Piping plovers, small birds that breed on beaches or sand flats, are listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Off-leash dogs have attacked these birds from Maine to Oregon, prompting renewed efforts to encourage owners to leash and better monitor their dogs.
It's a challenge to protect some birds while chasing off others. Robert Johns, spokesperson for American Bird Conservancy, told Discovery News that "certainly, non-lethal approaches for avian control are preferred," so at least the border collie patrols aren’t intentionally killing birds.
"That said," he continued, "the use of dogs presents another problem and that is the potential disturbance of non-target birds that might be using the beaches for rest and feeding during migration stopovers. Furthermore, there is potential for chicks from non-target birds to be fatally trampled in the process, so we recommend that adequate surveys be conducted to identify the kinds of birds that seasonally use the beaches in question and that particular care be used when migrant shorebirds and beach-breeding birds are present."
Off-leash dogs at beaches can be a threat to humans too. This is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association. AVMA spokesperson Michael San Filippo said that an estimated 4.5 million dog bites happen every year in the United States. The vast majority involves off-leash dogs.
Then there is the problem of dog waste. Dog excrement can contain dangerous pathogens, such as the parasitic worm Toxocara, which can cause abdominal pain and even loss of sight in infected humans, according to Eric Morgan and colleagues from the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences.
Responsible dog ownership can help to alleviate that problem. Whether a dog is a sand and surf loving mutt or an elite border collie on patrol, the actions of the owners and handlers are usually what make or break a canine beach visit.