Swimming Safety Tips for Dogs

Swimming Safety Tips for Dogs

The dog days of summer are here! It’s time for you and your favorite pooch (pooches?) to head outdoors and love the weather. Wherever you’re from – north, south, east or west – swimming is one of the most popular American summer pastimes for canines and humans alike. Most dogs (although not all!) love the water, making summertime at the beach or lake a real fun experience for everyone in the family. If you have a Newfoundland Dog, English Setter, Golden Retriever, or Portuguese Water Dog, you’ve probably already experienced this first-hand. These breeds are quite literally bred to love the water going back what is sometimes hundreds of years, and are all too happy to accompany you on every swim! Unfortunately, swimming does come with a few safety issues. Even dogs who love water can find themselves in trouble from time to time. Whether you’re swimming in the ocean, the pool, a freshwater lake, a river, or just in a nearby stream, safety must come first. These tips will help you keep your dog safe so she can enjoy more time in the water.

1) Start at the Right Age

Just like human babies, dogs can be too young for swimming. Dogs younger than three months are probably too young to safely swim, although you may safely introduce them to walking along the shore at the older end of this spectrum. Puppies that are only two months, one month, or younger, are still learning to regulate their own temperatures and walk. While they may seem to bound around in the yard endlessly, trying to teach them to swim can be dangerous and uncomfortable. It’s best to leave them with their mums and avoid risky activities so they can stay snug, warm, fed, and safe.

2) Don’t Rush It

Once you do start to introduce your dog to water, don't make the assumption that he knows how to swim and go gung-ho. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are born with a talent for staying above the water  some will sink like a stone or panic, and this can increase the risk for water inhalation or drawing. One of the best ways to start is with early baths at home in the tub. Start with just an inch or two at a time; slowly move the level up over several weeks. If your dog shows signs of anxiety, don't advance  give him more time. Once he can successfully paddle around in the tub (or at least tolerate standing in the water), you can support him in trying for his first "swim" in a safe location. Also, be aware that dogs may lack strong swimming skills until well after the first year. Like human babies, their coordination and strength develop as they grow. Don't assume a seemingly strong swimmer should be given free rein to go out as far as he wants before you're absolutely sure of his skills.

3) Wear a Life Jacket

When you do head to the beach, the pool, or even just out on a boat on the water, don’t assume your dog will stay safe. Have him wear a properly fitted life jacket certified by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) or some other reliable, high-authority organization. In the event of an accident, or even just if your dog falls into the water when a wave hits him, he’ll stay safely floating above the surface. That can be the difference between life and death in the right circumstances. One quick note on life jackets: they’re like booties in the sense that not all dogs appreciate them. Try them on at home and measure for a proper fit, then ensure the life jacket can’t slide off over his neck or hips. Never rely on pool noodles, children’s water wings, and other non-canine-specific floats to keep your pup safe.

4) Keep the Leash On

When teaching your pooch to swim, it's important to keep the leash on him or her at all times. This will allow you to retrieve him quickly in an emergency. Better still if you can get in beside him, too! There are two key actions that your dog should demonstrate before you start taking the leash off during swim times. First, your dog should be swimming very well without your assistance. He or she needs to be able to get out of the pool, lake, or river unassisted, and should eagerly come back to you on a consistent basis when you call.

5) Train Safe Exit Strategies

Here's an important point most owners overlook: you should always train your dog to know how to exit the water, especially if he or she is swimming in the pool at home. This means repeatedly showing her where the exit is, and training her to swim to the exit to a person waiting with a treat again and again until you're confident she can escape if she falls in. Also, don't underestimate the risk of a pool that isn't properly set up for easy exiting. A pool with only ladders, or steep stairs, can trap your dog in the water, exhausting her or resulting in an accidental drowning. Shallow stairs and ramps at both ends make a much safer environment, even if you never intend him to swim alone.

6) Always Be Vigilant When Sailing

In choppy waters or windy conditions, a dog on a boat could panic. Be sure to keep her confined, or at least wearing a life jacket and on a leash. If your dog does fall overboard, keep your eyes on his or her location at all times. Use your voice to help guide your dog to a spot that is closer to you so you can rescue him or her. Because of the risk of falling off or swimming away from the boat, dogs should not be allowed to swim off of the boat off-tether. A long lead and/or swimming with a human friend will keep him close by.

7) Don’t Force Your Dog to Swim

Some dogs don't like swimming. If you're trying to get your dog used to water, and he trembles, whines, cries, urinates on himself, or tries to run away, pay attention to what he's trying to communicate. It's okay to try and reassure him and work slowly, but be willing to draw the line if and when it's clear he doesn't want to continue. It's okay for your dog to have preferences in recreational activities  he doesn't have to swim to have a good time! Never force a dog to swim when he doesn't want to, even if he normally loves to swim. He may be hot, tired, cranky, hungry, or dehydrated, or just plain not in the mood. He won't like it, you won't like his behavior, and both of you will have a terrible time in general. Dogs (just like you and I) aren't all the same — even if they are bred to love the water. Like humans, some dogs just seem to be naturally fearful or anxious around water. If this sounds familiar, know that you shouldn't ever force your dog to get in. Most importantly, never assume Fido will be okay, even if he's enjoyed swimming in the past. Many dog owners think about the fun their dog will have swimming without considering how he or she will get out of the water. This can actually be quite dangerous for pups, especially when it comes to deep ponds or pools where there isn't always a natural incline or shore. Teach your dog how to get out of water features of any kind, be it ocean, lake, or pool, by repeatedly calling him back to the exit point. Find a good spot where your dog can safely exit the water to get to shore safely and call them to you. If you have a pool at home, equip it with a ramp rather than rails for a quick and easy exit. If you're swimming somewhere else as a guest, keep your dog in your line of vision at all times. salt water can be dangerous for dogs to consume

8) Plan Your Beach Trip Smartly

If you're heading to the beach with your family and friends, you don't want to leave your pup at home or the beach house. The beach can be a fun experience for you and your dog, but you need to keep a few water safety tips and general safety recommendations in mind. While beach trips with your dog can be fun and memorable, you always want to prioritize dog water safety before anything else. After checking the rules to ensure your dog is allowed at the beach, you'll want to look into the current water conditions. Feel free to ask a lifeguard about potential issues like currents. If the water is too dangerous, you should avoid letting your dog play in the water or swim, as they could get swept away. Because salt water can be dangerous for dogs to consume, you'll want to ensure your pup doesn't ingest too much of it. Provide plenty of fresh water for them to drink, and make sure to find a spot to rest with shade. The hot sun can cause pups to get heatstroke. When your dog wants to head into the water, you can let them do so with caution. Don't let them venture too far into the waves, especially when the water is rough. Keep an eye out for jellyfish and other marine life, too. Unlike ponds or lakes, the ocean features diverse creatures that could harm your pet.

9) Avoid Unknown Water Sources

If you're swimming in a natural water source, such as the ocean or a local lake, check water conditions before you swim to ensure it's safe. Summer can bring high bacteria counts that can make you and your dog very sick. Giardia and coccidiosis are just two examples of such bacteria. Leptospira and campylobacter are also found in standing water, as are cryptosporidium and several other parasites. They can cause everything from leptospirosis to neurological compromise, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and death. Additionally, salt water can cause excessive dehydration, which can be fatal in certain cases. Bodies of water that you are unfamiliar with can hold all sorts of hazards that can affect your furry pal negatively. Potential risks include high levels of bacteria, unknown water depths, rip tides, undertows, parasites, broken glass, and even stinging jellyfish like the man o' war. Be smart  check local resources for potential warnings first. If you're not sure, save the swim for another day.

10) Know Not Every Dog Is an Instinctive Swimmer

Another common assumption that dog owners sometimes make is that all dogs instinctively know how to swim. Not only is this false, assuming that it's true can jeopardize your dog’s safety. Even if your dog seems excited to get into the water, you should still remain by his side the first few times. Note that breeds with long bodies and short legs may struggle to swim period; this has to do with the shape of their body and musculature. These breeds don't swim because they enjoy it; they swim because they believe they are swimming for their lives instead Sometimes, a doggie lifejacket is enough to allow them to float and relax, but don’t push it if they balk. Sitting beside the pool is just as nice!

11) Gradually Introduce Your Dog to Swimming

If your dog is new to swimming, plan to go slow when you introduce him to the idea at first. Just like children, early canine swimmers need patience and understanding! First, snap on that lifejacket. Then, use a favorite toy or stick as a motivator. Toss it into shallow water he can stand in and encourage him to retrieve it. Once your playful pooch is comfortable fetching the toy and splashing around, continue to praise him or her to build confidence. Gradually, over the course of several sessions, toss the toy or stick further out in the water. If you throw the object out and your dog refuses to move, you can gradually lead them into deeper water. There, they should be able to kick their swimming reflexes into gear. It may take a few sessions with your help to encourage them to walk into the water and swim on their own — be patient, and your dog will eventually get the idea. Pay attention to your dog's body language throughout each session. If he or she shows signs of fear, anxiety, or any other negative emotion, it's time to stop and take a break. There's always time to try again another day! It's important not to be heavy-handed when teaching your dog how to swim. Don't toss your dog off your boat or push them off a dock into the pond. These situations can be traumatizing for pups, especially ones that have not touched water before. Additionally, you should aim to keep distractions at a minimum — teaching a dog how to swim around kids and blasting music will be stressful for you and them.

12) Be Aware of Dangerous Animals Nearby

If you are swimming and boating with your dog in a river or lake, be aware that wild (and owned) animals can introduce unusual dangers. Your lovable furry friend can seem like a delicious snack for wild creatures like sharks, alligators and even large snakes. This is obviously more of an issue in the Southern USA, but coyotes, bears, and even moose can pose a threat in remote lakes as far north as Canada. Avoid taking your dog to any outdoor swimming area until you’re certain of his recall skills. If you’re hunting or traveling through deep brush, bear mace can effectively ward off most menaces at least temporarily.

13) Be Cautious of Hidden Dangers

This bears repeating because it's so often forgotten  sometimes even trustworthy bodies of water can be dangerous. Fast tides, undertows, rip tides, rocks, glass, and even quicksand or deep mud can pose a risk to a swimming dog that stops for a rest or strays out too far. Be aware if these natural phenomenons exist in your favorite swimming place, and keep your dog on a leash or take precautions to keep her safe. The only good swimming trip, after all, is one you both return from in good health with plenty of memories to keep with you for life.

14) Exercise Good Swimming After Care

If you are training your pooch to swim, give lots of treats and praise both before and directly after the session. Once you wrap up, follow up with a good rinsing with clean water and take the opportunity to love on your pup. This removes pool chemicals, sand, dirt, and other irritants that can dry out or irritate your dog’s skin and eyes, and it feels good, too! Keep an eye on your furry pal for the next several days after swimming. Exposure to parasites and bacteria can cause infections, as can water in the ears, but they may not always become obvious until a few days later. Watch your dog closely for any unusual symptoms. If you see something concerning, have him examined by your vet to rule out issues. Spending time in the water is a great way for both dogs and their people to get the exercise they need to be healthy, but it’s important to do so safely. Proper swim safety guidelines apply to both your pup and humans, too. Know both your own and your dog’s limits and play within them; you’ll build more endurance over time!

Learn More From Our Dog Blog

Now that you have numerous dog swimming safety tips, you and your pup are ready to hit the open water. If you'd like more information about caring for your pup or dogs in general, check out our blog for more articles. Let us help you learn more about being a great pet owner! If you're preparing to adopt a new puppy, Golden Meadow Retrievers is one of the top Golden Retriever and Vizsla breeders in the country. Submit a puppy information request so you can get on the waiting list for our award-winning pups. Updated January 17th, 2022

Swimming Safety Tips for Dogs