Educating dog owners on protecting native species

Ahead of International Dog Day, the Department of Conservation (DOC) in partnership with pet insurance provider, PD Insurance, has launched its Auckland ‘Lead the Way’ programme to help protect native wildlife, dogs and people on our beaches.

Auckland’s beaches are home to a diverse array of marine mammals and sea birds with many in decline and under threat, such as fur seals/kekeno, little penguins/kororā, red-billed gulls/tarāpunga, NZ dotterel/tūturiwhatu and many more. Beaches are also a favourite destination for dogs and their owners, posing a risk to the wellbeing of these mammals and birds.

“This is why there needs to be a stronger focus on enabling each to enjoy the coast together in harmony” says Laura Boren, DOC Science Advisor Mountains to Sea Team.

Lead the Way recognises the risks wildlife faces on the coastline, while also understanding the need for dogs and their owners to enjoy these areas too.

A key element of the awareness-raising effort is a Lead the Way quiz that educates and then tests people on their knowledge of the coastline’s animals and risks posed to both wildlife and dogs.

Beaches – wildlife sanctuaries and dog playgrounds
DOC’s Laura Boren says canine companions can cause chaos for native wildlife, are a primary threat for seal and sea lion pups, and can adversely impact different species in myriad ways.

“Even a playful and rambunctious dog simply getting his exercise may disturb sunbathing seals, scare penguins, or destroy the beach nests of birds such as dotterel, fairy terns, godwits, and oyster catchers.

“Further, many dogs have an innate tendency to stalk, injure or predate wildlife, even if playing. Some pet owners are unaware of risks their dogs present to coastal wildlife, and to other dogs.”

Lead the Way recognises that it is possible for dogs and wildlife to happily co-exist, and urges pet owners to take a key role in enabling this by taking on board some simple tips.

“Through a variety of community engagement activities, our Lead the Way collaboration with PD Insurance will communicate the steps we can all take to better protect the animals that live and breed on our coasts,” says Laura Boren.

Campaigning to safeguard dogs as well as wildlife
Dogs can harm one another too, physically and emotionally. Many pet parents have suffered the shock of their dog either being charged down or charging down someone else’s. This is why Lead the Way is also about better protecting dogs.

“Anyone who has walked a dog knows the challenges of interactions between on-lead and off-lead dogs. We and DOC are urging dog owners to practice proactive management when outdoors, in protecting both native coastal species and each other,” PD Insurance’s Michelle Le Long adds.

Tips include scanning for wildlife, bringing a toy for distracting your pup, advising others if you spot wildlife, and knowing where on the beach is the best place for human and canine activity.

As well as completing the Lead the Way quiz, pet parents can purchase a Lead the Way lead for their dog. While signifying a commitment to wildlife-wise dog ownership, these high-quality, locally-made leads provide a visual clue of the dog’s temperament:

– Green means they are friendly with dogs and people
– Orange signals caution; the dog is sometimes uneasy/reactive with new dogs or people
– Red is a clear warning; the dog is often nervous or reactive with new dogs or people
– Yellow means they are disabled or vulnerable to interactions in some other way

To purchase a Lead the Way lead for your dog or learn more about the programme, visit the DOC website.

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