Dog park dos and don'ts

Whether you're a dog owner in the city or the suburbs, chances are you're familiar with your local dog park. It's a canine playground, a place where your dog is free to sniff, run around and meet other dogs.

With dog parks opening back up, it's important to know basic etiquette when interacting with other canines. In this case, it is not just a matter of social formality. Failing to comply can put your dog and other pets at risk.

Use your judgment. If your puppy is less than 4 months old, avoid dog parks. Puppies this young are susceptible to illness and/or disease. Also, should your dog show any signs of illness or a contagious disease, don't bring it to the park, where it could infect any other dogs.

Keep a close eye. Watch your dog closely to be sure it is not becoming aggressive with another dog. Do not hesitate to intervene if play starts to get too rough. Sometimes you need to give your dog a quick timeout to regroup and calm down before returning to play.

Bring a toy. Feel free to bring a ball or other toy to the dog park, but be prepared to lose it. You may not want to bring your dog's favorite toy if your dog is possessive of it.

Be courteous. Always pick up after your dog, even if other owners are not doing the same.

Keep your dog hydrated. Bring a portable water bowl for your dog and offer it water often. (Water bowls at dog parks carry the risk of communicable illnesses.)

Stay in designated areas. Dog parks usually have separate sections for small and large dogs. Keep your dog in the designated area.

Don't bring snacks for yourself or your dog. This can be a tease to the other dogs and potentially cause aggressive behavior.

Be careful around intact dogs. Some dogs can behave aggressively when an intact dog is present, so you may want to avoid the dog park if your dog is not spayed or neutered. Instead, try taking your dog for a long walk, playing with its favorite toy, or teaching it a new trick for added mental stimulation.