By Dog Behavior Expert Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA

Some dog behaviorists, behavior consultants and behavior specialists will not take their personal dogs to dog parks – ever. I am not one of those people. If you use some common sense and follow the guidelines below, you and your dog can both have a fun and stimulating time at the dog park.

If you notice dog fights and/or screaming owners at any time while you are at the dog park, leave and come back another day.  Your dog will be a little disappointed, but this is better than exposing him or her to that kind of environment.

Abide by the rules of the dog park. These rules are normally posted by the entrance and include things such as keeping an eye on your dog the entire time and picking up after your dog.

If your dog appears to be overwhelmed by how the other dogs are playing with him or her, take your dog home. He or she is not having a good time for whatever reason on that particular day.

Take your dog off his or her leash before entering the dog park and don’t carry any food or treats with you into the dog park. Also, remove anything other than a flat collar from your dog before entering (e.g., head collar, prong collar, choke collar, etc.)

Unaltered dogs (i.e., unspayed and unneutered) should not be taken to a dog park. The other dogs in the park find unaltered dogs extremely interesting because of the smells they emit. This frequently results in scuffles and other problems. Unaltered females in heat can really get things interesting and dangerous.

Don’t take very young puppies to a dog park. Take them to puppy group training classes instead.

Don’t take infants or young children to a dog park. I once saw someone with an infant in a baby carriage at a dog park. What?!

If your dog is dog or human aggressive, please don’t take him or her to a dog park. Dog parks are absolutely not the place to “socialize” aggressive or fearful dogs. Taking these dogs to a dog park is like taking someone who is afraid of water and throwing him or her in the deep end of an Olympic pool. It can make things worse. See a dog behavior consultant instead.

When dog fights erupt, do not stick your hand in the middle of things in an attempt to break up the fight. Your chances of getting bitten are extremely high and it will almost always be a very bad bite especially if you’re on the “big dog” side of the park.

Know when to take your dog to the dog park. I highly recommend not introducing your dog (or you) to dog parks at peak times. Take your dog the first few times during normal work hours or when the weather is not the greatest so the traffic levels at the dog park will be low.

Not every dog loves dog parks. Just like some people don’t love big parties, some behaviorally healthy dogs don’t love dog parks. You can tell if your dog doesn’t love dog parks by observing that he or she avoids other dogs by staying almost exclusively by the fence or with the owners.

Leave your smartphone in your car. Focus on your dog instead of Facebook and text messages! The latest electronic crazes will come and go, but you’re creating lifetime memories with your dog.