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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!