5 Tips for Safe Summer Swimming With Your Dog

In addition to a life jacket, your dog may need some paddling lessons.

Not all dogs are natural swimmers. By: Maja Dumat

It’s the dog days of summer, which means most of us are waking up every day and heading right to the beach.

If you’re lucky, you get to bring your dog along with you. There is nothing quite like a good swim on a hot day for both of you, am I right?

But summer fun can turn tragic if we’re not careful, so it’s important to keep some swimming safety tips in mind when heading to the beach, the lake or even just the pool down the street.

1. Breed Matters

The general consensus is that all dogs can swim, but this just isn’t the case. Some breeds, like retrievers and Labs, are natural swimmers — after all, it’s one of the things they were bred for. But breeds like the Bulldog are going to need a lot more help.

Recently in the news was a story about a Bulldog who drowned at a doggy day care. Most Bulldogs cannot swim and, once in the water, will sink like a rock. “Bulldogs are the exception to the rule that says all dogs are born knowing how to swim,” says Mark Manfield in American Bulldog Bible and the American Bulldog: Your Perfect American Bulldog Guide. “In fact, drowning is the leading cause of death among Bulldogs in general, not just the American Bulldog.”

If you have a dog whose breed isn’t known for stellar swimming, it may be best to stick to sprinklers and kiddie pools.

2. Life Jackets Are a Necessity

There are doggie life jackets in all shapes and sizes, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one that fits your dog.

Any time you plan on being out in the water — whether swimming or boating — your dog should wear a life jacket. “Look for a lifejacket with a handle that you can use to guide your dog in the water and a D-ring to attach a leash,” advises the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Teaching your dog to be comfortable with their life jacket is relatively easy to do. “Before using the lifejacket in the water, put it on your dog at home and get him comfortable with it by feeding him dinner while he wears it, as well as rewarding him with treats while he wears it,” says the AKC.

Even when your dog is a proficient swimmer, for safety’s sake, always put their life jacket on.

Always supervise your pup around water. By: David Shankbone

3. Supervise Your Dog

This seems like a no-brainer, but watch over your dog when they swim. The tragic death of the Bulldog at the daycare could have been avoided with simple supervision.

Even dogs who are good swimmers can run into trouble, so be on hand to help if they do. In the ocean, you’re dealing with rip currents and undertows, and even pools can be dangerous.

“Never let your dog swim in a pool without supervision,” warn Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori and M. Christine Zink in Your New Dog for Dummies: Portable Edition. “Every year dogs drown in pools after becoming exhausted trying to find their way out, even when stairs are available.”

4. Training Is a Must

Always assume that the first time your dog faces the water, they won’t know what to do, and train accordingly. Think of it like doggie swimming lessons.

“Start in shallow water with your dog on leash, ideally, where you too can enter the water. Wade in a few steps and encourage your dog to follow with some tasty treats. Reward him when he steps in the water, even if he only gets his toes wet. Gradually ask your dog to step further and further into the water until he has to start swimming to reach you,” says the AKC.

If you have a pool, spend some time teaching your dog where the stairs are so they can get out if they fall (or jump) in when you’re not looking.

Now that’s a lot of pups in the swimming pool:

5. Learn Rescue Techniques

There is such a thing as pet CPR — learning how to perform it and some basic first aid ensures that you are prepared for any eventuality with your pet.

Some veterinary offices offer this training for free; other organizations charge for it. But if you call around to local vets and animal shelters in your area, you’re sure to stumble across a class that will teach you all you need to know.

Many of these tips are common sense, but they can mean the difference between a fun summer swim and a preventable incident. So get your suit on, get your life jackets on and go have some summer fun!

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