Assess the pack before entering
Every dog park is a bit different in its set-up, layout, rules and regulations. But one thing is always the same: dogs will be dogs. Despite all the training and socialization you may have done with your dog, and despite how reliable he or she may be off leash in your own yard, you can bank on seeing a different side of your dog when they arrive at the dog park.
It's an exciting place for dogs....almost too exciting for some! The mere presence of a ball, or the sight of a frisbee sailing through the air, might be enough to make some dogs forget all their manners and lose their self control....even if the ball or frisbee belongs to someone else who is throwing it for their own dog.
Before entering the dog park, take a few moments to peruse the other dogs who are already there. How are they behaving? Are they high-drive retrievers or herding dogs? Are they laid-back older dogs? Are they yappy little terriers? Now think about how your own dog may react around any of these personality types. Does your dog like to chase small furry creatures? If so, you may want to keep him on leash until the small dogs leave. (Or if you have a small dog, you may want to keep him separated until the big dogs leave, since our dog park doesn't yet have a section for little guys.) Does your dog get extremely competitive and possessive when it comes to catching balls and toys? That's fine...as long as there aren't any other dogs who feel equally as driven. Competition for valued resources (like toys, food, and sometimes even people) can cause dog fights. It won't matter "who started it." The rule of thumb is--like driving--"watch out for the other guy" (or dog, in this case).
It may seem like a wasted trip if you arrive at the dog park, observe the activity, and then decide that today's not the best day for your dog to be there. But it's far from wasted time or gas! You've given your dog the treat of a trip in the car, and you may have helped avoid a tragic fight or a costly vet bill.