Keeping our beaches safe for all species – with Mack

Department of Conservation —  11/01/2021

We’re well past the longest day of the year and the weather is starting to improve (in places). This means two things: more people are heading to the beach, and many beaches will have their seasonal dog rules in force.

Mack and his toy at sunset. A great decoy – who needs to bother penguins when you’ve got a frisbee?
📷: Laura Boren.

In the past we have talked about the Seven Simple Steps:

1. Know before you go – check the rules at the beach before heading out. Not all beaches allow dogs, so make sure you know where you can and can’t walk them.

2. A wildlife scan makes a good game plan – check what’s on the beach already so you are prepared and can plan where you will walk.

3. A toy is a great decoy – keep your dog focused on playing with you and they are less likely to want to play with wildlife.

4. Walk on the wet sand first-hand – staying on the wet sand keeps you further away from the dunes where many shorebirds will have vulnerable nests.

5. Feet on sand – lead in hand – it’s a legal requirement to carry a lead when your dog is in public. Have it handy in case you need close control while you walk past a distraction.

6. Keep 20 meters away from coastal creatures – this is the recommended distance to ensure your dog and the wildlife remain safe.

7. Help ‘em out and give a shout – if you see wildlife on the beach, let others know so they can be prepared as well.

Wildlife like kororā / little blue penguins nest around our beaches. Dogs are one of the greatest threats to penguins and other shorebirds. 📷: Shelly Ogle.

There are also a few commands and behaviours that you can work on which are really practical for keeping both dogs and wildlife safe.

Training with your dog is great – it’s bonding time and strengthens your relationship. If you do this, when you go to the beach you might find your dog is more interested in hanging out with you than chasing that interesting-smelling penguin.

If you only have time to work on one or two key skills, what should they be?

Easy – ‘Recall’, and ‘Leave it’.

These two skills are so useful, and not just for protecting wildlife… anyone who has had to scrub that dead-seal smell out of their dog is bound to agree.

It is invaluable to have the ability to call your dog back and pop them on lead when you spot something in the distance. If you didn’t spot the distraction in time, that’s where ‘leave it’ comes in.  

This summer, have some fun doing training with your dog. Remember, if we all take a few precautions when we take our dogs to New Zealand’s wild coastlines then there will be space enough for everyone.

Here is Mack over Christmas, showing off his ‘Leave It’ command in the presence of his sisters (which he loathes). You can see he didn’t like having to look at the camera with these two lurking in the background.

Mack demonstrates his self-restraint by leaving his annoying chicken sisters alone.
📷: Laura Boren.

Have a very safe and happy summer enjoying the beauty of the Aotearoa coastline with your furry friend.  

DOC’s ‘Lead the Way’ program is back again this summer. You can take the quiz to become a wildlife certified dog owner and purchase one of the exclusive Lead the Way dog leads. Find out more here:

3 responses to Keeping our beaches safe for all species – with Mack


    Great advice. It’s been really sad to see dogs off lead cause the rapid decline in shore birds, such as black oyster catchers & pier oyster catchers since the city council have promoted and signposted the walking track that passes through Church Bay, Lyttelton harbour. With no road access to the shore, it was previously a little haven for the shore birds as usually only the residents were there. Now many more pass through for exercise and let their dogs run loose on beach while they have a break from walking. Sometimes their are 5 + loose dogs on a tiny beach where the birds have no room to escape, so they leave the bay.
    We used to have a regular group of about 5 or 6, now we only see maybe one black oyster catcher and occasionally 2 pied passing through.
    Remote places like this should be signposted “leads only” to provide a resting & nesting ground for shorebirds.


    Great advice, and Mack you are very photogenic 😉

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