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Swimming Safety for Dogs

Written by Shireen Abbasey Haynes.

Many dogs enjoy cooling off from the hot summer weather in the backyard pool.  It can be fun to watch Man’s Best Friend jumping in and paddling around.  But, just like with humans, swimming safety is essential to have a good time.

It is commonly thought that all dogs can swim by doggie paddling.  The “make and model” of your dog can have a lot to do with how great a swimmer he is.  Breeds with broad chests and short legs, like a bull dog, aren’t really made for swimming.  A muscular dog may need to exert a lot of energy in the water because of their body mass.  Some dogs may jump in and sink like a stone.

An inexperienced swimmer may panic and use only his front legs which will cause the dog to be almost vertical in the water.  This will result in a lot of splashing and no movement.  A dog could easily tire out if he doesn’t know to use his back legs as well.

Retrievers and other kinds of “water” dogs may go and go and go until they tire themselves out because they just don’t know when to stop.

The best way to prevent an accident is to stop it before it starts.  Know your dog – get in the water with them and see what type of swimmer he is.  Invest in a life jacket for your dog.  You can find them at most pet stores and online.  This piece of mind is worth the purchase price.

Secondly, train your dog to be comfortable around water.  Never, ever throw a dog in and let him “figure it out.”  Establish trust with your dog.  Make the training session a positive one.  A panicked dog is in survival mode, not learning mode.  Forcing a dog to do something outside of his comfort zone can be wholly detrimental to the relationship you have with him.

If you have an in-ground pool, teach your dog to know where the stairs are.  Have your dog swim to the steps from various points of the pool and reward him judiciously with high-value treats. Redirect him if he tries to exit the pool from any place other than the stairs.  The time you spend training him on this could be the one thing that saves his life.

If your dog is going to be swimming primarily at a lake or pond, teach your dog recall.  Make sure that he knows to come when called.  You can use a long-line leash as back-up just in case.  In open water, it may be difficult to stop a water-loving dog from swimming so be on the look-out for signs of fatigue such as when his back end is riding lower than the front.

Install a fence around an in-ground pool or a gate on the steps of an above-ground pool.  Pool alarms are effective safety tools as well.  Most importantly, always supervise your dog when swimming.  Have a safe and enjoyable summer!