Dog Park in Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach Dog Park.

The first time I took Henri to a beach was 5 years ago.  We were in Ft. Myers, FL.  There is an off-leash dog beach in Ft. Myers at Lover’s Key (that’s where Henri had his first kayak lesson), but Ft. Myers Beach is also dog-friendly.  That’s where we were- the public beach, without a leash- when Henri discovered the joys of sand.  Normally, he stays pretty tight with me in new situations, so his leash was around my neck, just not clipped to him.  I wasn’t too concerned.  We walked from the bar out to the sand.

Hmm…Scratch, scratch.  Dig, dig.  What’s this?  We walked closer to the water.  Trepidation.  Why does the water move?  Why is it coming toward me?  Then…excitement!

He took off running!  He made a few circles, then leapt over two napping beach-goers, who thankfully thought it was hilarious, as I laughed and apologized and tried to explain it was his first time.  I was a very happy Dog Mom.  I just knew he couldn’t be my dog without loving the beach.

We’ve been to LOTS of beaches since then, and I collect sand from them all, keeping it in small jars on display in my house.  You can search the “Dog Friendly Beaches” category on the blog to learn more about all the places we’ve visited and start planning your own doggie beach vacation.  But before you do, and before we leave on our next trip, next week, I thought I’d offer you some sage pet parent wisdom I’ve gathered from our adventures.

Things to Know Before You Take Your Dog to the Beach

Does your dog like the beach?

Does your dog even like the beach?!  Of course, if you’ve never been there’s no way to know, but I can’t imagine a dog NOT liking the beach.  There’s diggin’, there’s sniffin’, there’s sun, and there’s surf.  Even better, with every wave, there are new smells.  So even if your dog doesn’t like water, he might like the beach.  Henri doesn’t enjoy playing in the surf or swimming, but he loves walking the edge where the water breaks, and if he gets warm, he’ll wade just deep enough to wet his belly.

If your dog is a swimmer, and you KNOW he’s gonna love it, then make sure you have a pet approved PFD.  Even good swimmers get tired, and fetching an exhausted dog from the water is no easy task.

Is the beach dog-friendly?

Scoop the poop

Smyrna Dunes Park makes it easy to pick up after your pooch.

You’d think with all the pollutants, liter from irresponsible tourists, bird poop, and dead things that wash up on a beach a dog would be no big deal.  Wrong.  There are actually beaches in the free world that don’t allow dogs (insert eye roll).  So before you hit the sand, make sure you know the rules.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Are dogs allowed?
  • When are dogs allowed?
  • Are permits required?
  • Leashes or no leashes?
  • Are there limits on leash length?

In addition, it’s a good idea to have your shot records in the car, or better yet, have your vet email them to you and keep a copy in a file on your phone.  The “on your phone” tip was a suggestion from the park ranger at New Smyrna Dog Beach.

Note:  Don’t assume that just because you see a dog on the beach that dogs are welcome.  Some beaches, like those on 30A in Walton Co. allow “resident dogs,” but not tourists.  So if YOU, the human, don’t pay taxes in Walton Co, your dog can’t use the beach, and granddogs don’t get a free pass.

Once you know the rules at your dog-friendly beach, other things to consider include off-leash dogs and your own dog’s hearing.  If you’re at an off-leash beach, you hope that everyone is as well-behaved as you, but you shouldn’t count on it.  If your beach requires leashes, this is a good place for a long-line (notice I didn’t say “retractable”).  Whether on or off-leash, be cautious when approaching other dogs.

Another thing to keep in mind is the effect wind and waves can have on sound.  Your dog may not be able to hear you if he gets too far away.  Make sure your dog’s tags are current and use an LED collar if you’ll be beaching at night.

Can your dog handle the wind and surf conditions?

Listen. I can tell you from personal experience that you do not want to ignore these warnings.  Trying to SUP with your pup on a yellow flag day is no easy task.  After a few wave hits, your dog may abandon the board, swim to the beach, and refuse to get back on with you.

Yellow flags mean conditions are rough, but not necessarily life threatening.  Red flags warn of severe hazards in the water- high surf, dangerous currents, or both.  Blue or purple flags warn of dangerous marine life.

I would NOT let my dog swim on a red flag day, and I’d exercise extreme caution and make him wear a PFD on a yellow flag day.  If you see those purple or blue flags flying, remember that your dog, especially your Lab swimming 20 feet from the shoreline, looks just like a tasty seal.

Pay attention to flags, track sharks and other marine life at Ocearch, and learn to recognize and escape a rip current.

Protecting Your Dog at the Beach

Just like you protect yourself and your kids from the elements, please protect your dog.  If the sand it too hot for your feet, it’s too hot for his. If you need shade, he does, too. Fresh water? Sunscreen? Dogs also need these things.

Protect your dog’s paws

Let’s start with the dangers of sand and how to protect your dog’s feet.  Sand can get incredibly hot and even if it doesn’t burn, the paw pads can become sore. You need paw wax.  You can use coconut oil or Vaseline, but let’s just trust the professionals. Get your dog some Musher’s Secret.  This stuff was made for snow dogs, but it’s great for city dogs and beach dogs, too.  It’s also helpful to older dogs who maybe need a little extra traction on hardwood floors.

More hazards to consider include broken shells, jellyfish, glass, and dead things that look and smell tasty.  I’d also suggest not romping near fishing piers where there is likely to be cut line floating in the water or hooks buried in the sand.

Protect your dog from the sun

Sunscreen for dogs in SPF 15

Doggy Sun Stick SPF 15

If your dog sits in an air-conditioned house all day, then he’s going to need some shade at the beach. As a sun-worshipping Ginger, I highly suggest you drag a beach umbrella with you, so you at least have the option of sun or shade for BOTH of you.  If that’s not enough shade or you’re determined to bake all day, then a doggie pop up is perfect.  We don’t have one, but I really love this dog beach cabana. Grab a few extra beach towels as well.  If you’re not going to share yours, then your pooch will need his own.

Now.  Let’s talk about sunscreen.  Yes, sunscreen.  For.  Your.  Dog.  Most dogs spending a day at the beach will, at the very least, need sunscreen on their noses.  Dogs with light colored fur, skin, and/or hairless dogs, may need it all over.  In a pinch you can use human sunscreen on your dog, but avoid sunscreens with zinc, as it can be toxic if ingested, and sunscreens that are scented.  Your dog doesn’t want to smell like Tahitian Summer.  Try one of these products from Petkin.

Protect your dog from dehydration

MMMMM, salt!  Chips, pickles, surf…Yeah, your dog probably likes salt, but he doesn’t need to drink it.  Ingesting a little bit of ocean water isn’t going to hurt him, but make sure to pack a travel bowl and provide plenty of FRESH water.  I know you didn’t go to the beach without a cooler, so throw a few extra bottles in there for Fido.

In addition to protecting your pup from dehydration, make sure you know the signs of heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke, and be prepared to ACT FAST.  Excessive panting, drooling, and reddening gums can be early warning signs of heat exhaustion, which could lead to stroke.  If you notice any of these symptoms, get your pup to the shade and offer fresh, cool water immediately.

After Beach Care for your Dog

Henri with sand on his face

Sand on your face is better than mud in your eye!

Yes, after.  You’re not done.  You need to check his paws, brush the sand from his fur, face, and eyes, and give him a good rinse in fresh water.  Not that I do all of these things, but my truck has sand in it that will likely be there forever.  A little trick I learned from my Mom and Dad is to carry one of those brushes that goes with your dust pan.  They’re great for getting sand off both human and dog feet.  If you’re at a public beach, you’ll likely find a fresh rinse station or shower. Brush off the sand, then rinse.

How to clean your dog’s ears

If your dog has been swimming, then you may want to clean/ dry his ears.  While I’m not one to provide medical info in my blog, ’cause I’m a not a vet, I’ll go ahead and tell you this one…vinegar and alcohol in a 1:1 ratio is the perfect ear wash for both kids and dogs.  Both ingredients act as disinfecting agents and the alcohol will help dry any excess water.  Just squirt a bit into the ear, massage for a second, then stand back and let your dog shake out the excess.  Remember that stinky stuff they put in your ears after you swam in the lake at camp? That’s very likely what it was. Thank you, Girl Scouts.

How to rinse your dog’s eyes

If brushing sand from your dog’s face doesn’t do the trick, then a quick rinse with saline solution should help.  Since I wear contacts, I’ve always got some sort of eye rinse on me. I also keep a small bottle of saline in my first aid kit.  You have one of those don’t you?!

These are our tips for maximum fun and total safety when taking your dog to the beach! If you have a trick of your own, please share it. In the meantime, we hope you’ll head into your summer fully prepared and ready to go to the beach with your dog.

See you soon, Beaches!