"Every dog must have his day," so proclaims the Jonathan Swift quote posted outside the dog park in Valley Stream.
Inside the pen, the dogs seem to be enjoying the day indeed, as eight of them run and tumble over each other on the AstroTurf, which features ramps to climb and a fire hydrant to . . . well, you know. There are hoses for water, too.
"They actually know each other," Woodmere resident Joanne Lindaur says over the din of barking dogs. Her own pet, a black-and-white mixed breed rescue named Billy, is the smallest of the bunch on this day, but he has no problem keeping up with the pack, weaving in and out of the legs of German shepherds and Labrador retrievers.
There are those who come in the morning, some in the afternoon and others near day's end. Owners chat as if old friends, with gentle ribbing and questions about each other's travel plans.
"You get to know people and you get out," says Nesconset resident Karen Hauk, 60, who often takes her three dogs to Blydenburgh County Park in Hauppauge.
LET 'EM RUN
At Blydenburgh, the dog park is a fenced area encompassing a large swath that travels back into the pine-tree-laden woods where the dogs can roam.
Angelo DiGiacomo, 65, of Smithtown, comes often with his 10-month-old Labrador mix, Sweetie; a bag of treats in his pocket for the other dogs, as well.
"She can't wait to come here," he says of Sweetie. "She got bit by a shepherd yesterday but still wants to come."
Yes, sometimes the play can become aggressive, dog owners say. That's when owners have to step in.
The woods give the dogs a place to sniff out new things, including small wildlife. Dogs get bored with the same smells in their own backyards, DiGiacomo says.
In the "small dog" area, Cindy Ventura, 56, of Bay Shore, and Hauk sit on plastic chairs while their dogs roam about.
"He likes to be in the mix," Ventura says as her dog Snoopy, an American Eskimo breed, stares pensively through the chain-link fence at the larger dogs.
Ticks are a problem at parks that border woods, so prepare accordingly.
CHAT AND PLAY
The dog owners settle in at one of the picnic tables and chat as their dogs play, seeming like more than acquaintances, with friendly teasing and casual conversations.
In Middle Island, the Town of Brookhaven's dog park also weaves through wooded areas. David Maldonado, 72, of Ridge, takes his dog there twice a day -- 6:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. -- and meets up with the other folks who tend to come at the same time each day, too.
"It's funny," he says. "You remember the dog's names, but not always the people's names."
DOG PARK ETIQUETTE
Along with the formally posted policies, dog owners say there is an unwritten code of conduct that rules the parks. Consider:
HYGIENE Owners are supposed to pick up after their dogs. In AstroTurf fields, a quick spray with the hose helps keep the smells down.
SIZE MATTERS Most parks have a fenced area for small dogs. While some small dogs can hang with the big boys and girls, rough play is a possibility. Dog-park regulars talk about broken bones and other injuries -- what is just "romping" to larger animals can be dangerous to smaller ones.
RESTRAINTS Dogs should be off-leash in the fenced area, since dogs on leashes can feel restrained from protecting themselves.
SOCIALIZING Be sure your dog is good with others. Regulars at the dog parks keep a keen eye on their animals to make sure fun isn't turning to something more hostile.
MUTUAL RESPECT Humans have feelings, too. Warranted or not, others may be nervous about your dog being in the pen with theirs. Both pets and people should be happy.