Become wildlife-wise and Lead the Way
Image: DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


DOC’s ‘Lead the Way’ programme furthers its ‘wildlife-wise’ dog ownership cause.

Date:  08 June 2023

With 8 June marking World Oceans Day, DOC and pet insurance specialist PD Insurance joined forces with SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium to prove dogs and sea creatures can live in harmony, even when they meet unexpectedly.

DOC’s ‘Lead the Way’ programme, with Auckland partner PD Insurance, empowers New Zealanders to become wildlife wise and do their bit in looking after all creatures on our beaches, including native wildlife, dogs, dog owners, and other members of the public.

The World Oceans Day event took place at Kelly Tarlton’s and explored the relationship between marine species and canines, environmental impacts of the mismanagement of pets at and near the beach, and the dangers dogs can face along the coastline.

“From Bluff to 90 Mile, our beaches are an extremely popular place for pet owners and their canine companions,” says Michelle Le Long, PD Insurance’s Chief Operating Officer. “While most people pay close attention to signage at beaches, which set out requirements for restraining dogs, there are still regular reports of disturbing incidents where our coastal fauna is harmed.”

This year’s World Oceans Day has a conservation focus, seeking to protect at least 30% of the ‘blue planet’ by 2030 - to stabilise the climate and create a healthy ocean with abundant wildlife.

Sadly, not all is well on the coastline of New Zealand. In 2022, DOC recorded 25 instances of dogs attacking and harassing wildlife in the greater Auckland region, 6 of which were fatal to birds including weka, kiwi, oystercatchers and godwits. Now imagine the toll nationally.

“Dogs causing damage to wildlife is happening everywhere. We only see a snapshot of the interactions around our coasts,” says DOC’s Sophie Kynman-Cole, Senior Biodiversity Ranger for Auckland Mainland District.

“We only know of what is reported or what we stumble upon. The reality is that whenever a dog is loose, lacking good call-back or out of sight from its owner, it may be interacting with wildlife, causing stress and possibly causing physical damage or death.” 

While noting that most pet parents are heavily invested in doing the right thing, Le Long says these incidents can be avoided altogether. “Our native species are fragile and a taonga to be cared for; nobody wants the shock of seeing a penguin killed or dotterels harassed by dogs.”

She adds that a single incident can spoil it for other responsible pet owners, saying, “Any incident can add impetus to further limitations and closures on where dogs can roam off leash, or even visit. That’s something we want to avoid for everyone by encouraging responsible, rule-observing behaviours so every encounter between dogs and ocean dwelling wildlife is safe.”

While always a fun adventure for our four-legged furry friends, the coast comes with multiple hazards for them too. In addition to consciously caring for marine animals when at the beach, dog owners should be aware of dangers that include washed up pufferfish, jellyfish, sea slugs and marine mammals such as seals and sea lions.

Le Long says every dog owner consider basic training for their pet, especially ‘recall’ and ‘leave’ commands. “Good training is essential, especially for dogs off leads in public places like the beach. You want the pups to have fun but not get into trouble. It doesn’t have to be extensive training – just a few simple commands.”

SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s General Manager, Dan Henderson, echoes Le Long by adding the aquarium is on a mission to inspire love for the oceans and creatures that inhabit them, saying, “through advocacy and education, we encourage our community to become aware of the threats our wildlife are facing. Public education campaigns like Lead the Way are important to support our furry friends and wildlife to co-exist, and we all need to play a role in achieving this.”

After reading DOC’s Dogs on Beaches guidelines online and completing the ‘Wildlife Wise’ quiz, dog parents can buy a colour coded ‘Lead the Way’ lead. Four colours indicate your dog’s temperament, so passers-by know what to expect – Green for friendly, Orange for occasionally nervy, Yellow for disabled or vulnerable somehow, and Red for far less social.

Being Wildlife Wise means knowing how to share the beach and which areas are open – or closed – to dogs or have lead or permit requirements. See dog access for a full list, including these three simple tips:

  1. Know before you go: check online for rules at different locations – councils may have recently changed rules and signs may not be up to date.
  2. Keep an eye out for wildlife: always carry your lead and leash your dog when around wildlife populations. Also, let others know if seals, penguins or other birds are present.
  3. Call your dog as soon as you spot wildlife: if your dog doesn’t return to you consistently on command, consider obedience training. Classes help you and your dog to bond and become a team, so you know they’ll be under control and safe. 

The abundant life encountered on the coast means a visit with your dog could easily result in a wildlife interaction. Le Long says an analysis of the Lead the Way quiz showed 20% of the 1000+ respondents don’t know the minimum safe distance to keep between dogs and wildlife.

“You should always maintain a minimum of 20 metres,” she notes. “What’s more, while the Lead the Way quiz results show most people know to keep dogs off sand dunes as many birds build nests there, what’s less clear is that dogs should also be kept away from birds on the wet sand. Many migratory birds forage where the waves wash the sand; if disturbed by chasing dogs, they can’t get the required nourishment to regain strength after a long flight.”

“This shows how valuable it is for every dog owner to Lead the Way and improve their ‘Wildlife Wise’ knowledge. Even if you’re sure you’re in the know, a reminder doesn’t hurt!”


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