They didn’t coin the term “doggy paddle” because our canine companions stay on shore. Many dogs enjoy swimming as much as people do, and cool times in the local swimming spot are irreplaceable summer experiences. But you have to look out for your pet around water, since even the strongest, most enthusiastic swimmers can get into trouble. The keys to water safety for dogs are prevention, preparedness and awareness.
No dog should be given unsupervised access to a backyard pool, neighborhood pond or creek. Swimming pools are best fenced off for safety. If that’s not possible, they should be equipped with alarms that sound when the surface of the water is broken by a child or pet falling in and a ramp to help them find their way out.
Prevention also means teaching your pet what to do when he’s in the pool. Dogs don’t always understand that the steps are on a certain side, and they may tire while trying to crawl their way out. If your pet likes to swim, work with him in the pool to help him learn where the steps are so he can get out easily. Some breeds of dogs, such as Bulldogs, Corgis, Pugs and Basset Hounds, do not have the body conformation to make them natural swimmers, and need to be outfitted with a lifejacket and may need to be taught how to swim.
Before letting your dog swim in natural surroundings, survey the area for safety. Rivers and oceans can change frequently, and an area that was once safe for swimming can become treacherous. Consider currents, tides, underwater hazards and even the condition of the water. In the late summer, algae scum on the top of standing water can be toxic. When in doubt, treat it like you would a child: better safe than sorry.
Dogs on, in or near the water should be wearing a life jacket. These are especially great for family boating trips, because most have sturdy handles for rescue when a pet goes overboard.
Be aware of your dog’s condition as he plays. Remember that even swimming dogs can get hot, so bring fresh water and offer it at every opportunity. When your dog is tiring, call it a day. A tired dog is in danger of drowning.
Be particularly careful with young and old dogs. Young dogs can panic in the water, and old dogs may not realize they aren’t as strong as they used to be. Keep them close to shore, and keep swimming sessions short.
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