What Not to Do When You Bring Your Dog to the Beach

Being a responsible dog owner at the beach can be a bit of a challenge at times, but by knowing a few simple things not to do, it can also be rewarding and, yes, fun!

My dog Wilbur and I have acquired a few of these lessons the hard way, and I hope by sharing them, other dog owners can learn from my mistakes.

Don’t Ignore the Rules

What’s the dog policy? When it comes to bringing your dog to the beach, dogs are either allowed on leash, dogs are allowed off leash, or dogs are not permitted at all. Look for signs near the entryway if you’re unsure what the policy is or search online to find out, because it’s your job to know the rules and it’s up to you and your dog to follow them.

This goes without saying, but if a beach does permit dogs to roam off leash, that doesn’t mean your supervisory responsibilities sail away. With everything going on at the beach — children at play, other dogs, picnics — the beach can be sensory overload for your pooch, so it’s important to constantly monitor him. Not to mention, there are potential dangers. So stay alert out there.

Wilbur at Fort Funston

Wilbur at Fort Funston

Walk the path: I usually go to Fort Funston in the San Francisco Bay Area at least once a week with my cattle dog mix Wilbur. It’s our happy place, with miles of beach and trails to explore.

Although dogs are permitted off leash, there are roped off areas where dogs (and humans) are not permitted, and clear signs marking them.

I’m not usually one to cower in the face of authority, but when it comes to ‘off limits’ signs at the beach, I abide, because I know it’s best for the environment, as well as my dog’s safety.

At Fort Funston, there are dangerous cliffs that sadly have claimed human and dog lives before, so adhering to off limit warning signs is in everyone’s best interest.

Sometimes beach signs are there to protect environmentally managed areas; they could be defending new growth, or warding off further erosion, a common occurrence at beaches. I may not know why the sign is there, but I respect the fact that the professionals who posted it do.

As the EPA explains, “The beach is a sensitive, dynamic environment that provides habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Excessive use of the beach can lead to the gradual degradation of habitat.” So unless your dog can read, it’s up to you to heed your local beach signs to make sure you and your dog remain on the right path.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Sun

Watch those tootsies: Fort Funston has a pretty grueling, fairly steep set of stairs that you have to walk up to get from the beach back to the parking lot. Years ago, I saw the strangest thing there–a bunch of dog owners were huffing up the staircase, carrying their dogs. Some of the dogs were really big, so you can imagine how odd it was to see all of these out of breath dog owners struggling to make it up with pooches in hand. Then I noticed Wilbur cowering under a shady bush off a ways. It quickly dawned on me; the sand is burning their paws. Duh! I felt so stupid. How could I not have realized that?

Eventually I joined them, panting my way up those stairs, with beach blanket, bag of belongings and, yes, Wilbur, in tow.

The ASPCA cautions, “It is important to remember your dog’s paws feel heat extremes, too.” The folks there advise, “To prevent burns and blisters, avoid walking your dog on hot pavement or sand,” and they go on to explain burn treatment options.

Wondering how hot is too hot? Tell tale signs your dog’s paws can’t stand the heat include limping or refusing to walk, licking or chewing at the feet.

The sun can burn more than your dog’s paws: It’s not just your dog’s paws that you have to watch out for when it comes to beach sun. Sunburn can appear as red skin or even hair loss in dogs, and can lead to skin cancer.

“Most dogs have pigmented skin. White dogs have pink skin, but most of it is protected from the sun by fur. Skin cancer from excess exposure to the sun most often occurs in two places: the noses of white dogs or dogs with pink noses or white markings on the top of the muzzle, and on the ears,” says Dr. Nancy Scanlan, DVM, via Animal Wellness.

Dog sunburn can lead to other problems besides cancer. As you can see from his photo, Wilbur is mostly white. One of his eyes lacks pigment–it almost looks like a pig’s eye. The first summer after my husband and I adopted Wilbur, we took him to the beach, and soon after, his eye flared up and we ended up at the vet with a full-blown eye infection. The diagnosis: sunburn.

To my defense, my previous dog was a Chow mix, so dealing with a pink eye was new territory for me, and I had no idea that dogs like Wilbur were at such high risk of getting sun burned.

The dogs most prone to sunburn are “hairless breeds; short-coated, light-colored dogs; and dogs with pink noses,” according to Dogster.

There are pet sunscreens available, but Dogster warns, “Make sure not to use sunscreen that contains zinc, as it can be toxic to dogs if ingested,” and avoid sunscreens with fragrance to prevent your dog from licking it up (and off).

You can find a complete list of ingredients to avoid here, and tips to prevent dog sunburn here, which includes, brace yourself –doggles.

(Personally, I would rather hang out in the shade with Wilbur than make him wear shades, but to each their own.)

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Water

Drowning is a concern: Here’s a sad truth: Thousands of dogs die by drowning in water every year, be it at the beach, or even the pool.

As vetSTREET points out, some dogs seem to be natural swimmers, while others have a harder time staying afloat. Their advice:

“When in doubt, make sure that your dog is wearing a life vest, and never leave your pup unsupervised in or even near the water. When it’s time to go for a swim, it’s always best to steer your pet toward calmer waters, away from speedboats and rough surf. Scan the area for possible danger spots, or ask a lifeguard for advice on water conditions.”

Does Wilbur wear a life vest? No, but I constantly observe him in the water and am extremely cautious when he is in or near the water, because riptides are powerful and unpredictable, and thus a huge concern where we beach. Plus when we play fetch, I throw his ball or frisbee near the water, not in it, leaving the decision about whether to go for a dip up to Wilbur, and he is not pressured to swim out farther than he is comfortable going just to appease me.

Stories about people trying to rescue their drowning dogs at the beach are fairly common, and they don’t always turn out well, so play it safe and don’t underestimate the power of water.

Don’t let your dog drink the seawater: Speaking of water, if you’re spending hours at the beach, your dog is apt to get thirsty, especially on hot days, and you don’t want him or her slurping up seawater. It can irritate its tummy and cause vomiting or diarrhea and thus dehydration, so remember to bring a water dish and keep the fresh water flowing to avoid temptation.

Time to Hit the Beach!

Wilbur and I have experienced some hard lessons when it comes to knowing what not to do at the beach, so learn from my mistakes, stay alert, remember to think ahead about dog beach safety, and with a normal dose of common sense, the next time you and your pooch hit the beach, you should be good to go have fun.

If you’re looking for more dog beach tips, check out 9 Hot Tips for Taking Your Dog to the Beach.


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thank you

CLAUDE Hennie3 years ago

Just a little commun sense is enought.
As for me, I go to the beach with my dog in the evening, when everybody's gone.
Unfortunately, beaches allowed for dogs are very dirty.

Nancy Black
Nancy Black3 years ago

It's best to use a little common sense when you and your dog bond in public settings.

Yolanda Aguilar
Yolanda Aguilar3 years ago

Really useful information

Sheri D.
Sheri D3 years ago

Good info--thanks!

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran3 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago