How to Let the Dogs Out

Tips for keeping your pooch happy and healthy during an outdoor excursion.
Inca, the new canine addition to the author’s family, enjoys Kailua Beach. photo: Jimmy Forrest

Taking your dog to the beach is a lot like taking your stereo to the beach: You can get sand in your woofers. And neither scenario is pretty.

"You should always bathe sand and salt off your dog when you’re finished, even he has only gone in the water for a short while. Sand can be a skin irritant in general and saltwater can dry the skin," says applied animal behaviorist Sarah Kalnajs, owner of Blue Dog Training & Behavior. Kalnajs spends about half of every year working in the Islands.

Kalnajs struck up a conversation with me on the beach one afternoon as I was walking my new puppy, Inca. Apparently, I was jeopardizing Inca’s health. "Don’t take the dog in the sun between 10 and 3. That’s the most likely time for heat rash or exhaustion," she warns, "unless dogs are provided with a large shady area, plenty of cool water to drink at all times, and allowed to just rest in the shade when they want. Don’t make them keep exercising in the midday tropical sun."

It seems counterintuitive, but shaving the dog’s fur will make him hot. Kalnajs shakes her head as she recounts more examples than she’d like of people who think they’re helping their animal. "Fur is an air conditioner and a sun protectant. Their fur is all they need. You should never shave them or cut their hair. That’ll make them hotter and more susceptible to being burned," she cautions.

Like people, fair-haired dogs are more susceptible to sunburn. Kalnajs explains, "Skin cancer is a big killer in dogs. It’s much higher in Hawai‘i than anywhere else in the United States." You can use sunscreen on the animal, but make sure it’s nontoxic, because the dog will try to lick it off. You might also want to invest in booties to protect their paws from the burning pavement or sand, and a hat to shield their eyes.

If it’s not the sun, it’s sea creatures. Keep an eye out for harmful jellyfish. Those, deems Kalnajs, pose the biggest danger for dogs. "It’s not going to kill the dog, but it will cause intense burning or pain, especially in the sensitive stomach or genital areas. Put ice or water on the sting."

Sand crabs are sea creatures you should encourage your dog to look for. "You know those itty-bitty, transparent, nickel-sized crabs? Teach the dog to chase the crabs. Dogs see contrast really well, and they’ll get a blast out of running after the crabs. They’ll never catch them, but it’ll be a stimulating game." The crabs come out at dawn and dusk, which is the best time for you to be out for a dog walk, too.

Another beach game: the shell trick. "You can hide treats under shells and have him find them. Or, bury treats in the sand while the dog watches you, then ask him to find them. Anything that stimulates him to search using his nose is a good game to play."

So sniff out some fun at the beach with your pet, and drag yourselves home dog tired.