Woofs & waves: 6 tips for walking your dog on the beach

Enjoying long walks on the beach would be top of the 'list of hobbies' for many dogs if they had an online dating profile - and could type.

University of Adelaide animal behaviour expert Petra Edwards shares 'how to enjoy a safe and enjoyable beach walk with your dog this summer'.

The South Australian coastline is a magnificent rest stop. With summer fast approaching, you can expect to see more frisbees and barking balls of fluff on our foreshores.

However, sometimes, even the best ‘good boy’ can cause trouble if we don’t watch them closely. After all, as dogs want to roll in seaweed and eat unidentified sand clumps, it is safe to assume they don’t always make good choices. 

We all want to enjoy a safe, enriching adventure at the beach with our best bud. To help with this, I’ve collated some knowledge from my study and research at the University of Adelaide, and from my work as a Beach Patrol Officer with two suburban Adelaide councils.

Tip #1 - Let them sniff

Sniffing is second nature to dogs. SCENT-sational adventures are a great way to give dogs a safe outlet for an instinctive and genetic need. Sniffing can lower a dog’s heart rate, which is a great indicator they are becoming more relaxed.

As a pet parent, you might tire your dog with exercise and high intensity activities to avoid a build-up of playful or mischievous energy around the home. Here is the catch: exhaustion does not teach dogs how to behave. 

Frequent high intensity exercise – such as long games of fetch, compulsive chasing of waves or non-stop play with other dogs - might also have a negative effect on your dog’s behaviour. This is because constant intense exercise will create a fitter dog - and then a fitter dog will need more exercise, more often.

A more useful training approach is to teach your dog how to settle down irrespective of how much exercise they receive, and allowing them to use their noses can help with that.

A significant portion of canine cognitive energy is devoted to cataloguing different scents. All this sniffing can be mentally tiring, and can be a great way to break up your exercise routines. 

Some days of high intensity are ok, but lots of days could just be a nice stroll with lots of mental enrichment in new places. The style and amount of energy your dog expends is important - a relaxed, extended SCENT-sational roam is one of the best outlets for them.


Dog Beach Patrol

Image courtesy of @kai_the_cavoodle via Pets of Charles Sturt.

Tip #2 - Know your council paw laws

Do you know your local dog laws? Many suburban beaches have laws during daylight savings specific to the use of dog leashes.

Set yourself and your dog up for success by knowing the relevant information before going for stroll on the beach.

These are the most common rules for suburban beaches in South Australia:

  • While on the sand, your dog must be on a leash between 10am and 8pm.
  • Your dog may be off leash outside of these times if they are under effective control.
    If you can’t call your dog away from another dog or person, your dog should not be off leash at all.
  • In public spaces like footpaths, your dog must be on a lead at all times.
  • A leash must not be longer than 2 metres.

These laws are important to obey as council officers do patrol beaches.

If your dog struggles with voice command, try reinforcing good behaviour with some tasty treats as a reward. If you need help, contact a qualified trainer from your local RSPCA.


Tip #3 - Be considerate of other people and dogs

I’m a self-professed ‘dog-person’, but I also know that dogs aren’t for everyone. If you are allergic, phobic, recovering from surgery, elderly, had previous traumatic experiences with dogs, you may not love unsolicited attention from beach faring dogs.

Ensure your dog is respectful of other beachgoers who might not want the attention of your excited furry friend.

Dog beach leash

Image courtesy of Pets of Charles Sturt.

Consideration of other dogs on the beach is important too. Just like humans, many dogs need personal space so they can comfortably learn about their immediate surrounds. You never know if another dog is elderly, very young, recovering from surgery, in training, or excessively shy or afraid. Some dogs might not have had the chance to socialise properly yet due to COVID isolation and lockdowns.

All dogs and people deserve to be able to explore the beach while feeling safe and relaxed. 

If you see another dog that wants to play with your dog, watch them closely to ensure both dogs are having a good time.


Tip #4 - Wildlife call the beach home too

As a general tip, steer clear of wildlife on the beach.

An incredible array of native wildlife call South Australian beaches home. Seals often laze on the rocks near Semaphore Park and enjoy the Grange Beach waves. Dolphin pods play near the foreshore on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Sharks often patrol the coastline too. Flocks of sea and shore birds fly overhead - while some birds, such as the Hooded Plover and Red-capped Plover, are ground nesting and often live among the sand dunes. 

Hooded Plover beach sign by Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image by Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

These ground-nesting birds need our help to survive busy beaches. Adults are tiny and lay their eggs on the sand where dogs and humans may accidentally step. Chick eggs need the warm incubation of a parent bird sitting on their nest. When adult birds leave their perch to distract potential predators such as dogs, the vulnerable eggs can cook in the sun.

Chicks are also precocial, meaning they walk from the nest to the shoreline for food. The survival rate for ground-nesting birds is low and unfortunately dogs - and distracted dog owners - bare significant responsibility for this. 

The City of Charles Sturt and City of Holdfast Bay changed their laws to address these wildlife concerns. Most significantly, these new laws indicate dogs must be on lead within 100m of a marked nesting site for these plovers.

If you’re not an eagle-eyed bird spotter, don’t worry. Plover nesting sites will be signposted and often roped off to alert beachgoers when they are entering breeding zones.

Please be considerate of the magnificent wildlife we with whom we share our beaches. Be sure to clip your dog on lead as you’re walking past breeding zones.


Tip #5 - Be mindful of the heat

We have all experienced that awkward waddle when the beach sand or bitumen is too hot for our feet to handle.

Testing the temperature of the pavement before dog walking is commonplace during the Australian summer. However, we sometimes forget that beach sand is hot for dog paws too! If the sand is hot on your feet, your dog will find it hot too. Find another walking route or wait for another day to avoid burning your pup’s paws.

Heat stroke and heat stress are real risks for dogs as well as humans.

Dogs regulate their temperature through panting, which is why dogs with short noses such as French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, or boxers, struggle to maintain cooler body temperatures, even on the mildest of days.

Avoid long periods of direct sunlight. If you’re getting some outdoors exercise with your dog on a warm day, try going in the early morning or late evening. Pack some extra water for both of you, and make sure your dog’s water bowl is deep enough for their tongue to scoop properly.

Dog Beach Wet

Petra’s dog Gus, enjoying a day at the beach before 10am and before it gets too hot!

A harness is the best option to ensure your dog’s airways aren’t accidentally restricted. Some styles of dog accessories such as muzzles, tight collars, or halti, may put your dog at higher risk of heat stress, if they restrict their ability to pant. Check out the dog walking equipment the RSPCA recommends.

Dogs don’t sweat the same way to humans, so a relaxing moment in the cool water is a great way for your dog to cool down.

If your dog is new to the ocean, visit the beach with a larger expanse of sandbank and on a calm day. Your dog will probably be more inclined to paddle in the shallow water rather than in the roar of breaking waves.


Tip #6 - Avoid over-staying

Dog beach sleeping by Alek_b from Pixabay

Image by ​Alek_B on Pixabay

Young and adolescent dogs can get overtired and irritable. And, just like us, they are less inclined to make good choices the more tired they become.

If your dog is still learning to come back when called and stay calm around other people or dogs – then keep your beach session short.

Too much too soon can be overwhelming for you and your dog. It’s better to leave having enjoyed yourself and having experienced great learning opportunities for your dog; rather than leaving with regrets over pushing your dog too long.

If you are going to the beach for a long time, give your dog a break. Take them away from busy areas, preferably in the shade where they can nap. Dogs naturally sleep 12-16 hours a day, so always fit a snooze in your schedule!

“Everyone loves sunny days at the beach with friends, loved ones, or for some solo downtime. Those of us who are dog parents find great joy in watching our dogs gallivant around our beautiful South Australian beaches. Let’s make woofs and waves fun for everyone.”Petra Edwards


Dog beach patrol

Image courtesy of Pets of Charles Sturt.

Sciences research in focus

Petra Edwards is an animal behaviour scientist from the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

Petra studied a Bachelor of Science (Animal Science) before completing an honours year researching animal behaviour. She is about to complete her PhD research on dog behaviour.

Being a Beach Education Officer with the City of Charles Sturt opened her eyes to the challenges of animal management, and how important an understanding of animal behaviour is to allow pet parents to build lasting relationships with their dogs.

Dog blog articles and video resources linked to in this story are courtesy of City of Charles Sturt.

Tagged in Engagement and Industry, Research, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Animal Behaviour