8 Simple Rules to Follow at the Dog Park, According to a Dog Trainer

To many, dog parks seem like a paradise for pups and owners alike. They're a great place to meet fellow dog owners, introduce your pup to new pals, and, for city dwellers in particular, ensure your dog is getting the chance to run around and stretch their legs. They're basically grassy expanses on which dogs of all breeds and sizes can frolic freely and amicably ⁠— if that's not your idea of heaven, I'm not sure what is.

In order to bring this heavenly little vision to life, though, there's some important etiquette dog owners need to keep in mind: rules to follow, red flags for which to watch out, and a few key items to have on-hand. If you're a new dog owner — or just a newbie to the world of dog parks — wondering what you need to know, you've come to the right spot. POPSUGAR chatted with dog trainer Tori Wheeler of Premier K9 Training and Services (a graduate of The Michael Ellis School for Dog Trainers and, full disclosure, my sister) to get the full low-down. Here are her top eight tips and tricks.

Pick Up After Your Dog
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Pick Up After Your Dog

"Always, always, always pick up after your dog," Tori said. "That's rule number one." Seems pretty straightforward, but it's easy to forget a little bag and leave behind a big mess if you're not mindful! Be sure to bring a few literal doggy bags (like these biodegradable, mint-scented bags from Amazon) with you to the dog park.

Bring a Long, Loose Leash
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Bring a Long, Loose Leash

Whether it's your first or 50th trip to the dog park, don't let your dog off-leash unless you're completely certain they're ready to be (i.e. you've trained them to go off-leash and have watched them socialize with other dogs appropriately).

If you're not sure your dog's ready for the off-leash life, no worries! Tori recommends putting them on a long, loose leash — about six feet or so in length — to give them just the right amount of freedom.

"Also be sure give the entire length of leash when one dog is meeting another," she said, meaning you want to give the dog lots of slack rather than keeping the leash taut. Otherwise, you may be "communicating tension through the leash" and unintentionally stressing your dog out as they interact with others.

Like the floppy ears of a basset hound, long and loose is ideal.

Be Hyper Vigilant
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Be Hyper Vigilant

Sure, dog parks are great for human socializing (just think of the potential for 101 Dalmatians-style meet-cutes!), but try not to get so caught up in conversation with the other dog parents that you take your eyes off the pups.

"People enjoy chatting at dog parks, but you still need to pay attention to what's going on with the dogs," Tori explained.

For example, if your dog's starting to snarl or holding their tail between their legs, it could indicate that they're feeling particularly aggressive or nervous. Keep an eye out for these signs before the situation escalates.

Learn How to Break Up a Fight
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Learn How to Break Up a Fight

While the odds you'll have to break up an actual dog fight are (hopefully) very slim, it's important you know how to navigate this situation going into a dog park (lest you, another owner, or your dogs get bitten).

"A lot of times, dogs will resolve things on their own, but that's not always the case," Tori said. So it's imperative you know how to safely break up a fight. And no, grabbing your pup by the collar is not the way to go.

Tori's recommended course of action? "Grab the dog by the [back] ankles or the thighs — whatever is easier in the immediate moment — then hoist them up to your chest and pull backwards," she explained. "This allows you to pull the dog back from the other dog, but without picking up their full weight. It's very light-lifting, even if you've got a big dog. Additionally, if the dog you're holding is aggressive, they won't be able to turn around and bite you from this position."

Leave the Favorite Toys at Home
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Leave the Favorite Toys at Home

Dog toys may seem like a necessity for your dog park outing, but there's a chance they'll lead to more jealousy than joy. In the name of minimizing conflict, you may want to leave your dog's favorite tennis ball or squeeze toy at home.

"If your dog has any guarding issues, I wouldn't bring the toy they love to the dog park, as that could start a fight," Tori said. "Only bring toys if you know your dog is willing to share them and will be accepting if another dog tries to take them away, because they definitely will."

Don't Forget the Treats
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Don't Forget the Treats

Forgo the favorite toys, but certainly don't forget the favorite treats! A small treat like a Blue biscuit can go a long way in calling your dog back, especially in an environment as stimulating and distracting as a dog park.

"If and when you want to call your dog back to put their leash on and leave, treats are excellent," Tori said. "Even the most distracted dogs will come back to have a treat, so you won't have to be chasing them around the park."

That said, be wary that other dogs will likely come running to you as well. Make sure you check with any other pups' owners before dishing out treats to their dogs as well (no matter how popular and beloved you may feel!).

Don't Scold Your Pup
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Don't Scold Your Pup

If treats aren't doing the trick and your pup's still not coming when called, don't scold them! This certainly won't motivate them to come any quicker.

"If your dog is not coming when called, quietly walk over to the dog and clip the leash on yourself," Tori explained. "Don't punish or scold them! Talk to your dog in a nice voice, or even praise them. That way, it'll be a lot easier to leash your dog and leave the dog park, now and in the future, than if you were to scold them for coming too late."

Stay Hydrated
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Stay Hydrated

This advice applies in and outside of the dog park, but be sure to bring plenty of water along for you and your pup.

"Always a good idea to bring water to the dog park," said Tori, as dogs are running around and may exert themselves more quickly than they would on an ordinary walk. Bring some water for yourself as well — hydration is important for humans, too!