Yes, I know writing about the beach is a little out of season right now, but the information I plan to share can be adapted to other settings as well. And with the coming of chilly fall weather, it’s nice to think about beach plans for next year anyway!
My last trip to the beach was just a few weeks ago, in early October. A friend and I rented a house together in Sandbridge, Virginia– a lovely place that was new to me but already an old favorite of hers. Our trip was a bit challenging with two dogs along, one of which (mine) is not a favorite of sharing her space with other canines. Alli does tolerate Riley (my friend Denise’s 2-year-old Golden) better than most dogs, but we still needed to employ quite a bit of management and juggling during the week to avoid any skirmishes of the four-legged variety.
Sandbridge is a very pet-friendly area and dogs are allowed on the beaches — only at certain times of the day in the high season but at any time in the off seasons. Leashes, however, are required. This was not a problem for us, as 13-year-old Alli enjoyed leisurely strolls on her Flexi-lead and her younger cohort Riley (who LOVES the ocean) is used to being on a long lead for beach excursions. More on that later…
Given that most folks visit in the summer, not many other dogs were around during our stay. On one of our walks with both Alli and Riley we met a young man carrying a baby and juggling two Golden Retrievers on leash. Another child skipped along beside them. The man’s dogs were very well behaved and we enjoyed chatting about the joys of Golden ownership with him. Riley wanted to play with the other dogs but since our new friend had his hands full (literally), we opted not to let the dogs engage each other. We parted company with a wave and a smile.
Contrast that encounter with one from the following day – one I’m still fuming about when I replay it in my mind and one having to do with respecting (or not respecting!) rules. Denise and I were taking an afternoon walk along the beach, this time just with Riley as Alli was pooped from a morning excursion. Ahead of us we spotted two men and two large dogs (a black Lab and an Airedale), both dogs off leash. I hoped the men would snap on leashes before drawing close to us but unfortunately they made no effort to do so.
When the dogs were about 50 feet away, they each stopped and assessed Riley with narrowed eyes. OK, I couldn’t really see their eyes from that distance but I could read the rest of their body language. Everything about their posture told me they were preparing to charge at Riley (who is on the small side for a Golden and can be skittish in new situations). I yelled to the men to leash the dogs but they either didn’t hear me or ignored me. Sure enough, in an instant both still-unleashed dogs were running our way, skidding to a stop on either side of Riley and moving in to squish her like the filling in a sandwich.
I’ll grant you, their behavior at that point did not seem 0vertly threatening – I think they just wanted to make a new doggie friend. But poor Riley was overwhelmed, and justifiably so. A dog on leash surrounded by a dog or dogs off leash is a highly stressful experience for the leashed dog, who’s well aware they can’t get away. Had that dog in the middle been my dog-reactive Alli instead of Denise’s dog-friendly Riley, I have no doubt Alli would have started snapping and lunging at her two would-be “suitors.” An all-out fight would likely have ensued, with one or more of the dogs sustaining physical or emotional injuries.
I’m normally a pretty tolerant person, but my “mama bear” instincts took over and I was furious that Riley was put in this situation. (Denise was too, of course, but she was focused on reeling Riley in closer to her.) In hindsight, I probably got testier with the other dogs than I should have, given that they were certainly not the ones at fault – their wayward humans were. Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything inappropriate, I just tried to sternly send them on their way with a lot of waving of my arms and upraised voice. Not a very flattering sight, I’m sure.
Finally, the Lab and Airedale ambled back to the two men, who were just as casually strolling up to the scene. I approached the man who seemed to be in charge and told him that dogs were required to be on leash and that it was very unfair for his dogs to run up to ours. I naively expected him to apologize, but instead he looked me in the eye and said tersely: “We were having a good time until you two showed up.” Then he dismissed me with a cold, “have a good day” and turned to leave.
Wow. I started to argue the point but received only another, even icier, “have a good day,” so opted to leave well enough alone and chalk it up to a rude and inconsiderate dog owner.
The sad part is that even when owners aren’t as ill-mannered as this person, they often don’t realize the implications of allowing their off leash dogs to intimidate or frighten other dogs. How many of us have experienced a distant owner waving an unattached leash and blithely calling, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” as their dog rushes up to sniff or jump on OUR dog? We all have the responsibility to respect the rules and ensure that dog-to-dog greetings – if they occur at all – are managed in a courteous, appropriate manner so all involved enjoy, rather than endure, the experience.
I know that some readers may empathize with the desire to let dogs run freely on the beach – maybe you’ve done so yourself, though I trust with far more consideration than “Rude and Ruder” (as Denise and I subsequently dubbed our two frosty beach “friends”). Sure, it’s fun to watch a dog frolic in the water and sand, unencumbered by that pesky leash. We want them to experience the joy of the ocean, splash gleefully in the water, and stretch their legs on that long expanse of sand. (Or, run in that open field, play in that creek, hike that hill, etc., etc.)
At the same time, though, we bear the vital responsibility for keeping our dogs safe, AND making sure they don’t inadvertently cause safety issues for other dogs. Without trying to sound preachy, I believe we must keep those two goals always in the forefront. However, I ALSO believe we can easily combine safety and fun!
As noted earlier, Riley is a dog whose eyes literally dance at the sight of the ocean. She’s been on many beach vacations with Denise and her husband and she adores the whole experience. She’s also a dog who might easily take off for Timbuktu if given the chance to “run free.” So Denise keeps her on a long, 50 foot cotton leash that allows for plenty of frolicking but can be reeled in as needed when playtime is done or other people want to go by without having a wet, sandy Golden accost them.
I had such fun myself watching Riley romp in the water while still securely attached to her mom that I shot two quick videos with my phone. You can watch the first one by clicking here and the second one by clicking here. Yes, it does take a little practice to avoid getting the leash tangled, but does this look like a dog that’s hampered in her playtime?? On the contrary, I would call this safe, fun, and respectful!
If you have your own stories of dogs romping safely on the beach (or similar places where off leash is tempting), please share them. If you’ve run into folks like Rude and Ruder, tell me how you handled it — I’m quite sure I could have done better!