3 Precautions When Swimming With Your Dog

Training your dog to swim can be rewarding and fun, but there are a few dog swimming precautions you should know about.

Be safe in the water with your dog. By: ShutterBug
Be safe in the water with your dog. By: ShutterBug

A common myth that most dog caretakers believe is that all dogs can swim.

Although most dogs like Golden Retrievers and Labradors can swim without much instruction, many others should be monitored while they are enjoying the water.

Dogs with short legs — Basset Hounds, French and English bulldogs and dachshunds, for example — cannot move quickly enough to keep them afloat. Dogs that have a low body fat percentage — greyhounds, boxers, dobermans — have a greater chance of sinking when they try to swim.

It’s important to remember that all dogs can drown, and hypothermia is a risk for any breed.

1. Your Dog Needs a Safety Vest

My first suggestion, with any dog, is to get a dog lifejacket (affiliate link). They come in a variety of sizes and colors that allow you to see your dog in the water.

Even if your pup is a competent swimmer, I would highly suggest a lifejacket, especially if your dog is a boating companion. Most canine lifejackets come with a handle so you can grab your pet easily if anything were to happen while boating.

When purchasing a doggie lifejacket, you should ensure that it fits snug just as a human lifejacket would fit on us. For this reason, I suggest bringing your dog with you when you go shopping for a lifejacket.

2. First Time? Take It Easy

If your dog is not naturally interested in the water and shows some hesitance, some training will be involved for him to get acquainted with the water. Do not simply throw your dog in the water and hope his natural instincts take over — this is extremely dangerous.

First, assess your dog’s apprehension toward the water at a shallow pool or a pond with a beach. If he seems comfortable standing in shallow water at the beach, slowly step out into the water and call your dog. It may help to have a favorite treat or toy to give to him when he gets to you.

Slowly, you can go farther out into the water while requiring him to swim a little farther to get the reward. If your dog is uncomfortable and decides to turn back before he gets to you, you are going too fast and should go closer to shore.

The first outing into the water should be brief and positive. He should be wearing a lifejacket in case he gets too confident and decides to go out farther than he would typically be comfortable doing. I have found that my dog is much more willing to join me in the water if a lifejacket is on him.

If your dog is still uncomfortable in the water and you are determined for him to swim, consult a local trainer for help.

Maybe someday your pet will become a skilled swimmer. Check out the cute video below of a Lab who gets to swim with dolphins!

3. Be Careful Out in the Heat

When you are outside with your dog in the sun for any extended period of time, it’s important to remember that the sun’s rays are harmful to your dog.

Dogs can get sunburned, especially those with short hair and areas of no hair (like their belly or even their noses). I highly suggest getting canine sunscreen. Human sunscreen when used on dogs can be toxic, especially if they lick it.

Offer plenty of water and shade and know the early signs of heat stroke:

  • Heavy panting
  • Drooling
  • Rapid breathing
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Lack of balance

If you see these symptoms in your dog, get him inside immediately and offer water.

Advanced signs of heat stroke include:

  • Unwillingness to move
  • White or blue gums
  • Inability to control urination and bowels
  • Labored noisy breathing

If you see any of these signs, cool your dog down immediately by applying ice packs to the groin, hosing him down lightly and offering water through ice chips or cubes.

Then get your dog to a veterinarian immediately; he may need fluids intravenously if you see a combination of the advanced heatstroke symptoms.

Training your dog to swim can be very rewarding and fun. Sometimes, however, it may take some time and effort to teach him to become comfortable and confident in the water.

Clarissa Fallis

View posts by Clarissa Fallis
Clarissa Fallis is a canine behaviorist and trainer from Upstate New York. She has attended Bergin University of Canine Studies, State University of New York at Cobleskill and Animal Behavior College. She is competent in training all breeds and ages of dogs, though she prefers hounds because of the challenge they present.

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