By Sandy Robins
It’s summer, and time to have some doggone good outdoor fun. If your activities include pool parties, trips to the beach or lazy days on a boat, you need to ensure that your dogs are safe and secure both in and out of the water. Here are a few canine swimming safety tips to help you and your dog to get the most out of summertime fun.
Yes, there are dogs that love to swim, but it’s a myth that all dogs are great swimmers. The breeds that helped name the swimming stroke eponymously named doggie paddle include the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the Curly-Coated Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and the Flat-Coated retriever.
Spaniels such as American Water, Boykin and Cocker enjoy water fun, too. Other fun doggie participants in pool water games include English and Irish Setters, the Spanish Water Dog and the Portuguese Water Dog and the giant Newfoundland. Despite their size, Newfoundlands have webbed feet and were originally bred to help fisherman with their nets and also perform water rescues.
Webbed paws help dogs swim more efficiently and, in fact, many of the other breeds mentioned above also have webbed feet, such as various retrievers. But it’s not all about webbed feet; Dachshunds have webbed feet but their long bodies and short legs will never make them Olympian class swimmers. Body shape has a lot to do with canine swimming skills.
Irrespective of shape or size, any dog can quickly get into trouble in water. Consequently, a properly fitted life jacket is recommended for your dog’s safety and your peace of mind. Look for a design that has a handle on the back that you can grab in an emergency and a chin bumper to keep a dog’s head facing upwards to prevent them swallowing water. This feature is especially important for brachycephalic breeds – flat-faced breeds such as Pugs, Boxers, French and English Bulldogs.
The American Kennel Club suggests introducing your pooch to a flotation device on dry ground and making sure he is really comfortable wearing it before you head to the pool, the beach or go aboard a boat. It further suggests putting it on and letting your dog wear it around the house, including during meal times and even playing a few games of fetch to ensure complete comfort.
Getting Doggie Feet Wet
Swimming pools with wide steps are a really good place to introduce your dog to water. Attach a leash to your pooch’s life jacket and wade in alongside him. Start in shallow water and encourage your dog to follow you. Reward him when he steps in the water, even if he only gets his toes wet. Gradually encourage your dog to step further into the water until he has to start swimming to reach you.
Easy-to-grasp, floatable toys are ideal for retrieving in water. Simply throw them a few feet away and encourage him to retrieve them. Go slow and practice this leashed training over several sessions. Don’t attempt to get your dog swimming alone from the get-go.
An excellent “Plan B” to introduce a dog to water is a small- to medium-sized kiddie pool—a full-size swimming pool can sometimes be overwhelming. Leave the pool empty and get your dog to jump in, and then reward him when he does. Slowly add water. Reward your dog with tasty treats and enthusiasm, and he’ll soon realize this is fun.
Once your dog is used to the swimming pool and gets bolder and more used to the water, he will still need careful watching. Discourage children from throwing a toy into the pool for your dog to retrieve unless they are supervised by an adult. Kids are often having so much fun that they will not be unaware that their canine companion is in trouble in the water.
You should also never throw a dog into a pool “for fun.” If your dog really is a scaredy cat, don’t force swimming activities. Some dogs will have just as much fun running around the pool.
Make Sure the Water is Safe
Always treat your swimming pool—fresh- or saltwater—well before it will be used to allow the chemicals to circulate in the water. Too much chlorine can burn dogs’ eyes, too. The same goes for saltwater pools.
If your activities are at a pond, lake or river, it’s essential that you check that the water is not infested with waterborne parasites, such as giardia. You should always avoid any water that is overrun with blue-green algae as it is very toxic to dogs. Similarly, a beach day can be spoilt if your dog swallows too much saltwater as it can cause a gastrointestinal upset, resulting in diarrhea.
Whether you are poolside, picnicking at a beach, river or lake location, or on a boat, make sure you have fresh water. Always redirect your dog to the water bowl instead of allowing him to drink from the pool or a river. If necessary, to encourage your dog to use the provided water source, add a little bone broth for flavor. Freeze it in a bowl so it can slowly melt to keep it cool for an extended period.
When it comes to eating and water activities, dogs, just like children, should be allowed to digest a meal before being allowed to jump in and splash about. Waiting an hour after any meal is good idea.
Dogs Can Get Sunburnt, Too
You also need to ensure there is plenty of shade available for your dog no matter where your outdoor activities are. Dogs with pink skin on their tummies and pink noses are particularly vulnerable to sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer. There are sunscreens formulated for dogs and are a must-have for any sun-filled outdoor activities, both in and out of water.
At the end of the day, it’s important to completely rinse off your dog to ensure there is no chlorine, saltwater or sand remaining on his skin or in his fur. These substances could cause irritation if they are not removed. Giving your dog a light shampooing after a day in at the water is a good idea. If your dog has a thick and/or long coat, a more thorough dog wash might be necessary.
One Final Tip
Never remove a dog’s collar when they are swimming in a public area. If your dog normally wears a leather, bejeweled accessory, consider buying a special collar for water activities made from nylon. And, of course, proper I.D. is a lost dog’s ticket home.
About the Author: Sandy Robins is an award-winning multimedia pet lifestyle expert and author whose work focuses on ways to enhance the human-animal bond. She is equally besotted with both cats and dogs! Learn more about Sandy on her website.