Warm weather means packing up the car and heading to the beach. But what if you want to take your four-legged friend with you? Before you bring your dog to the beach, there’s a few things consider—and a few things to pack.
Not every dog is a good candidate for the beach: Puppies under four month aren’t vaccinated, for example, and dogs in heat can cause problems with other dogs. Will your dog even like the beach?
“Some breeds—like labs—love the water,” says Roberto Silva Moreira, who works in a veterinary clinic in Princeton, NJ. “But it really depends on the dog. Each dog has its own personality. My dog doesn’t go into water. She’s a border collie, so she’s more into hiking and chasing squirrels.”
If your pooch hates water or crowds, or gets overheated easily, keep them at home. Not sure? Try going to a nearby lake or river before planning a big beach getaway.
You also need to make sure your dog will behave in a big public space with lots of distractions. Does she get along well with other people—and with other dogs? If you plan on taking her off-leash, will she come when you command?
“It’s important to gauge your dog’s temperament,” says Moreira. “You may think your dog is the best, but maybe they don’t behave well among other dogs or large groups of people. They might get offensive.”
If all systems are go, here are essential tips for a fun, safe and stress-free day at the shore.
If You Take Your Dog To The Beach, Obey the Rules
Do your research beforehand. Does the beach you want to go to welcome dogs? Are there rules about where (and when) Fido can frolic? Many dog-friendly beaches only have off-leash hours in the early morning and late afternoon.
Take the rules seriously—authorities definitely do. And remember, most of these policies were instituted because there was a problem.
Know What to Bring
Definitely bring a long leash, ideally with 20-30 feet of line. Only let them off-leash if you’re confident your dog is trained to return when you command. “You have to be sure you have control of the dog if you’re going to be unleashing him,” cautions Moreira.
Bring plenty of treats to reward good behavior, like coming when you call. “Treats are a good way to entice them to return to the blanket,” says Moreira. The Animal Behavior College (ABC) suggests stuffing Kongs with frozen foods. They make great treats, keep your dog occupied, and help prevent overheating.
Speaking of overheating, steady supply of fresh water is a must—bring at least a gallon. In addition to keeping your pup hydrated, you can use it to wash off sand and sea water.
Megan O’Brien, inventor of the DogiPack, suggests also bringing a collapsible bowl for your dog to drink from. “Dogs shouldn’t drink out of communal water bowls. They can pick up kettle cough or other infections.”
The DogiPack is like a multipurpose utility belt for all your doggie essentials: It comes with a collapsible water dish, as well as poop bags and slots for sunscreen, treats, a water bottle and other necessities.
Does your dog know how to swim? If it’s their first time in the water, or they’re a smaller breed, consider bringing a lifejacket or other flotation device. “My dogs go to the water’s edge, get their feet wet and run away,” says O’Brien. “But they love watching the ‘real’ dogs run and play in the water.”
Beat the Heat
Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to bring Rex to the shore, as the sun won’t be at its peak. Regardless, you definitely want to bring a big umbrella, or even a portable pup tent, as well as a cooling pet pad (kept in an ice-packed cooler).
If the sand feels too hot for your footsies, imagine what it feels like for your canine’s paws. “If you can’t keep you hand on a surface because its too hot, then it’s definitely too hot for your dog,” says O’Brien. She recommends Ruffwear booties, which can protect their paws from irritation and burns from hot sand, salt water and jellyfish stings.
Just like humans, some dogs can suffer from sunburn—especially light-colored dogs, short-coated and hairless breeds, and freshly shorn pups. And any dog can get burned on their nose or pads. Other sun-sensitive areas include the belly, groin, lips and the tips of the ears. (And, yes, dogs can get skin cancer from sun exposure, too.)
Fortunately there are several brands of sunscreen made especially for dogs that are available online or at your local pet store. If you’re using a sunscreen made for humans, it should be a broad-spectrum sunscreen for children that has an SPF of 15 of higher. And make sure it’s free of PABA, zinc oxide or any other ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
Just because there’s a lot of sand doesn’t mean the beach is one giant litter box. Bring plastic bags to pick up after your dog. You wouldn’t want to step in dog doo-doo, would you?
If there’s facilities at the beach, rinse off your dog’s paws and any exposed skin. When you’re back home, wash him well with shampoo to get out all that sand and salt. It can itch or irritate his skin (and get all over your bed and sofa).
In Case of Emergency
Signs of heatstroke in dogs can include excessive panting, drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. “They’ll be acting off—not walking right, maybe even collapsing or passing out,” says Moriera. (Short-muzzled breed like Boston terriers, English bulldogs and pugs, overheat more quickly.)
Be careful giving them ice-cold water to drink, as it can actually shock their systems and cause cramps or other complications. If you think your dog is overheated, try cooling down his head head, neck and the areas underneath his front and back legs with a cold, wet cloth.
Drinking salt water is obviously a bad idea—even a little can cause “beach diarrhea,” which can sometimes contain mucous and blood. Drinking a lot of salt water can lead to dehydration, vomiting or even seizures. Even if your dog isn’t lapping up the ocean, their tennis ball may be saturated with sea water.
Try to minimize intake with frequent fresh water breaks, advises PetMD. “If your dog won’t drink willingly, use a bottle with a sports cap and squirt fresh water into the mouth.”
And remember, anything that can harm you at the beach can also harm your dog—including jellyfish, riptides and sharp glass. “You have to keep an eye on them,” says Moreira. “When you take your dog out, regardless of where, you have to give that dog your attention. They are very social creatures and they need that interaction.”