Who doesn’t like a cool dip on a hot day?!? As the weather warms, many of us prepare to head out to the beaches and lakes or open our backyard pools for a refreshing reprieve from the hot sun. Even early in the season, long before us humans are willing to set a toe in the frigid waters, you may be tempted to let your dog take a swim to cool down on a steamy spring day. Beyond a quick cool-down, swimming and time on the water can be an excellent source of fun and exercise for you and your four-legged friend, but before you take your pooch out for a paddle, make sure you know how to keep him safe. Here are 10 canine water safety tips to ensure you and your pup make the most of your summertime fun:
- Never leave your dog unattended near water. If there is one rule you follow when it comes to canine water safety, let it be this one. Just like with kids and water, things can go tragically wrong for your pup in an instant. Even the strongest doggy paddler can get into trouble, and if you’re not there to help, it could turn into tragedy quickly. Make sure to keep an eye on your dog at all times whenever you are around water, watching for signs he may be tiring, contending with currents or riptides, showing too much interest in something dangerous in or along the water’s edge, or struggling to exit or regain solid footing.
- Don’t assume all dogs can swim. Many people think dogs are natural born swimmers, but that isn’t always the case. Depending on your dog’s breed and temperament, time in the water could prove more of a torment than a treat. Much of your dog’s ability to swim depends on his body type. Large-chested dogs with short legs like Basset Hounds, Bulldogs, and Corgis often struggle to keep themselves afloat. Brachycephalic breeds, those with short snouts and flat faces like Boxers, Pekingese, and Pugs, are prone to breathing problems that leave them quickly fatigued. Smaller breeds like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Dachshunds can easily be overcome by waves and currents. Beyond the physical limitations of certain breeds, a dog who is nervous or fearful of water (no matter their breed or mix) can rapidly become overwhelmed, compromising their respiration and ability to swim.
- Life jackets can be lifesavers. One of the best things you can do for a dog new to swimming, one who may struggle due to physical or temperament limitations, or any dog out and about in rough waters, strong currents, or swimming off a dock or boat, is fit him with a life vest. There are many excellent canine flotation devices on the market to keep your dog afloat when his legs begin to tire or the current or riptide pull him under. They also make it easier to spot your dog in the open water, and many have a chin bumper to help keep your pup’s head above water and handles to make it easy for you to grab your pooch when he needs a human hand to help him out.
- Prepare your pup. Even dogs built for water may be wary in their initial introductions to the wet stuff. Take it slow when introducing your dog to water to avoid overwhelming him. Start shallow and use lots of praise and encouragement. Never force or push your dog to go further faster than they are ready; resist the temptation to throw a toy out into the waves or the deep end and let your dog explore the water at their own pace. Some pups will take to paddling right away; others may need a few sessions before they are confident enough to swim out on their own. A long line and/or life jacket can be a huge help in protecting your pooch and putting your mind at ease while your dog acclimates to the water.
- Consider the conditions. Many beaches and lakes are monitored for bacteria and dangerous water conditions like riptides and rough surf. Keep your eyes peeled online and onsite for closures, advisories, and red flag warnings. If the water is unsafe for you, it is unsafe for your pet as well. The same goes for cold water conditions, especially for small dogs or those with short fur. Hypothermia is just as much a risk to your dog as it is to you, so be aware of the water temperature when allowing your pup to take a dip.
- Keep an eye out for dangers in or near the water. Blue-green algae has been in the news a lot in recent summers. Also known as cyanobacteria, it is commonly found in the calm water of freshwater ponds and lakes. The toxins it creates can be fatal to dogs if ingested. It is often hard to spot, but can appear as green or brown flakes or a blue-green film on the water. Other dangers to keep an eye out for are fishing hooks, lures, and other temptations from the tackle box; submerged objects that may injure or impale your pup; and dead fish or other marine life along the shoreline that may make for an enticing roll but often contain harmful bacteria that could make your dog ill.
- Keep him hydrated. Make sure to bring plenty of drinking water along on all your outdoor water adventures. Just like with humans, swimming and soaking up the sun can create quite a thirst and whether it’s a pool, ocean, lake, or stream, the water your dog enjoys splashing in isn’t safe for him to drink. If you notice your dog drinking from his surroundings, keep dehydration and sickness at bay by redirecting him to the fresh water you brought along.
- Take plenty of breaks. Keep a close eye on your dog’s energy level throughout the day. Just like with thirst, the sun and swimming can be just as tiring for dogs as they are for people. Make sure to take plenty of breaks, preferably in the shade, with ample fresh water for refueling.
- Rinse and dry off after every swim. It doesn’t matter where your dog takes a swim; it’s always a good idea to give him a good rinse at the end of the day. Salt water, chlorine, lake algae, and other pollutants and organisms, as well as sand, can irritate your dog’s skin and even make him sick if he licks himself. Chronic ear infections can also be a problem for dogs who swim regularly. Make sure to clean and dry your pup’s ears after a day in the water.
- Watch for illness. Despite our best efforts, we cannot always control everything, and we may not be aware of all the dangers in our surroundings. Always monitor your pet for changes in appetite, constitution, energy, and behavior. If you see changes in these or symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, fever, foul odor, or excessive scratching contact your vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment to prevent severe illness or even death.
Sharing summertime adventures with your four-legged companion can be a truly magical experience for both you and your dog. Just make sure to follow these tips to keep him safe and maximize his fun in the sun!