Sand pits are a common feature in dog fields and are popular with both dog owners and dog field operators – but for different reasons.
Dog owners love seeing their dogs dig in sand – it can be a great natural enrichment activity and has the added benefit of providing a bit of a manicure at the same time. This is especially welcome for dogs that don’t regularly walk on abrasive surfaces.
Dog fields owners often install sand pits as a dedicated ‘dig’ area and they are a great tool for discouraging digging in the rest of the field. It’s a frustrating fact but many dog owners do not fully appreciate the issues that arise from having great big holes all over a dog field and even more problematic, at the fence line so adding a sand pit can be a really good solution.
Installing a well constructed sand pit which is safe and provides enough space for a dog to dig and play is a great addition to a secure dog field facility.
There are however a few things to consider when building a sand pit area in your dog field and here we’ll go through how to ensure it is well designed and safe.
Surely I just build a box and fill it with sand?
Like most things when building a dog field business, sand pits aren’t as straight forward as they look at first glance! You can make a box or fill a tractor tyre with sand from a builder’s merchant but you might not be very popular with your customers. Why?
- Not all sand is safe and/or appropriate for dogs to dig (or breathe)
- Your sand pit may not be big enough or deep enough and could result in injury
The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Building a Sand Pit in Their Dog Field
Using the Right Sand for A Dog Sand Pit
By far the most common mistake people make when installing a sand pit is using the wrong type of sand.
As an owner of dogs with white paws and legs, I’m made aware of the tell-tale signs of the wrong sand being used within seconds of my dogs getting stuck into a sand pit! Orange staining.
This means that the sand pit has been filled with building sand or sharp sand, the staining being iron – and showing that the sand has not been sold as ‘washed’.
Why is this a problem?
Aside from the fact that people don’t like their dogs to come back from a dog field a different colour, it has a lot of other issues. Construction sands are not designed to come into contact with skin, they have not been cleared as safe to do so and they are designed for building, not for playing in or getting in your mouth (a side effect of digging).
There are frequent debates about the safety of construction or industrial sands for sand pits but the conclusion is always the same – they are not designed for the job so don’t use them. Many construction sands have additives, fungicides and other chemicals in to make them better at the job they are designed for and the manufacturers are not always required to declare everything in them. They can come ‘clean’ or ‘washed’ but that doesn’t mean they are safe and some have very high levels of dust.
Good quality Play Sand is the right product to use in your dog field sand pit and yes, it is more expensive. This is because it goes through more intensive processing, with grading, cleaning and removal of nasties that can cause respiratory issues if inhaled. Dogs breathe more heavily than kids and they also mush their faces into sand pits so make sure you safeguard your customers by investing in the good stuff.
You can buy good quality play sand by the tonne bag for around £100 so a few bags once a year is a relatively small expense.
If you have a sand pit that has builder’s sand or any type of construction sand, don’t panic but, we strongly advise replacing it at your earliest convenience. There are dog owners who will know that these sands are potentially hazardous and it’s not what you want your customers to have as a take home impression. Whilst many dog owners might not be aware of the health risks, they may certainly object to the sticky fur and orange paw prints that result.
Depth of Sand and Underlay
The second most common mistake people make when constructing a sand pit not making it deep enough.
Whatever depth you think your sand pit needs to be, you should probably double it! As you are building a sand pit for a variety of diggers, you need to accommodate the ones who want to get to Australia as well as those who came for a mani-pedi! 75cm deep is the minimum depth we’d recommend – deep enough for even the most earnest diggers to admit defeat.
Depth is also important when it comes to deciding what you line your sand pit with. You want something that allows the sand to drain but still retains it and prevents the bottom of your sand pit becoming mixed with the soil underneath. What you choose depends on how you are constructing your sand pit – is it raised off the ground, laid on the surface or submerged in the ground?
The important thing to ensure is that whatever you use, it is not going to present a risk to the dog if it catches a claw when digging.
Tyre Sand Pits
A really popular way of containing sand is by using tyres but they’re not always the best solution. Here’s why:
- People typically use tractor tyres that sit high off the ground, making it difficult for smaller dogs to access
- Unless they are well buried, the wall of the tyre curves in and is something dogs can catch their claws on when digging
- Where sand gets stuck in the tyre wall curves it can easily get contaminated, water logged and unsanitary
- They are difficult to clean (so people often don’t)
- Often people don’t line or construct them properly so once much of the sand has been displaced, they end up as a mix of soil and sand and that’s really just a mud pie
We know – they’re free, hence their popularity, but you may want to consider investing some time and money in making a sand pit that is a good size, can be easily cleaned and maintained, and will last.
Sand Pit Drainage
Sand pits need to drain so don’t line them with pond liner or they will turn into sinking sand in the wetter months.
They also need to be free draining to reduce the chances of a build up of bacteria and fungus.
Dangers: Not Cleaning or Replacing Sand
Sand pits aren’t a ‘set it and forget it’ additional to your field. Nothing is! Regular cleaning and maintenance is essential to keep the sand pit in good condition. You should regularly check the sand for foreign objects like buried toys, sticks or other abandoned items. You can do this with a rake but a deep dive with a shovel once a week is recommended.
Some dogs use sand pits like cats so it’s really important to keep on top of the hygiene. Because of the number of canine ‘users’ of your sand pit, we also recommend changing the sand out at least once a year to ensure nothing sinister sets in. A 2.5m square sandpit will only set you back around 2 tonnes in sand.
It is possible to ‘clean’ the sand with vinegar solution, bleach solutions or using various other sanitising methods. Given the volume of sand you are dealing with, and the processes required to do an effective job, it’s more economical to simply remove the old sand, spray the pit area with vinegar solution and add new sand.
Some people chose to close their sand pits down in the winter to prevent the sand getting contaminated with mud and winter detritus which can prolong the life of the sand.
Sand Pit Design and Maintenance Tips For a Dog Field
- Make the sand pit at least 2.5m square by 75cm depth allowing for a decent size play area and volume
- Buy high quality, non-toxic play sand with as little dust as possible (BSEN1177 is often quoted as a standard but is in relation to ‘impact testing’ so is irrelevant) to reduce any risks of respiratory issues
- Rake and check for buried objects daily on your fence and field checks
- Deep dig weekly
- Replace sand in Spring and consider covering entirely in winter
- Include details of your sand pit and your expectations in your terms and conditions
We hope you’ve found that useful! Sand pits are very popular and a well designed one will be a great enrichment activity for your canine visitors.
If you are setting up a dog field, or thinking about it and would like support, please take a look at our consultancy services. We’ll help you avoid costly mistakes and make good design choices that will not only help with your planning application but ensure that your field is user friendly for a wide variety of customers. Find out more below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help.