Summer is on its way, and along with it comes fun in the sun.
For many people that means fun in the water; and fun that can be shared with your furry friend.
But before you take your four-legged friend with you on a trip to the ocean, a lake, a river, or your favorite pet-friendly swimming hole, take a few precautions.
Make sure your dog can swim.
Not all dogs can swim well. Dogs with smashed faces and broad chests are not well designed for swimming. Some athletic dogs that are very muscular, such as greyhounds and whippets, have little body fat so are not buoyant and can also have trouble swimming. And just because a dog belongs to a breed that typically likes the water, it doesn’t mean your particular dog likes to swim.
If you don’t know if your dog can swim, introduce him to the water slowly, on a leash, with you by his side. You can help keep him calm, and help hold his hind end up until he starts using his hind legs as well as his front legs to swim. Putting him in a doggy life jacket can help him feel more comfortable until he gets the hang of swimming.
Don’t just drop or throw your dog into the water. It can cause panic, which may leave him with a permanent fear of the water, or could even result in drowning.
Make sure the area is safe.
If you’re planning to swim in a river, check the current and make sure it’s not too strong. If it’s an area where people also fish, watch out for fish hooks and line. Ensure there are no snakes or fish you wouldn’t want to swim with (or roll in).
If you plan to swim in the ocean, make sure there are no riptides or eddies that can take your friend too far out in the open sea. Watch out for jellyfish. Keep your eyes open for small sharks that don’t pose a threat to humans, but might to your dog. Keep your dog on his leash. If you feel like you have to let him swim loose, make certain he will come when he’s called—every time, without fail—so you can call him back if he starts to swim too far out.
If you go to a mountain lake or stream, remember that water comes from melting snow: even though the day may be warm and beautiful, that water can be ice cold. Make sure the water is warm enough to keep your furry friend from getting hypothermia.
Be careful around pools.
If you have a backyard pool, make sure your dog knows where the stairs are, and how to navigate them. Put a large plant or something else by the stairs so he can always find them. If he falls into the pool and can’t locate the stairs, he’ll swim to the side and tread water waiting for someone to help him out, which can exhaust him.
The edge around the pool can cut or burn delicate paw pads. Keep your dog limited to the area he has to be on to get in and out of the pool. And be very aware of pool covers —if a dog goes underneath a floating pool cover, they can drown.
Observe boat safety.
If you’re taking your dog with you on a boat, canoe or kayak, get him used to being on the craft with very short outings at first. He should have a life preserver, like everyone else on board. He should also have a place where he can get some shade to keep him from getting overheated.
Take plenty of fresh water.
Have lots of fresh water for your dog to drink. Saltwater from the ocean, chlorine in pools, and dirt and algae in rivers and lakes can all make your dog sick if he drinks very much of it. Take far more fresh water with you than you think he could ever drink. It’s good for cleaning paws too.
Don’t forget the sunscreen.
Dogs with light-colored, short-haired coats, and those with light-colored noses can get sunburned. Be sure to get some sunscreen from the pet store. You can also use children’s waterproof sunscreen, but make sure it doesn’t contact zinc: zinc is dangerous to dogs. Keep your dog from licking it until it’s had a chance to be absorbed. If you get unscented sunscreen, he’ll be less likely to lick it.
Be aware of your dog’s limitations.
Even if your dog was a champion swimmer in his youth, he will tire more easily as he ages. Puppies tire quickly, as do overweight dogs. Be sure to bring your dog in as soon as he shows signs of fatigue.
Rinse your dog off after a swim.
Chlorine and other pool chemicals can hurt a dog’s skin and fur. Saltwater can be irritating to his skin. Lakes and rivers can be dirty and have algae and other contaminants that aren’t good for your dog. Always hose him off after a swim. Make sure his ears are clean and dry, especially if he has floppy ears, to help guard against infections.
Never let your dog swim alone.
Dogs are dogs. They don’t know their limitations, and need you to keep them safe. Even dogs who are excellent swimmers can drown, the same way people who are excellent swimmers can drown. Know where the nearest vet is in case of emergency. You may also want to take a course in doggy CPR.
It’s great fun to go swimming with your dog, and by using common sense and following a few precautions, you can make sure you and your furry friend have lots of summers together to enjoy it.