Lots of people walk their dogs by the sea, and we can see why – the fresh, salty air and soothing sound of the waves can bring us joy beyond words, and our furry friends have a wonderful time checking out all the interesting sights and smells.
A seaside stroll can be a mood-boosting breath of fresh air, but when enjoying a coastal walk with your dog, it’s important to remember the wildlife with which we share our shores. In summer, sand dunes hide ground nesting birds like skylark, while ringed plover lay their eggs on shingle. During the winter, saltmarshes and mudflats are teeming with feeding waders, and spits serve as important places to rest at higher tides.
By keeping our dogs close to us, we can protect coastal birds and prevent disturbance that impacts their survival.
Here are our top tips to enjoy a fun-filled walk at the beach with your dog, while respecting the needs of the birds that call it home.
Walk and play at the top of the beach
By keeping to footpaths or the top of the beach, you are putting distance between your dog and the areas where birds are likely to be feeding or resting. Winter waders like to be at the edge of the water, partly because of the rich feeding opportunities, and partly so they can make a quick getaway if they feel threatened.
When the tide is low, birds feed on the little creatures that live in the exposed mud. It’s a good idea to keep your dog away from this area for their own safety (the mud can be deep and sticky), and so the birds can continue to feed.
When the tide is high, you will often find birds resting on spits, raised areas of shingle or sand that stick out from the land. Steering clear of these means that they can continue resting undisturbed.
If your dog is a water baby and you want to give them an opportunity to swim, you can do this in a bird aware way by choosing an area where birds are never around. If you are unsure if birds are present, still try to make sure that most of your walk takes place at the top of the beach. Starting from the top, walk down to the water so your dog can have a dip, and then walk straight back up way you came. This way, you are at the water’s edge for a limited time, which will limit the potential for bird disturbance.
Enjoy off-lead time where birds are far away
If recall is a challenge, you can help the birds by saving off-lead time for areas that aren’t bird sensitive. Another option is to use a long line lead. Long line leads are an excellent way to give your dog lots of space around you to explore so they have the feeling of being off lead, while ensuring that they can’t stray too far from you.
Loose lead walking is another great way for your dog to experience a safe, enriching walk. It’s a way of walking your dog on the lead that encourages them to explore and engage with the environment, rather than staying beside you as they would in a typical “heel”. Once trained, your dog can walk at any distance away from you, within the length of the lead, as long as they aren’t pulling.
Follow requests on signs
Following requests on signs is an easy way to support local wildlife, especially those indicating when dogs should be on leads. This is also for your dogs’ safety as signs might warn of an unsafe path, cattle or other dangers.
Make staying close fun!
Playing games with your dog is a great way to tire them out physically and mentally, as well as being a lovely way to bond. By playing games like ‘find it’, you can enrich your walk and make staying close to you an even more fun and interesting place to be. You can find suggestions for games and instructions on how to play them on the Coast and Country Canines website.
Thanks to all ‘bird aware’ dog owners
Working together to protect natural spaces is just part of being a responsible dog walker, and best of all, it doesn’t have to make walks less fun. Bird Aware Solent’s Coast and Country Canines initiative is all about like-minded dog owners choosing to walk in a safer, more enjoyable and wildlife aware way.
Find useful advice for enjoying the beach with you dog in a wildlife friendly way, plus some suggested dog walks around the Solent.