Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules


As winter drags on, more and more “Northerners” are starting to dream of a vacation in the sun; anything to break up the seemingly endless cold, white of winter.   We start to crave plant life, color, heat, sunshine … and sand. With that in mind I thought now would be a good time to launch our Canine Etiquette Series, starting with a dog beach “code of conduct” in case you and your canine companion are soon setting off for some fun in the sun.

Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules

Are you ready for the beach?

When I was lucky enough to go to the off-leash dog beach near Naples, Florida, and then later in Livorno, Italy I had the opportunity to see two very different examples of accepted behavior for dog beaches.

The one in Florida was a bit of a free for all.  Big dogs ran around almost out of control forcing people with small dogs to segregate themselves off to the end of the beach in an attempt to find some place where the small dogs would not be rolled over like bowling pins and possibly hurt.  Owners did not seem to really pay attention to their canine charges letting them roam about the beach freely and only occasionally whistling or shouting their name to have them return. Interaction between canine and guardian was mostly tossing something into the water for a dog to retrieve.   Sadly a few people (a minority) seemed to think nothing of letting their dog waste just sit in the sand or shallow water until other pet owners would give them a piece of their mind – or pick up for them; a good example of the dog loving community policing itself.

With this approach towards off-leash beach behavior – we have to admit it is no surprise to us that they are hard to find and few in number.  The reality is that the least desirable beach is the one that gets “sacrificed” to the dogs, and although we had a good time, we did not feel the desire to go to that off-leash beach more than once.  It did not feel particularly safe for a small dog.

Montecristo at the beach in Greece

Quiet beach in Greece!

The behavior of those few irresponsible dog owners that did not “pick up” has caused the ever unfortunate rule of “no dogs” for most of the beaches (ocean, river or lake) in the USA and Canada.  As a result a need for advocates for dog beaches exist and they have to work very hard to keep designated off-leash sections of dog beaches open to the public.  As such, off-leash dog beaches are a privilege and not a right on this continent.  Luckily we are seeing more beaches open to dogs as long as they remain on leash – Sanibel Island in Florida is a beautiful example of this perfect compromise.

By comparison, the dogs in Italy sat – off leash – quietly by their owner.  Large or small dogs stuck to their guardian always “at heel”. From time to time an area would be cleared of sunbathers near the water to make running room for the dogs to socialize and play.  The humans joined in rather than being spectators.  Games were more of the “catch me if you can” nature in lieu of tossing a ball and retrieving.  In fact when a person showed up with a ball it was frowned upon.  When asked we were told that balls (and Frisbees) can change a dog’s behavior into one of protective aggression and as such are not encouraged on the beach.

Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules Montecristo in Italy

Just drying off!


Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules

Owners took time to swim with their pet, mini boogie boards attached to a wrist strap – these available to the small dog for when they got tired from swimming with their biped too far off shore to swim back.   Many of the larger dogs went jogging or speed walking with their owner rather than running around aimlessly.   It was beautiful to watch all this companionship and affection.  Never did we see a person not follow the beach etiquette/rules and this silent code of conduct made it a pleasure for both canines and bipeds to share the often-crowded beaches.  It worked only because everyone – without exception –abided by the following 5 (canine and owner) beach etiquette rules:

1) Pick up waste!

Be prepared to deal with your dogs waste just like you are expected to deal with your own.  Do not bury your dog’s mess in the sand, or expect the waves to wash it all away.  Dog poop is surprisingly not all that biodegradable – especially for those eating a commercial dog food – yes what your dog eats impacts the environment!  Imagine if you stepped in another dogs poop because that owner was too stubborn to poop and scoop – pick it up! Dog friendly beaches sometimes provide garbage cans for waste disposal but bring your own bags and do not expect others to bail you out or for the city to provide those.  The advantage of bringing your own poop bags is that it allows you to choose biodegradable ones rather than plastic.

2) Supervise your dog and remain alert at all times!

The fact is you are your dog’s guardian and in the “fun frenzy” of the beach (North American style) you may not be able to trust your dog. Many things can happen – Your dog could:

  • get in a fight,
  • bite a human,
  • injure another dog,
  • poop without you seeing in order to pick-up,
  • run on a persons sunbathing or children building sand castles,
  • knock over a beach set-up letting a sun umbrella fly in the wind injuring others
  • get sick from sun/heat stroke or from drinking too much salt water
  • harm or be harmed by wildlife

In plain language taking your dog to the beach means watching it like a hawk.  Taking your dog to off-leash beaches does not mean everyone there will or should “understand” or even tolerate bad behavior.  In some ways, it is the same as watching a toddler.

Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules find shade.

In Bulgaria on the black sea. Loved Livorno’s beach it had SHADE!

3) Good behavior and perfect recall!

If you still do not control your dog than the beach, especially an off leash beach, is not for you yet.  Excessive barking, lack of recall, aggressive behavior, pulling on a leash and uncontrolled exuberance have no place on the beach.

In addition – right or wrong – certain breeds have a reputation for “pray drive”.  If you own one such breed keep them off the beach until your dog has impeccable manners.  It is sad that this often wrongful reputation adds to the need for extra care – but do not be the “bad owner” that adds to their fallacious reputation by allowing your dog to accidently trample, knock over or bark at a toddler for example.

Call your local canine school and enroll for some instant recall classes and socialize your dog well in advance.  The beach is not the place to first introduce your pet to other dogs, or children.  Basics like “sit”, “come”,” heel” and “stay” should be well ingrained. Introduce your dog to the beach (for the first few times) during off peak hours like early in the morning to get them use to the smells and all the new sounds before adding other distractions into the mix.

4) The law is the law!

You may not agree with a law but that doesn’t mean you can break it … or even bend it.  For example, Sanibel Island in Florida has many beaches that allow dogs, but do not allow them to be off-leash.  Leashes cannot be more than 6 feet.  Respect that, no matter how well mannered your canine.  Make sure you know the law and restrictions.  Read the signs and follow the rules. Breaking the law can have several negative consequences including hefty fines. Do not be the one that spoils it for all others.

Disregarding the law risks the privilege of dog beaches being revoked or setting back any hard work being done behind the scenes to create more off-leash beaches.

5) Be considerate of others please!

Unless you are one of the lucky few that own land and have your own private beach – you are sharing with many others.  Not just humans but other dogs and wildlife as well. Don’t let your dog go where it’s not supposed to go.  Some places have areas that protect certain marine birds and as such are off limits to dogs that could disturb flightless birds and young chicks in a nest.  This is especially true for dogs such as retrievers and terriers that thrive on the fun of tracking down waterfowl for example.

Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules

Going to sit here quietly. Thanks!

Always keep your dog from bothering others including constant barking, displaying aggressive behavior, and trampling over sunbathers, small children and picnic lunches.  Even other dog lovers do not want your wet dog in their faces, on their beach towel and eating their food – I hate to break it to you but … no it is not “cute”.

Everyone, including dogs, deserve a good day at the beach! Remember to drink lots of water (yes, dog too!), stay in the shade when possible and if your dog has fair skin and short fur you may want to consider, as mention in our post about protective dog clothing, a sun guard t-shirt (sun block is poisonous to most animals)… maybe even doggles to protect eyes from sand and sun damage. Whatever you do … please follow the rules, be courteous and keep the dog beaches open for us all to enjoy.

Is there a dog beach you like to go to? Please tell me about it here!



29 Comments on “Top 5 Best Dog Beach Etiquette Rules

  1. Lovely post! So true about American dog beaches. Rather a free for all, although we will say, we have seen no dog fights, just dog fun. Raja often goes to play on the the dog beach in Long Beach California at tne end of Argon Avenue. Raja says he loves to dig in the sand like Montecristo! Go Montecristo!

    • Oh Raja and Helen!! Yes we agree … never saw a fight unless it was in fun over a ball or a stick that had found its way to the beach. We are just trying to illustrate that – even with two very different approaches to off-leash beach behaviour – the same etiquette applies! we will admit we did not particularly like having very large wet dogs invade our space … even on a dog beach.

      I LOVE digging in the sand!! Raja do you, like me, make piles of what you find? I make a pile for shells and a different pile for any rocks or wood. You?

  2. I hate going to dog beaches (and some dog parks) because of some of the behaviour you described in Naples. The one in Toronto is terrible! People go there TO exercise their dogs (and not themselves), rather than after exercise to relax. Shenzi got humped constantly by a medium sized dog, whose owner never once took off his headphones or acknowledged our existence, Sadie was constantly bowled over by dogs wanting to play, and while working on some swimming exercises for shenzi’s back, a dog bit me because I didn’t throw his ball right away when he brought it to me (his owner was chit chatting on the other side of the beach and I had to get Dave to keep him occupied so shenzi could swim without being frightened). I do like bringing a ball at times as it’s the only way to get shenzi to go in, and to get Sadie to swim further, which is great for their old joints, however I wouldn’t use one of it was really busy. I don’t go to dog beaches and parks anymore because people have ruined it for me. I would LOVE to see the one in Italy some day.. Perhaps even while shenzi is still with us! Thanks for the great article, I hope all the right people read it!

    • THANK YOU for this message. We tried to be far more kind in our description but bottom line the difference was basically that in the US people went to socialize with other people (and drink beer) and let the dogs run amok. On the other hand – in Italy (and this is true in France as well) the dogs were there as companions and watched like one would a toddler. If ever you do go to Italy this might help you!

      You WOULD love Sanibel in Florida (closer than Italy…)! The on leash aspect changes everything. Perhaps and sadly — in North America that is our only way to keep those that are FAR too nonchalant about this in check.

      Our theory is that in Italy and France etc. people live in much closer quarters – so social graces and etiquette is part of family values and education. Here – with more space perhaps we have less perceived need. But I believe we DO need to bring this issue to the forefront. Thanks for dropping in but remember if in Italy … leave the ball in the hotel room!

  3. Haha will do! Luckily shenzi’s ball is tiny and only “thrown” about 2 feet at a time. I think it’s important for people to remember that dogs should exercise elsewhere – on a controlled walk – and go to dog parks and beaches for socialization. Putting a bunch of wound up dogs that have been sitting in an apartment all day, together at a park or beach, and ignoring them, is just asking for trouble!!

  4. I heard Sandbanks (near Picton) had a designated beach for dogs. Have never been there, but would love to check it out. Anyone ever been and how would you rate it? The beaches at Sandbanks are amazing, so I’m hoping the dog one is pretty good too. thanks

  5. Thanks for the article!Fantastic! Monte, I think you should write a book. Practical tips from the little Monte! ;))) Wonderful images – especially with your Mom on the beach! It’s so romantic …
    Wonderful advice – I agree with everything written.
    When we’re on the beach always guided our dog on a leash, because it is very emotional and unpredictable. To avoid accidents with other dogs or children. It is my duty not to harm others! Everyone should be responsible owners. Big kisses!

  6. Here in Charleston South Carolina there are designated off-leash and on-leash hours for almost all of the beaches. The hours usually change depending on the season, for instance, during the winter you will find that off-leash is allowed for several hours in the morning and on-leash for the rest of the day but during the summer the hours dogs are allowed on the beach are restricted due to high human traffic. During the summer, dogs are usually restricted to early morning and after dark. Also, a lot of the beaches require all dogs on the beach to have a dog beach license or permit which you get at town hall by showing your rabies certificate, your drivers license, your liability insurance, and a notarized letter stating that you have no knowledge of your dog having aggressive behavior. You also pay a small fee. It is actually a really simple process (you can actually get the notarized letter right there at the town hall at the same time as you get your permit) and I think weeds out the unmotivated, uncaring, irresponsible dog owners from bringing their dogs to the beach.

      • Yes, it is sad that people are irresponsible with their pets, children, etc etc etc, but glad to see at least some are realizing this and putting precautions in place! I take my 10lb cockapoo Callie to the dog park across from my house, every day, and at least once every two weeks or so there is an unfixed male dog that starts a fight. I’d say 90% of the time, the owner of the dog will say something along the lines of “oh, he does this all the time”. How these people think it is okay for them to bring their dogs to the dog park, I’ll never know or understand. And I’m sorry to anyone who thinks I’m stereotyping unfixed male dogs but I’ve taken my dog to the dark park almost every day for over a year, and all the dog fights I’ve ever seen have been started by unfixed males. Obviously other people will have other experiences, but this is mine, and it is unfortunate.

        • I have heard that before – in fact – it is something they use as a “+” when telling you to get your dog fixed. How anyone with poor behaved dogs (or children) accept it and do nothing boggles my mind.

  7. This is a great post, I really enjoyed reading about different dog-friendly beaches around the world. I also think it’s so important for more people to be aware of certain etiquette that is required on public beaches-and this should not stop there!

    Thanks for the great read!

  8. Monte,
    This is a wonderful article!! Living in FL, I enjoy the beach very much so I appreciate your wisdom! My favorite beach is Dog Beach on Honeymoon Island, Dunedin. The warm waters are quiet, with soft white sand and beautiful scenery. I do not have a problem with the on-leash requirement, being 4lbs, I feel much more safe with no worries of big dogs running free.
    Isabella Rose

    • Sounds magical Isabella Rose … hope one day you will take me!!! Yes leash helps make us small dogs safe from the big ones that have not had all the training they maybe should have!

    • Very cute Zannah … I don’t wear a collar (Chihuahua’s have very fragile tracheas and shouldn’t) but I shall pass this along to my friends on Facebook. 🙂

      • That just gave me yet another idea for your blog! How about an article on “reverse sneezing” vs “collapsed trachea” ? These are pretty common in smaller dogs, like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians and Yorkies. Just an idea….

        • Could be good … especially on what to do if you are miles away from a vet when travelling. I will jot it down in my notepawd. Never hesitate to share an idea or comment!! We love active readers!

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  11. Pingback: Our Round Up for Travelling With a Small Dog!

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