Soft sand under paws; ocean breeze in the air; new sights, sounds, scents — no wonder dogs love the beach. But the beach doesn’t always love them back. There are plenty of pitfalls that can ruin a great day on the shore. However, if you keep these nine simple rules in mind, beach day will be the highlight of your pup’s summer!

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Know before you go

Off-leash rules vary, so consult governing agencies or local tourism bureaus when you plan your play day, and Google “off-leash beaches” for any coastal state to find a variety of information-packed websites. Some states, California and Florida, for example, offer lots of designated dog beaches, some with fenced dog-park sections. In a few places, like Oregon, dogs are allowed off leash on almost all beaches, but in such places, as Oregon law states, “they must be under direct control (within sight and responsive to commands).” Direct control is always critical when pups are off leash, and that leads us to Beach Rule #2.

Perfect recall

No ifs, ands or buts — when we run dogs off leash, they must obey recall to keep them out of mischief and danger. Amid crashing waves and whistling winds, your dog may not hear a verbal cue; under such conditions, either keep ‘em close, or train your dog to recall to a whistle and even a hand signal.

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Don’t drink the water

Salt poisoning from seawater is a significant threat to beach-loving dogs, so toss the tennis ball down the sand, not out into the surf, and rinse it often with fresh water. Carry plenty of drinking water, and provide frequent water breaks so your pup isn’t tempted to try sating her thirst with seawater. Also, the marine algae that cause so-called red tides are poisonous to dogs, so always avoid the beach when these toxic algae blooms occur.

Knee deep only

Even if your dog loves to swim, save her pool time for freshwater. Salt poisoning from ingesting seawater is dangerous; strong currents and powerful breaking waves can overwhelm even the best four-legged swimmers; and some surf zones are home to stingrays and dangerous jellyfish. Let your dog romp in the shallows, but no farther, and stay well back from the surf line during periods of storm-driven waves and extreme tidal fluctuations. If your dog might be tempted to dip more than paws in the water, outfit her with a safety flotation vest.

Keep ’em clean

Pack waste bags. Bag dispensers are common at beach parking lots, but don’t count on it — but do count on other beachgoers being justifiably upset if they step in dog poop. And speaking of clean, when beach day is over, brush your pup thoroughly, and check ears and eyes for sand and debris.

No seafood

Recall (or a “Leave it” or “No” cue) is critical to protecting dogs from washed-up dead and dying sea creatures, such as crabs, fish, sea stars, mussels and even birds. Sampling the seafood buffet can cause serious bacterial or parasitic infections and, both seasonally and regionally, shellfish can be infected with dangerous toxins. Moreover, certain species of jellyfish and other marine creatures, such as Velella jellyfish on the West Coast, occasionally wash ashore en masse, making many beaches unsuitable for dogs who might eat (or roll in) the decaying creatures. Call ahead to check on any such strandings.

Chase the ball, not the birds

Beach birds — gulls, terns, sandpipers and more — are all protected species, making them big no-no’s for curious pups, so rein in your dog when the birds catch his attention, and be especially mindful about the allure of birds to sporting breeds. Marine mammals are also protected, and on many coastlines, seal pups rest on beaches while seal moms hunt for food offshore. Heed all signage announcing closures to protect wildlife.

Dawn patrol

By far the best time to hit the beach with Fido is first thing in the morning, and not just for those memorable beach sunrises. Even popular tourist beaches are frequently devoid of humans in the early morning, making this the perfect pooch time. Moreover, the dawn patrol alleviates worries over warm weather, hot sand and too much bright sunlight.

Too much of a good thing

Unless your dog is a well-conditioned canine athlete, go easy on the beach romp, particularly in warm weather. On the other hand, a lengthy session on the beach is perfect for those hyperactive breeds that get, and need, plenty of exercise. After all, a tired dog is an easy dog, and if you follow the beach rules, your pup will come home happy, healthy and ready to curl up and dream about sand and surf and good times.