I enjoy taking my dogs swimming, as they have such fun in and around the water. I like watching other people having fun with their dogs as well, but when I watch people with their pups, I realize that some folks just don’t understand how to help their dogs have fun.
If you’re going to relax at the beach or the pool this summer, take the needed steps to be sure it’s an enjoyable and safe outing for your pooch.
Not every dog can swim. Some dogs have never been exposed to the water and don’t know what to do. Put 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. Take your dog 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 life jacket if you plan to take them on a boat ride with you. Should an accident occur when the boat is miles from shore, a life jacket can keep them safe 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 won’t want to go near the water. 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. 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. 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 loves to do water retrieves and will continue to swim after the bumper as long as you’ll throw it, even if he’s 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 lightweight plastic line that will float or a retractable leash 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.
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. 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!
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com.