Dogs at beaches: Be a best friend with wildlife

Department of Conservation —  12/09/2018
By Laura Boren, dog owner and Marine Science Advisor.
As Conservation Week approaches, the days lengthen, and more people hit the beach. Me and my dog-buddy, Mack, are here to give dog owners easy tips for managing dogs in coastal environments. Following on from my blog earlier in the year, Mack and I thought we’d touch base and pop a few tools in your toolbox.
New Zealand beaches are great places to roam with dogs and get close to nature. But uncontrolled dogs can disturb or cause harm to local penguins, seals and even sea lions. In some cases, they’ll fight back and inflict injuries on your unsuspecting pooch too.
Last month, rangers were called to a suspected dog attack on a rare leopard seal. The seal was left bloodied and injured. The fate of the dog is unknown, but we suspect it would have been in bad shape. This kind of tragedy is avoidable.
Article on dog attack from August 2018. Photo:

Article on dog attack in Porirua during August 2018. Screenshot from

1. Know before you go

Mack at the beach. Photo: Laura Boren (DOC)

Mack at the beach. Photo: Laura Boren (DOC)

Check your Council and DOC websites for information on where dogs can visit. Sometimes signs at beaches might be out of date if a change was recently made. These sorts of changes usually get mailed out to you with your dog registration too.

2. Keep an eye out for wildlife

While your dog is sniffing the nearest log, scan the beach and high tide areas for seals. You may also be near penguin habitat if there are tunnels near flax bushes or poop near rocky crevasses.

3. Keep an eye on your dog

We’re all there to interact and have fun together. It’s our responsibility as pet parents to ensure our fur babies are safe when playing and exercising.


How to keep your dog under control

Keeping your dog under control is important. There are the three tools every dog owner should add to their toolbox to keep dogs safe and under control. Your local dog club will also have advice.
Your Lead
Laura and Mack training.

Laura and Mack training.

It’s a legal requirement to have a lead with you when your dog is in public. Loose lead walking or heeling can make all the difference to your enjoyment of a walk. If your dog is happy walking on a loose lead, you’ll never have to worry about visiting areas where leads are needed.

The Recall
If your dog is off a lead, make sure you can recall it when there’s a distraction. This could be a seal, a large bird like a spoonbill, or even other dogs and people. If you can’t recall your dog when there’s distractions, don’t let them off lead.
“Leave it” Command
This is a handy command to teach your dog to keep safe when it’s interest is peaked. It also works when you don’t want them to chase an endangered gull or nose around into a penguin’s nest.
All year, korora /little penguins use burrows near the coast to roost overnight and breed. At some times of year they stay ashore for weeks at a time to molt. During this time they lose and regrow their feathers and are especially vulnerable.
The smell of a penguin’s nest is irresistible to dogs. A feisty, grumpy penguin can take a dog’s eye out with one well-placed peck!
New Zealand is pretty special for having awesome wildlife. It’s amazing that we can see unique wading birds, penguins, and even marine mammals so close to our big cities. Keeping our dogs under control means we’ll be able to enjoy our wildlife long into the future.

For more resources on responsible dog ownership and where dogs are allowed on conservation land, visit our website. You can also download our pamphlet or a rhyme card on how to keep our wildlife safe around your dog.

6 responses to Dogs at beaches: Be a best friend with wildlife

    Sarah Bennett 13/09/2018 at 9:28 am

    Important information. Let’s hope it changes some behaviours.


    I have heard of a recent attack on a seal by dogs. Should this be reported (to who) and are there penalties for this?


      Kia ora Jools,
      Yes, please report any details you have to the DOC Hotline (0800 362 468) – thank you! This will get passed onto compliance rangers in your area to see if there is grounds for an investigation and possible prosecution. There are quite severe penalties, under both the Dog Control Act 1996 and the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. It is an offence to be the owner, or person in possession of, a dog that attacks protected wildlife. Under the Dog Control Act, the dog owner could face penalties of up to two years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $20,000, and a destruction order for the dog. But we would always rather educate people to avoid these tragic incidents occurring in the first place.

    Natasha Verspeek 12/09/2018 at 9:18 am

    Thankyou Laura for this timely information. I am part of a ‘Share our Shores’ program on the Barwon Coast in Victoria, Australia. Getting the word out as much as possible to the public about respect and responsibilities of dog owners when taking their dogs to the beach and being aware of the wildlife and other beach users. We have endangered Hooded Plovers that nest starting this time of year, so it is an ongoing effort to increase awareness to the public. Well done!


    I take 6 Chihuahuas with me when I go to the beach I am a local pest control officer and they all know the rules they are not allowed to chase seabirds or go near seals and I have been many times congratulated on how well behaved my team are. I deplore these types that take their dogs that are completely out of control to the beach and the dog has no manners etc. I carry a paddle with me and I will have no hesitation in using same if my lot are harassed in any way by undisciplined and out of control canines,

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