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Polish Your Dog Park Etiquette

A trip to the dog park can be a blast for both pet parents and their furry family members. Your dog gets a chance to burn off excess energy while socializing with other dogs. It's also a great way to help them bond more deeply with you.

While dog park rules and regulations vary from location to location, there are some commonly agreed-upon rules of etiquette and safety. Most parks have the governing rules displayed near the entrance. Familiarizing yourself with the rules and practicing the following tips can help you and your dog have a fun and safe outing.

A dog having fun at a dog park.

What to bring to the dog park

Leash. Keep your pet leashed at all times when you are not in the off-leash, fenced area. Have your leash handy — even in off-leash areas you want to be able to quickly move your dog away from an aggressive dog, if necessary.

Water. The American Kennel Club advises that you bring a portable water bowl and a filled water bottle. This protects the dog from the risk of communicable illnesses often posed by shared water bowls. Collapsible bowls are a great option since you can easily tuck them into your purse or backpack.

Toys. Bring along their favorite ball or Frisbee, but be aware that other dogs may try to compete for the toy. If playing fetch with you is the highlight of your dog's outing, visit the park during less-busy hours.

Waste Bags. Last, but certainly not least, don't forget waste bags. Although most dog parks have pooper-scooper stations, you can't always count on finding bags in stock. Cleaning up after your dog is essential. You don't want to leave an unsightly, unsanitary mess for someone else to deal with, and some communities can stick you with a substantial fine if you fail to pick up after your pet.

Before going to the dog park

Some parks require your dog to have a city license and/or rabies tag on their collar. Make sure the collar has up-to-date identification tags in case you and your pet get separated. A microchip can help add another layer of peace-of-mind. Make sure your dog's vaccinations are up to date and they are current on any flea and tick protection. In addition, many parks require that dogs be spayed or neutered, so be sure yours is in compliance. Also, try to eat before you go to avoid bringing human food with you. Some dogs may come over and start begging, which can potentially promote competition or aggression between dogs.

Entering the dog park

Take a moment to observe the dogs playing in the park before entering. Try to spot any dogs who might not be a good playdate for yours, whether based on size or energy level. Keep your dog on its leash until you've entered the off-leash area. If the park offers a separate area for small dogs, honor the size restrictions. Always ask permission before approaching or petting another dog, since they each have distinct personalities and backgrounds. Monitor your dog closely. Not all dogs are social and looking for someone to play with. Some just love the chance to stretch their legs off-leash and play fetch with their owner. If you see your pup approaching a dog that doesn't appear eager to engage, call them back to you immediately.

When your dog shouldn't go to the park

Dogs "in heat." A female dog in heat -- or when she's entered the fertile part of her reproductive cycle -- can cause quite a distraction for the other dogs and possibly inspire fights.

Dogs in pain. Parks can be traumatic places for dogs suffering from physical conditions such as hip dysplasia or arthritis. Your dog is far more likely to become aggressive with other dogs from the stress of anticipating injury or pain.

Puppies. Young dogs under the age of four months are not fully immunized and may be at risk for contracting illnesses from other dogs. They're also more vulnerable to being traumatized by another dog's rough behavior.

Aggressive dogs. Canines with a history of aggression toward other dogs or humans shouldn't be brought to a dog park.

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