paws) unless the local community, which is generally not wealthy, self funds. Ridiculous." The Parks Department said it does not have breakdown of maintenance costs by facility and relies on neighborhood groups to help with the dog runs' upkeep. Overgaard adds, "the mesh which lines the dog run surface, below the terrible gravel, is constantly tearing and peeling up, and is generally not well designed or maintained."
Amy Willard, one of the volunteers at the run, gave it an overall grade of C-, saying they suffered from a lack of city support. "With no replacement gravel from the city, we have water pooling — a lepto risk, gate latch is broken, water fountains get clogged up, lack of shade," she said.
As for the problems at McCarren Park Dog Run, Lisa Langsdorf said the drainage issue has been a problem for years — almost a decade ago, the community raised money with a goal to dredge the park and install a French drain, but the effort was for naught.
"I have to assume that the Parks Department knew it was a hazard since we brought it up to them," she said. "They did a very basic upgrade to it but they have literally been putting wood chips on top of wood chips there for 20 years without addressing the underlying issue (it needs to be dredged, cleaned and drained)."
"The flooding of the small and large dog run have also been an issue as long as I can remember," she continued. "I moved to the neighborhood in 2001. There has been very little updating to McCarren's run since. This was an accident waiting to happen, unfortunately. Parks should know better."
People raved about the Torsney/Lou Lodati Playground Dog Run in Sunnyside, which Brianna McHugh called "hands down" the best in the borough.
Local Kevin Barbee agreed: "Best of the best with a strong community organization, water for pets, clean concrete surfaces, lots of benches for owners, as well as a separate area for smaller dogs. So clean that dogs actually leave cleaner than when they entered!"
Barbee had much less positive things to say about Murray Playground Dog Run in Long Island City: "Worst of the worst, run down, covered in sharp rocks and mud-prone dirt, no benches, no lighting, and no attention from the city to address these concerns from the 'Royal Ministry of Parks for Peasants,’" he said. "And many dog owners won’t take their dogs there because of the frequent injuries from all of the sharp rocks."
Joanna Levinger, who takes her dog Sami there, agreed with that assessment, giving the dog run an F grade. "We have the worst dog run in the whole neighborhood but by far the best community," she said. "It used to be a dumping ground for construction sites in the area, so it's filled with old bricks, floor tiles, sink washers and SO MUCH GLASS. There are constantly puddles of standing water no matter the weather. If it rains the entire park turns to mud, if it's dry the entire park turns to dust. People have donated/dumped chairs inside over the years since there are no benches, but they are disgusting."
Kelly-Ann Krawchuk gave a mixed-to-positive review to the Cunningham Park Dog Run in Fresh Meadows: it has large and small dog areas, no serious drainage issues, plus a waste-bag dispenser and dog water fountain during the summer. But it often has "a ton of garbage in the mulch and people don’t pick up after their dogs," and she has never seen "any posters for the community helping to maintain it. I would actually volunteer to make it better for my dog if they did."
Noam Landor added, "Cunningham Park is absolutely awful, there is no shade, the wood chips on the ground are constantly wet and the water area is dirty." Landor, who has lived in the borough and frequented its dog runs for 20 years, did give shoutouts to the very large Rockaway Freeway Dog Run and The Underbridge Dog Run in Forest Hills.
An under-discussed issue that plagues many dog runs, Landor said, is low fences. "The one consistent negative in all NYC dog runs outside of the Underbridge Dog Run is that the fences are not required to be more than 4' high which is absurd," he said. "My dog jumped the 3 foot fence at Cunningham Dog Park chasing a squirrel one month after adoption (I didn't know him well enough to know he could clear a 4-foot fence) and was hit by a car."
There were several negative reviews of the conditions at Forest Park Barking Lot, though people were quick to point out the community is actively involved with its upkeep despite fundamental issues with the run. "We have terrible flooding and drainage issues, the water has nowhere to go when it rains, causing huge ponds of stagnant water," said volunteer Hannah Bridgham. "The water fills with algae and the dogs use it as their restroom, causing it to smell. It breeds mosquitoes, and I often see other animals drinking from it when there’s no dogs using the park."
Chris Kelly said he and his partner rescued Osito, a husky mix, because they live across the street from the Forest Park, and figured it would be a good way to let him get exercise and socialization. Things haven't been so great, though.
"The dog run was beautiful until the grass disappeared a month after it opened," Kelly said. "Without a healthy amount of grass, it became muddy or dusty, depending on weather conditions. Add to that the way the ground tilts in Forest Park, any rain flows from the park directly in the dog run, creating what we not-so-affectionately refer to as 'Lake Dysentery.' The lack of drainage creates a stagnant pool of mud, water, and dog excrement that smells bad and puts fear into the hearts of dog owners because of what it may contain."
Maria Amparo Delgado-MacPherson gave it a D grade, and echoed Kelly's complaints about the flooding problems, particularly in the summer: "Needless to say, some dogs would roll in the mud or lap up the filthy water. Understandably, people would crowd into the small dog run, which remained drier, creating a danger of fights and overcrowding with dogs of all sizes. Some would take their chances in the main park with their dogs off-leash."
A few other dog runs that were rated: Hunter’s Point South Dog Run was given credit for being well maintained, having "nice water features for dogs, separate areas for big and small dogs, and spectacular city skyline views." And LIC Dog Park, near Vernon Boulevard and 48th Avenue, was praised for having a gravel surface: "It’s one of my favorites for dog cleanliness, large enough for dogs to chase, and has a shelter with a few benches for dog owners," said Kevin Barbee. "Could use some TLC from the city and a water spigot for summer bottle filling."
Anna Starecheski gave St. Mary's Dog Run, located near Cypress Avenue and East 143rd Street, a B+ rating since it reopened following a major upgrade in 2020. It went from having wood chips to having "that really fine gray gravel—a big improvement." There are small and big dog areas, a box filled with toys, and a doggy water fountain located just outside the run.
Rob Jacklosky had fewer great things to say about The Ewen Park Dog Run, located at 232nd Street between Riverdale Avenue and Johnson Avenue in Riverdale. The gate is "funky" and hard to close, there is no separate small dog area, the doggie bag dispenser is frequently empty, and there are no water features.
"There is no top soil," he added. "And a series of dangerous stones poke out from soil at intervals (actually foundations of the old Ewen house). You can picture one dog tackling another into one of these jutting rocks and bones breaking."
NOTE: Of course not every dog run in the city is represented in this survey, so here are a few more standout places to check out if you're in the area.
In addition to its excellent downtown location and having small and dog large areas, the Washington Square Park Dog Run has a huge added benefit for humans: accessible public toilets! Sir William’s Dog Run, located in Hudson Heights, is credited as being the largest public dog run in Manhattan, though it does not have any water fountains for dogs. If your dog likes climbing off-kilter terrain, check out the Chelsea Waterside Park. And one dog run that's been called a "hidden gem" for its lush surroundings is St. Nicholas Dog Park in Harlem.
There are a couple notable dog runs in DUMBO, including Brooklyn Bridge Park Dog Run and Hillside Dog Park. Up in the Bronx, there's the well-maintained Bronx River Park Dog Run. And if you happen to find yourself on Staten Island, Silver Lake Park Dog Run and South Mountain Dog Run are two of the most popular in the borough.