It’s official: Summer is here! And that means plenty of time spent at the beach or by the pool. Lots of dog lovers out there enjoy taking their pups for a swim. It’s great exercise, keeps your dog cool, and the humans can join in the fun! But as with any new or different activity you do with your dog, there are always safety concerns you should consider. We’ve gathered 4 tips that you can follow to keep swim time safe and fun.
- Prepare to Give Your Dog Lessons
Although all dogs are natural born swimmers, they aren’t all born with the natural confidence that some dogs have in the water. While other dogs may run into the water with pure joy, your dog may be a little more timid. This is okay! According to the AKC, the key to teaching your dog to love the water is in the praise and excitement. If you communicate to your dog that swimming is fun, even a total celebration, they will begin to warm up to the water. Positive reinforcement is key!
If you are swimming in a lake, ocean, or other body of water with a shoreline, your dog will be able to enter and exit the water with ease. However, if you are swimming with your dog in a pool, exiting is a different story. Even if your dog is a confident swimmer, you will need to teach your dog how to exit the pool. Instinctively, your dog may try to jump onto the sides of the pool, which can be slippery and dangerous. Your dog may also be uncomfortable on the pool stairs or the pool ladder. It’s important that your dog feel just as confident ending their swim as they do while swimming.
To teach your dog how to exit a pool, you will also need to be prepared to dish out lots of praise. The AKC recommends guiding your dog as they swim to the pool steps. Do this by gently holding your dog underneath their belly with both arms, and leading them towards the exit. When your dog successfully uses the stairs or ladder, give lots of affection and reward with praise and toys. Make leaving just as exciting as swimming! Once your dog associates exiting the pool with good feelings, you can begin to take longer, guided swims around the pool before exiting. Ensure that your dog is comfortable finding the stairs from all areas of the pool. This can take some time, but soon the two of you will both be doggy-paddling in no time!
- Think of Yourself as the Lifeguard
Even the strongest of swimmers can get themselves into trouble now and then. It’s important to always monitor your dog while they are swimming, no matter what their skill level is. Dogs can often get tired or even overheated if they’ve been swimming a long time. This is especially true for first time swimmers, so it’s important to keep swim time short and sweet when starting out. Watch for signs that your dog is slowing down, and call them in for a water break. Keep fresh water on hand for these little intervals.
The Animal Rescue League of Boston also cautions that dog owners should be extra vigilant if swimming in an ocean, river, or other body of water with a strong current. Keep an eye out for posted signs warning of strong riptides. And don’t let your dog swim out too far! Having your dog swim close to shore ensures you will be able to quickly step in should something go wrong.
- Use a Dog Life Jacket
Maybe you’re still nervous about your dog’s swimming capabilities? Or perhaps your pup has the opposite problem and tends to be over confident? Why not try a dog life jacket on for size? These are especially handy if you are swimming with your dog in a large, natural body of water. Dogs who are uncomfortable swimming or don’t know when to stop, will appreciate the safety and security of wearing a life jacket. But don’t think that means you can ignore your duties as a lifeguard! Continue to monitor your pet, even with the added safety of a life-jacket.
The Higgins Animal Clinic recommends also using life-jackets while boating. Just like human adults and children should always wear safety flotation devices, so too should dogs. Petfinder also recommends keeping flotation devices on shore or by the side of the pool for emergencies. If you notice your dog is struggling to stay afloat, toss the flotation device towards your dog. Your dog’s natural instinct will be to grab onto anything they can to save themselves – including that flotation device you threw! This gives your dog some immediate safety and gives you time to step in and rescue them.
- Be Wary of Toxins in Water
While it certainly is common for dogs to swim in pools, some cautious dog owners may be concerned by the chlorine and the effects it has on dogs. The levels of chlorine used in pools are just as safe for dogs as they are humans. Occasionally swallowing chlorinated water won’t do any harm, but drinking mouthful after mouthful should be avoided and discouraged. It’s also important to keep in mind that the ears, eyes, and noses of dogs are more sensitive than ours. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should cut swim time short though. The AKC recommends taking time after each swim session – in natural or pool water – to rinse and dry your dog’s ears, nose, and eye area. This helps prevent any future irritation.
If you are choosing to swim in a natural body of water, it’s important to pay attention to local ordinances regarding water safety. It is relatively common for ponds to grow toxic algal bloom, an algae that can cause serious illness or even death. Other contaminants may be present in natural bodies of water, including human pollutants. Always do your research before traveling to your local pond or lake. And contact your local law offices if you are unsure.
Do you love to swim with your dog? Are there any tricks you use to keep you both safe? We’d love to hear them!