Ah, it’s summer! Time to hit the beach for sunshine, waves, and an exciting adventure with your best friend. More and more beaches are allowing dogs, as I discovered when my water-loving hound Fargo (now over the Rainbow Bridge) was 15 years old. For way too many years, as I attended our St. Louis neighborhood pool’s “Season End Dog Swim” with Fargo and was amazed by her paddling prowess and floating-disc retrieval skills, I wished for more dog-friendly swimming opportunities, specifically sandy beach experiences. One day, I finally stopped wishing and started online investigating.
Success! I found a canine-friendly beach in the Midwest (near Chicago): Evanston Dog Beach. We drove to this pup-swim paradise for overnight trips twice during Fargo’s last summer — the joy she experienced while walking (and also napping) on the sand, swimming in Lake Michigan, exploring Northwestern University’s campus, and relaxing in our dog-friendly hotel made it worth the six-hour drive and prompted us to visit with our pups Vanilla and Chuck in following summers. While coordinating these trips, I learned six important tips for creating the perfect beach experience for your dog.
In my hunt for a dog-friendly, off-leash, fenced, sandy lake, I discovered that there are many types of locations labeled “dog beaches,” and they have a variety of rules and restrictions. I found ocean beaches, parks with ponds, and lakes with muddy, rocky or sandy shorelines. Some places are enclosed, and some are not. And often what is allowed for canine access is hidden deeply within the location’s website copy. A picture of pups freely splashing in the water may be featured, but pets remaining on-leash may be the actual requirement. And in some cases, canines are only allowed on the beach during the “off-season” or “off-hours.” Many spots (like Evanston Dog Beach) make formal applications, vaccination records, pre-visit payments, and pass cards necessary for access. So read carefully. Learn all about the beach and how to participate!
There are many online resources to help you find a comfortable sleeping spot for you and your dog. In Evanston, we discovered a hotel and apartment building called The Homestead, located a few blocks from the dog beach. There, we were able to reserve a pet-friendly apartment for each weekend trip. With a small pet fee and minor restrictions of entering through the back entrance and using the service elevator, we were able to enjoy a wonderful space.
Find out if there are other activities you and your dog can enjoy together, especially if you are on an overnight trip. Are there restaurants with outdoor areas where your pup can accompany you? May you bring your dog to outdoor concerts or festivals in town? Are there additional parks to explore? In Evanston, we found a few dog-friendly outdoor cafés, an ice cream shop, a local art festival, and even outdoor church services where pets were welcomed. The more you know, the more fun you both will have!
When you hit the shore, towels, poop bags, water, a portable dog bowl, food, snacks, and treats should come with you. Your pup’s favorite floating toys, a leash, and a basic pet first aid kit are also worth bringing. And here’s another important tip: Consider your dog’s swimming ability. If he needs assistance or if you’re unsure, consider getting a pet life vest. We packed all of these items and were grateful we brought a vest for Fargo. She had never tackled lake water before, and it really helped her handle the waves.
Like on any vacation you take with your dog, accidents or health issues may occur. Finding vet clinics and 24-hour hospitals ahead of time can provide you with peace of mind.
As your pooch has the experience of a lifetime, you can be capturing so many memories! Fargo’s, Vanilla’s and Chuck’s beach adventure photo books are displayed proudly on our living room coffee table.
If you’re looking for an off-leash dog beach without canine-specific season and hour restrictions, here’s a quick list of locations across the U.S. Have fun checking them out!
Let’s hear from you, readers. Do you have any dog beaches to recommend? Share in the comments!