A DEAKIN University study has found more than two thirds of people walking dogs along Surf Coast beaches ignore regulations about keeping their pets under control, which is putting local wildlife at risk.
The research, conducted on eight beaches between Point Lonsdale and Anglesea, used GPS trackers attached to dog collars to monitor the threat dogs posed to beach-nesting birds such as the endangered hooded plover.
Associate Professor Mike Weston from Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology said the study showed 70 per cent of dogs being walked at “on-leash” beaches were off the leash.
“We found a high level of complacency about dog behaviour, even on beaches where there had been intensive efforts to improve public awareness about the risk that dogs posed to hooded plovers.”
Associate Professor Weston supervised the nine-month research project by honours student Thomas Schneider, which covered more than 47 kilometres of coastline popular with dog walkers, including four “on-leash” beaches and four “off-leash” beaches.
The study is the first to quantify the amount of space dogs use when they are on the beach. Participating dog owners agreed to have their pet’s locations recorded by GPS every five seconds.
The research found the dogs travelled up to 33km during their beach visits, running as fast as 19kmh.
Overall, nearly three-quarters of dogs were off the leash, regardless of the regulations on the beach they were visiting.
“Clearly regulations aren’t effective and other management options need to be considered,” Associate Professor Weston said.
“Australia has high rates of dog ownership and some of the strictest dog-leashing regulations in the world but enforcement appears to be lacking and this results in regulations largely being ignored.
“We need to consider other options to ensure beaches are safe for birds but open to beachgoers who enjoy walking their dogs.”
He said one option was to ban dogs entirely from certain beaches and remove regulations at other beaches so dogs could roam freely at any time of the year.
“Beaches where dogs could roam would need to be places that aren’t important sites for native wildlife.
“The study did hint at multiple benefits for people who kept their dogs on the leash.
“The dog owners walked more, there was less impact on wildlife and the owners had fewer unwanted interactions with other dogs and beach users.”