Playing at the dog park (or, at our community, the bark park) is an important part of your dog’s social development and helps your pup to get regular exercise while having fun outside. Time spent playing and interacting with other dogs is more than just a lot of tail chasing and bottom sniffing-it can also be intimidating, and without awareness of other dogs and owners, even scary.

In order to make your time at the dog park as happy as it is safe for everyone, it’s important to keep in a mind a few simple practices in proper dog park etiquette. Staying aware and conscious of your own pet is an excellent first step in creating a relaxed environment for all dog park visitors. We’re not official dog trainers, but we are dog lovers, and we know how important it is to give your pet a happy, healthy and safe environment.

Here are some basic tips in dog park etiquette to help you and your dog get back to the business of safely having a blast at the bark park.

Stay Close and Be Present

Never leave your dog unattended at the dog park. While your dog may be a regular visitor to your favorite park and may have absolutely no history of aggression issues, it’s still important that, in a public place, you stay close by and act as your pet’s human representative. Being close doesn’t just mean being physically nearby-you’ll also want to make sure that you’re alert, aware and have your eyes on your pup. As soon as your pup enters the park, put away your phone, tablet or book, and keep your eyes on the acitivity in the park. This doesn’t mean you have to wait for something bad to happen, but it does mean that you watch closely to help prevent issues, and are close should your pet or another owner need you.

Keep Your Dog’s Vaccinations Updated

It’s not a good idea to bring a puppy under 4 months to a dog park, and if your dog’s vaccinations aren’t updated, it’s best to keep him home, too. Just as you wouldn’t want to expose yourself or your children to potentially harmful diseases, you don’t want to do the same to your own dog.

Only Healthy Dogs are Happy at the Dog Park

Before taking your pet to a new dog park, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog has a clean bill of health and is ready for social interaction. If your pet is acting sickly or uncomfortable, isn’t eating or just doesn’t seem himself, it’s probably not a good idea to try to bring his spirits up at the dog park. Take him to the vet when he’s ill, or give him some additional down time indoors if he has an upset stomach. Whatever you do, don’t put him in a vulnerable position at the park and expect positive results.

Pick Up Your Poop

You want to leave the park as beautiful and clean as you found it, and that means making sure to clean up when your dog has to do his or her business. Bring bags to pick up poop, and make sure to deposit them into a nearby receptacle.

Spay, Neuter or Avoid the Park When in Heat

This might seem like common sense, but it’s important to remember that if your dog isn’t spayed or neutered, and is in the presence of other dogs while in heat, well, you know how this could go. It’s best to bring spayed or neutered dogs to the park, but if yours isn’t, please avoid the dog park during your dog’s cycle.

Good Behavior Wins

Watch your dog’s behavior and make sure he or she is playing well with other dogs. If your dog becomes aggressive, quickly leash him or her and take her out of the park. If you notice other dogs acting aggressively, quickly leash your pup and leave, as well. Do NOT scold or put your hands on other dogs, even if you notice them acting aggressively. Reach out to their owner quickly for support, and get their designated human involved to help sort out any potential scuffles.

Be Friendly

Just as your pet needs to socialize at the dog park, so do you! Try to be friendly to other dog owners and enjoy sharing in your fur-babies’ lives. You don’t have to make new best friends, but bringing a friendly attitude to the park will spread, and create a more warm environment for dogs to play and play happily.

Follow the Rules

If your new dog park has rules posted, follow them! It’s important to respect the space you’re in to make sure that it stays open to dogs and remains clean and safe for them to play in. The more you abide by the rules, the more your pup will!