Leashed dogs on beaches help keep native wildlife safe
Image: Benhi Dixon | Creative Commons


How to keep wildlife safe when taking your dog onto the beach and coastal trails.

On this page:

Know before you go

If you’re heading somewhere new, find out if it’s dog friendly before you go. There may be prohibited areas, on lead-only areas, or seasonal restrictions.

DOC tracks

Every webpage for a DOC track has clear dog access rules. Check before going to see if there are any dog restrictions. You can also find dog allowed tracks by ticking that option when searching for one.

Search for a DOC track.


Councils regularly update their bylaws, setting the rules for dogs. Signs can get out of date, for the most current information check your council website.

Several have interactive maps to show where you can and can’t walk your dog. For example, like this one for Wellington City Council – WCC Interactive Map.

What to do on beaches

Here’s what you can do to help keep your dog and wildlife safe around beaches.

A wildlife scan makes a good game plan

A clearly visible fur seal/kekeno is bathing in the sun in the foreground. Some dark shapes that blend into the sand are in the background.
Example of fur seals/kekeno being well camouflaged. There’s a lot of seals in the background, can you spot them?
Image: Shellie Evans

Some of the wildlife on our beaches can be quite camouflaged. That sleeping fur seal/kekeno, or sea lion/pakake can look a lot like a log or bit of driftwood from a distance. Visually scan the area so you are always one step ahead of your dog and you can plan where to walk.

A toy is a great decoy

If your dog loves playing with toys, keep one handy so you can keep their attention when there might be a distracting oystercatcher or other bird around. Not all dogs love toys, but they all love something:

  • play
  • treats, or
  • praise.

Find out what keeps your dog focused on you and you’ll have no trouble keeping them safe when there are distractions around.

Help ‘em out, give a shout

We can help the wildlife out by letting other people know that the wildlife is there. This is especially helpful for those animals who blend in with their environment.

By letting other people know where wildlife is, they then know what to look out for.

Seagulls are wildlife too

We normally think of the bigger or less common animals as wildlife. Like fur seals, or sea lions, or even penguins. But New Zealand is home to many species of shorebird and marine mammal, some rare and some common.

For example:

They all need time and space to rest, eat and raise their young. Our cheeky, red-billed gull needs some space too.

Different coloured leads

You might start noticing more traffic-light-coloured leads around the place because of Lead the Way. These are a bonus for dog safety as they let others know the temperament of your dog.

  • Green is friendly with dogs and people
  • Orange is caution sometimes nervous/reactive with new dogs or people
  • Red is often nervous or reactive with new dogs or people
  • Yellow is disabled so vulnerable to some interactions

It’s always good practice to ask an owner permission first before approaching their dog – no matter what colour lead, bandana or collar a dog might be wearing, if they say no, please respect their dog’s need for space.

Not all dogs like other dogs or people.

More about Lead the Way.

Where to go on beaches

Here’s where to go on beaches to help keep your dog and wildlife safe.

Walk on the wet sand first hand

Rolling sand dunes covered in long tussock.
Areas like these sand dunes are often where shorebirds nest
Image: Daniel Deans

A lot of our coastal species rest or nest in the sand dunes, or driftwood high on the beach. Walk your dog on the wet sand and you’ll be more likely to avoid any sensitive shorebird nesting areas or a slumbering sea lion/pakake.

Feet on sand – lead in hand

It’s a legal requirement to have your lead with you in public. Even if you’re exercising in an off-lead area, have it handy in case you need close control while you walk past a distraction.

Keep 20 meters away from coastal creatures

If you see some wildlife up ahead, put your lead on your dog and pass at least 20 meters away from the wildlife. This will help keep your dog and the wildlife safe.

Share the beach quiz

Test your knowledge of how to be safe with your dog and wildlife at the beach.

Do the share the beach quiz.

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