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Canine Water + Swim Safety

BY HEATHER DOWDY

Summer is the perfect time to get out and enjoy cool water with your canine companion, whether by pool, stream, lake or ocean. However, many dogs die needlessly each year because the necessary safety precautions were not taken. 

Whether you're planning on attending our Canine Summer Splash at the Sumner County YMCA pool or are headed to another body of water, the following tips will help you keep your pooch pal safe so that you both can truly enjoy cooling off outdoors.

1. START SLOW... AND NEVER FORCE YOUR PET INTO THE WATER!

If your dog has never attempted swimming before, be sure to introduce him slowly and gently to the water. The old-school thought of "if I toss him in, he'll start swimming" could not be farther from the truth, and has too often resulted in drowning or injury. And even if your pup managed to figure it out, you have possibly forced your pup into a traumatic situation.

Never throw your pup into water or force her into a pool or other body of water. Instead, make it a fun learning experience using baby steps and lots of positive rewards, whether it be praise and/or yummy treats. Consider starting your dog in a kiddie pool to get used to the water, luring her with her favorite treats and offering happy "good girl!" reinforcements if she dips a paw in. If your pup doesn't care for a baby pool (some don't) or if it's not a viable option, you can still introduce her gently into the water. Our Canine Summer Splash is held at a zero-entry pool, meaning that your pooch can gradually wade in rather than having to take a dive off the side. You can also do this at the edge of a lake or at the beach. Slowly wade in, gently coaxing your pup to come with you, offering a fun toy, treat and lots of encouragement. While some dogs take right to the water, others may be fairly hesitant about trying it out. Practice patience and give your pup the time she needs to feel comfortable. Once your pup seems more at ease, you can gently support her under the belly to help her learn to paddle. 

2. NOT ALL DOGS CAN SWIM. WHEN IN DOUBT, USE A FLOTATION COAT.

Keep in mind that not all dogs are good swimmers. Stocky and/or short-legged breeds, such as English Bulldogs, Pugs, Dachshunds and Bassett Hounds, often have a hard time paddling and staying afloat. For these pups, as well as for inexperienced or senior pets, a canine life jacket can allow your pet to safely enjoy the water without sinking. I especially love the K-9 Float Coat from Ruffwear, available online or locally at Happy Retales Pet Supply in Brentwood. Bonus: these jackets have a handle on top, making it easy to lift your pup out of the water onto the side of the pool or onto a boat if needed. 

3. HAVE A QUICK AND SAFE EXIT PLAN.

Especially for beginning canine swimmers, it's a good idea to stay close to shore (or near the edge of the pool) until your canine companion gets the hang of swimming. Once he becomes a stronger swimmer, you can venture out together a little farther, but always keep safety in mind first. You never know when you'll need to get your pooch onto dry land quickly. 

4. DON'T OVERDO IT.

There is a reason that we limit our Canine Summer Splash to one and a half hour sessions. Some dogs will swim and splash all day if you let them, which can result in heat exhaustion, injury and more. Take frequent breaks to let your pet cool down in the shade and to drink fresh water, even if he's a strong swimmer and in good health. For very young, old or weak dogs, sometimes just five or ten minutes in the water is all they can handle. If in doubt as to what your pet can handle, talk to your veterinarian beforehand. 

5. RINSE OFF AFTERWARD.

It's a good idea to always rinse your pet off with fresh water after a swim in a pool, to remove chlorine and other pool chemicals, as well as bacteria and dirt he might have picked up at the lake. Once home, remove his collar as well so it (and his neck) can dry out, to prevent hot spots.

6. HAVE FUN!

Sometimes, despite your best attempts, your pup just won't like the water. If your dog continues to resist swimming or water play, don't continue to force the issue. After all, swimming should be something for you and your pet to enjoy together. If your pet just doesn't like the water, there are always lots of other ways to enjoy time with your canine companion. Make sure it's an activity that you both enjoy!

TOP PHOTOS: 2013 CANINE SUMMER SPLASH, PHOTOS BY MARY-BETH BLANKENSHIP FOR NASHVILLE PAW MAGAZINE.