Instruction set for Strangers

Designing an intervention for dogs to interact and play

While researching for places for our installation, we came across this awesome dog park which gave way to a thought – what if the strangers mentioned in the assignment were not necessarily humans? Is the definition of Strangers limited just to people or to something more broad, say our pets, who have not met each other before and hence have no intrinsic motivation to interact. As we further discussed on this, the more exciting it sounded. But this was challenging. How do we even begin to think of creating something to make the good boys interact with each other? 

The Hillside Dog Park is a beautiful place located near the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is built on land first acquired by the NYC Parks committee in the year 1946. Over the years, there have been many development proposals for this site. Plans to build baseball fields and tennis courts were thwarted because of the site’s unusual topography while commercial proposals were rejected because of the lack of other usable recreational space for the community. Soon the land around this was developed by Parks into the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, leaving this particular piece as it was not required in the highway construction. Following this, the community members started using this to run their dogs, garden, relax and socialize.

Being one of the biggest dog parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan, it had many different breeds of dogs with their owners playing all around the park. There were lots of trees providing shade and enough benches and picnic tables for owners to sit and be comfortable during a sunny day while their pals ran up and around the hilly terrain. The ground had dust and wood chips instead of grass which is more comfortable on paws. Availability of water fountains all around was a welcome addition. All these things make it a joyful place to spend a simple evening for anyone.

As we observed the owners, some were playing with their dogs (mostly with balls) while most were just relaxing as the dogs chilled around. Most of the dogs chose to play with the owners or remain by themselves, only a few interacted with others. Another interesting observation was the variety of dog breeds. Since there were all sized dogs from very small to very big, we also thought that our intervention should cater to all of them. To gain more insights, we approached several dog owners and interacted with them. Some very interesting thoughts that we came across are listed below.

Dogs like to play with balls and ropes (tug of war). But most people only carried balls as they were easier to carry and did not need other dogs to play with it. Since they have a wide range of hearing, they usually don’t like loud sounds (like fireworks, fire alarm) but some may respond to soft music. Dogs are color blind, so they won’t respond differently to different colored objects. Most dogs preferred interacting with humans to dogs.

Based on these research points we carried out different experiments. We came up with a few prototype ideas and tested them out.

Prototype 1: A tug-of-war styled game for dogs
Prototype 2: A water fountain idea

Testing for prototype was quite interesting as we got a lot of ideas and were able to confirm and reject different theories. We understood that dogs were quite interested in the rope idea, but if we kept it in a place, they would not pick it up by themselves. Their owners would also not pick it up thinking it was someone else's toy. So we needed to convey to owners that it was okay to use this toy and play with the dogs.