They didn’t coin the term “doggy paddle” because canines stay on shore. Many dogs enjoy swimming as much as people do, and cool times in the local swimming spot are irreplaceable summer experiences. But you have to look out for your pet around water, since even the strongest, most enthusiastic swimmers can get into trouble. The keys to water safety for dogs are prevention, preparedness and awareness.
No dog should be given unsupervised access to a backyard pool, neighborhood pond or creek. Swimming pools are best fenced off for safety. If that’s not possible, they should be equipped with alarms that sound when the surface of the water is broken by a child or pet falling in and a ramp to help them find their way out.
Prevention also means teaching your pet what to do when he’s in the pool. Dogs don’t always understand that the steps are on a certain side, and they may tire while trying to crawl their way out. If your pet likes to swim, work with him in the pool to help him learn where the steps are so he can get out easily. Some breeds of dogs, such as bulldogs, pugs and basset hounds, do not have the body conformation to make them natural swimmers, and may need to be taught how to swim.
Obedience training is extremely important. Your dog should come when called, even when swimming. Emergency shortcut: Always carry extra retrieving toys. A dog who’s heading into a dangerous area after a ball or stick can often be lured back to shore with a second item. It’s no substitute for training, but it could save your dog’s life.
Before letting your dog swim in natural surroundings, survey the area for safety. Rivers and oceans can change frequently, and an area that was once safe for swimming can become treacherous. Consider currents, tides, underwater hazards and even the condition of the water. In the late summer, algae scum on the top of standing water can be toxic, producing substances that can kill a pet who swallows the water. When in doubt, treat it like you would a child: better safe than sorry.
One of the best things you can do is to take courses in pet first aid and CPR. Many local Red Cross chapters offer these classes, and some veterinarians in your community may teach them. A near-death dog rescued from the water may be saved by your prompt actions — if you know what to do.
If your dog isn’t much of a swimmer or is older or debilitated, get him a personal floatation device. These are especially great for family boating trips, because most have sturdy handles for rescue when a pet goes overboard.
Be aware of your dog’s condition as he plays. Remember that even swimming dogs can get hot, so bring fresh water and offer it at every opportunity. When your dog is tiring, call it a day. A tired dog is a good dog, but an exhausted dog is in danger of drowning.
Be particularly careful with young and old dogs. Young dogs can panic in the water, and old dogs may not realize they aren’t as strong as they used to be. Keep them close to shore, and keep swimming sessions short.