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Dog Park Etiquette: 7 Rules

How to keep your dog out of trouble at the dog park.
By Daphne Sashin
WebMD Pet Health Feature

For a pent-up dog, a trip to the dog park can be pure bliss. The dog gets to burn off energy, get some exercise, and play off leash with other dogs. And dog parks can be a great place for owners to socialize with other dog lovers and their pets.

But just like any playground, dog parks can be scenes of bullying and fighting. What happens when one dog won’t stop humping the others, starts a fight, or guards the dog park like his own front lawn?

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And what if - heaven forbid -- the offending dog is yours?

WebMD consulted with dog behavior experts about the best ways to avoid conflicts and make the most out of your trip to the dog park. Here are their tips:

1. Use common sense.

If your dog is sick or in heat, don’t bring it to the dog park. Same goes for dogs with a history of aggression toward other dogs, says Kimberly Anne May, DVM, MS, an assistant director at the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“You can work with a trainer or a veterinary behaviorist to try to get your dog’s aggression curbed so it can be a good citizen at these parks,” May says, but for some dogs, “it’s just not appropriate.”

2. Look before you enter.

Before stepping into the park, watch how the other dogs and owners are interacting. If one dog steals another’s toy or jumps on someone, does his owner pretend it didn’t happen? You don’t want your dog picking up bad social habits or getting victimized by another dog, says Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and author of How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves.

“It would be similar to saying, ‘Let’s bring my kid to the playground and its OK if he hits other kids because he’s just playing,’” Yin says.

3. Ease into it.

If it’s your first time, go early in the morning or in the middle of a weekday, when there’s less likely to be a crowd. Observe how your dog handles himself. If he’s trying to hide behind you, licking his lips and yawning, or looking in different directions, those are signs he’s afraid and wants to leave - and you should listen. A fearful dog can easily become an aggressor, Yin says.

“[With] a lot of people, you see their dog is trying to get out of the situation and they’re just standing there and their dog is like, 'Is someone going to help me?'" Yin says. “And then ... their dog snaps at another dog.”

4. Stay in command.

Most problems can be averted if your dog is trained to come when called, “meaning that you call them and the dog, within a split second, turns and runs full speed toward you," Yin says.

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