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Why do people keep talking about dogs?

Updated: Aug 28, 2022

Dogs are fantastic companions! Our human behaviours, as they relate to our pets, are the largest factor in whether our pets' presence is a threat to the endangered wildlife in the area.

There are a lot of studies, both local and international, showing the direct correlation of the presence of dogs and a sharp reduction in bird populations in an area, as well as a sharp reduction in breeding success of shorebirds.

When it comes to nesting, on occasion it is because a dog eats the eggs, steps on the eggs, or hunts the birds; this however isn't the main cause of decline in most areas; the main issue is disturbance. Shorebirds' eggs will either get too cold or cook in the sun if the birds are not on the nest incubating the eggs. Birds will also abandon their nest if disturbed too often.

When walking along a beach, at a safe distance from a nest: a dog off lead will cause a shorebird to leave its nest 99+% of the time; a dog on lead will cause a shorebird to leave its nest 80% of the time; compared with just 12.9% of the time when a human without a dog walks or jogs by.

Likewise, birds will quite happily continue feeding when humans or dogs walk by at a reasonable distance. But get too close, and they will take flight. Birds will take flight much more quickly in the presence of a dog. Constant disturbance and taking flight means the birds are expending much more energy, and that frequently means they will starve to death. Why? Some of their major food sources are becoming much harder to obtain due to the warming of the ocean. The red-billed gull for instance is now an at-risk species due to the rapid decline in their population; in the red-billed gull case it is believed to be due to krill going deeper into the water to stay cooler, and krill is one of their major sources of nutritious food.

This isn't about banning dogs from the beach, it's about making some small changes in our behaviours which can have a substantial positive impact on the local ecology and wildlife. Simple things like:

  • never letting your dog chase the birds (which is illegal - see Owners' Responsibility below),

  • keeping the dog on-lead in areas known to be breeding sites,

  • keeping dogs away from nesting areas during breeding season,

  • picking up after your dog (preventing spread of disease or weakening of immune systems of the local wildlife).

Snells Beach Esplanade and Beach Specific Regulations:

Owner's Responsibility

Under the dog control act you can find a lot of information regarding the responsibilities of dog ownership.

Owners of dogs must keep the dog under control at all times. A dog is deemed not to be under control if it is found at large in any public place in contravention of any regulation or by law.

"Owners are to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the dog does not injure, endanger, or cause distress to any stock, poultry, domestic animal, or protected wildlife. " Allowing a dog to chase the shorebirds, including while playing fetch because an owner threw a ball or stick into a group of birds, causes distress to those birds many of which are protected wildlife. This is an infringement of the dog control act.

Every person who does not keep their dog under control and it commits an offence is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding $3,000.

The owner of any dog that attacks any person or any protected wildlife and causes the death of protected wildlife, or such injury to any protected wildlife that it becomes necessary to destroy the animal to terminate its suffering, commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $20,000, or both, and the court shall, on convicting the owner, make an order for the destruction of the dog unless satisfied that the circumstances of the attack were exceptional and do not justify destruction.

Section 58: amended, on 1 December 2003, by section 37 of the Dog Control Amendment Act 2003 (2003 No 119).

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