Downs Park Dog Beach

Penny, left, a black Newfoundland and Labrador mix, gets acquainted with Sugar the Goldendoodle at the Dog Beach at Downs Park. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / June 8, 2013)

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You say Rover wants to roam, but your postage-stamp backyard isn't cutting it? Clearly, you and your pooch need to take advantage of the nearest friendly neighborhood dog park.

Not that every neighborhood has one, or that they're all created equal. Some technically aren't "dog parks" at all. But people bring their dogs there anyway.

The classic dog park is a fenced-in area where dogs and their people are welcome, but leashes are strictly verboten. Some are urban oases, some are within larger parks, and some are even on the beach, where sticks tossed into the water don't stand a chance.

"You know, a rowhouse with no backyard really doesn't give them much room to run around," says Peter Selde, who was with his year-old yellow Lab, Riley, at the Locust Point Dog Park on a recent hot morning. "We love to get her out with other dogs."

And then there are the de facto dog parks — expanses of trees and grass nominally reserved for people but nonetheless welcoming to the well-behaved (and leashed) dog. There, dogs may not be able to run as freely, but they don't seem to mind.

We sampled six parks in the Baltimore area — four designed for dogs, one shared by dogs and humans alike, one not yet open but already fancied by area canines — and asked the dogs what they thought. In some cases, we asked the owners, too. Happily, there were few complaints.

Canton Dog Park

With its two fenced-in areas, Canton Dog Park celebrates that every dog is different: One is for large dogs, the other for smaller or older dogs. That's the reason Amy Richards brings her 6-year-old Boston terrier, Max, from Federal Hill to Canton.

"Max is shy, especially around bigger dogs, so it's nice that I don't have to worry about that here," Richards says. "He can just run around and do his own thing."

But even for more outgoing dogs, the separated areas offer owners peace of mind. "My wife and I like this park because our dog gets excited easily," says Scott Kelly of Canton, who comes with a 2-year-old chocolate Lab named Jake. "He loves playing with other dogs, but at this park we can make sure it's with pups his own size."

Park amenities include a drop-off area, where patrons can donate plastic bags for owners to clean up after their dogs, and hand-sanitizer stations. Note that the park is made of sand rather than grass, which can get messy if you drive and don't appreciate sand in your car.

3221 Toone St. Open daily from dawn to dusk. Membership is $10-$20 per year. Call 410-342-9000 or go to

Downs Park Dog Beach

As a treat for dog and owner, check out this bayside stop in Pasadena. Secluded from the rest of Downs Park, it's accessible by a staircase leading down to the water. There's little shade but plenty of room for dogs to run in the sand, wade at the water's edge or even swim about.

Getting to the park, at the eastern end of Mountain Road, can be a drive, but regulars say it's worth it.

"There are not many places like this anymore," says Dana Perkins, who brings her two mixed cocker spaniels from Bowie each week. "Smokey and Trei love it here — I always get tired before they do!"

While the beach is relatively quiet during the week, Saturdays and Sundays can get crowded. Mike Smith, whose family owns a 7-month-old Newfoundland-Lab mix named Penny, says that shouldn't discourage newcomers.

"We're usually here every weekend," says the Pasadena resident. "All of the dogs are well-behaved, and everyone gets along."

8311 John Downs Loop. Open 7 a.m. to dusk daily except Tuesdays. Entry is $5-$6 per vehicle, free for the military. Call 410-222-6230 or go to