I enjoy taking my dogs swimming, as they have such fun in and around the water as they swim, splash and retrieve.  I like watching other people having fun with their dogs as well, but when I observe people with their pups, I realized that some folks just don’t understand how to help their dogs have watery fun.  If you’re going to take your dog and relax at the beach or the pool this summer, take the needed steps to be sure it’s an enjoyable and safe outing for him.

Swimming does not come naturally to every dog.  Some dogs have never been exposed to the water and don’t know what to do.  Placed in the water, they only paddle with their front legs. When this happens, their rears sink and they become totally vertical and increasingly frantic, and can actually drown. Others dogs, with heavy or deep bodies and short legs, such as Basset Hounds, Bulldogs, Dachshunds and Pugs, often can’t swim or do so with great difficulty.  To see how your dog does, take him into the water and support his back end as he paddles and stay close until he gets the idea.  A size-appropriate life jacket can literally be a life-saver for your inexperienced or “not designed to be a swimmer” dog.  Even waterdogs such as Labrador Retrievers can benefit from a lifejacket if you plan to take them on a boat ride with you.  Should an accident occur when the boat is miles from shore, a lifejacket can keep them from drowning if they become too tired to swim.

If your dog is hesitant to go into the water, don’t force the issue. Throwing your dog into the water is the wrong thing to do, and a great way to ensure your dog doesn’t ever want to go near the water again.  Some dogs will go without hesitation, but others need encouragement.  Sometimes, if the beach slopes out gently or the pool has steps, you can splash and play in the water yourself and they’ll figure it out in order to be near you.  Other dogs need to be encouraged by calling them or playing with a favorite toy or treat in the water.   If there are other dogs in the water, a hesitant dog may gain courage from their presence.  If your dog goes into a pool or other water where there are limited ways to get out, be sure to teach him how to exit right away.  Guide him to the pool stairs or the break in a seawall, for example, and be sure he understands how to exit safely before you free him to enjoy himself.  If your dog doesn’t want anything to do with the water, respect his choice. 

While your dog is swimming or playing in the water, watch him for signs of weariness, such as heavy breathing or increased splashing when he swims.  Do not force him or allow him to keep playing when he tires.  Place limitations on the number of times you’ll send him on a retrieve before you force a rest break.  My dog Luke loved to do water retrieves, and would continue to swim after the bumper as long as I’d throw it, even if was exhausted.  This is a formula for drowning.

If you find it necessary to take your dog out on a leash, be cautious.  It is better to use a long, lightweight plastic line that will float than to have your dog drag a standard leash around behind him.  As your dog twists and turns in the water, a regular leash can easily become wrapped around his legs and prevent him from swimming.

When you take your dog to the water, be sure to take plenty of fresh, cool water for him to drink.  Salt water and chlorinated water are not healthy beverages, and freshwater in lakes, ponds and rivers can contain parasites that can give your dog nasty illnesses.  Those same chemicals, salt and parasites can dry out your dog’s skin and coat, so rinse him completely with fresh water when you’re done for the day.

You also need to be aware of water hazards.  If you take your dog to the ocean and he’s retrieving in the waves, make sure he takes frequent breaks.  As your dog swims with a stick or bumper in his mouth, he is probably ingesting salt water as he breathes.  This can cause diarrhea and dehydration, and the sand in the water can further irritate his intestinal lining.  On choppy days, especially, limit the amount of time he’s in the water and be sure to have plenty of fresh water for him to drink.  I learned this lesson the hard way many years ago, when I allowed my Dobie, Loki, to retrieve repeatedly in rough waves.  He had a great time, but on the way home foul smelling water started shooting out his rear.  It was such a surprise to him that he was spinning in a circle trying to figure out what his butt was doing, so he flung the nasty stuff all throughout the back of the car.  It was a very smelly ride home, and took hours to clean up!

If your dog is swimming in a lake, be sure it’s a clean lake.  Be on the lookout for Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria).  This toxic bacteria is found in lakes with poor water quality.  The blooms can resemble pea soup, green paint or thick blue or green foam. The water may stink or look scummy.  It’s most common in mid to late summer, and the toxins can remain in water for days or weeks after the bloom disappears, so keep your dog out of the water if you know a bloom has occurred.  Dogs can ingest the bacteria when they drink lake water or lick themselves after swimming in contaminated water. Cyanobacteria can cause upper respiratory problems, affect the liver and neurological system, or even kill your dog if he drinks it. Keep your dog out of the water if you suspect a bloom and rinse him thoroughly with fresh water if he hops in before you realize there’s a problem.

It is easy for a dog to become overheated when playing near the water, and paws can be badly burned by hot cement, decking or sand.  If the ground is too hot for your own bare feet, it is too hot for your dog’s paws, so don’t encourage him to walk there.  Watch your dog for signs of sunburn and heatstroke, and be prepared to act quickly if you see a problem developing.

Water activities can be lots of fun for you and your dog.  Common sense and good preparation can turn a day at the beach into an enjoyable time for both of you!