Swimming is an excellent warm weather activity for your dog.
It exercises their body and their mind.
Just like with humans, swimming is a low impact form of exercise that is good for dogs of all ages. Some dog breeds were born to swim, while others prefer to stay out of the water.
Even dogs who aren’t big swimmers enjoy wading in the shallow water to cool off in the summer heat. While swimming can be a great activity for you and your dog, it’s important to stay safe in and around the water.
Keep reading for my top dog swimming safety tips.
Swimming is a great way for dogs to stay cool and beat the summer heat.
1. Make Sure Your Dog Can Swim
While many dogs enjoy the water, not all dogs can actually swim.
To keep your dog safe, you should never assume he can swim if you aren’t sure. Different breeds have different working purposes and mutts are even more unpredictable.
For example, my standard poodle has loved the water since he was a baby. Poodles were bred to be water retrievers, so being in the water was a natural instinct for him. Even so, I still had to teach him how to swim confidently.
If you think about it from your dog’s perspective, swimming can seem pretty scary. Some breeds just aren’t into swimming and some breeds are physically incapable.
Your dog’s ability to stay afloat and swim depends a lot on the shape of his body. If your dog has a big chest and little legs like a Bulldog, he probably won’t float.
Brachycephalic dogs like my Peekapoo can struggle to breathe when exercising and get tired easily. You don’t want them to run out of steam in the middle of the water.
Scotty the Peekapoo has a flat face and tires easily. He prefers to stay closer to the shore for a quick exit.
Finally, tiny dog breeds like Chihuahuas can easily be overwhelmed in water with currents and waves. The bottom line? If you aren’t sure your dog can swim, don’t assume he can.
Most dogs with special needs should not swim. In particular, dogs with epilepsy should never swim. Should a seizure occur while the dog is in the water, the dog can drown quickly.
Make sure to take plenty of water breaks and encourage your dog to rest if he gets tired while swimming.
2. Teach Your Dog to Swim
Unless you’ve adopted an adult dog who’s used to swimming, chances are good that you’ll need to teach your dog how to swim.
If you adopt a puppy, it’s best to introduce them to water as soon as possible. This is true especially if your family spends a lot of time around water. Even if your dog prefers to stay on the shore, knowing how to swim could save his life.
This photo was taken during Prince’s first time in the water. You can see the apprehension on his face.
Don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t just jump in the water. The key to teaching your dog to swim and helping him develop a healthy relationship with the water is to start slow and be patient. Allow your dog to enter the water at a shallow point and get in there with him.
Be sure to give your dog lots of praise as he ventures out further. Encourage your dog to explore and don’t pressure him. Let him get comfortable on his own and then use a toy or treat to get him to swim out a little further.
Prince with a flotation device to boost his confidence in the water.
Never force your dog into the water or beyond his comfort zone. Stay upbeat and reassure him that he has nothing to fear. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t take to the water right away.
It can take many swimming sessions for a dog to build confidence and get used to the water and that’s okay. Letting him explore at his own pace while gently encouraging him is the best way to teach him.
Until you are confident in your dog’s swimming abilities, keep kids out of the water. If your dog is medium to large sized, he can easily drown an adult, let alone a child, if he climbs on them for safety.
If your dog starts to panic, think before you go in after him alone if the water is deep. Coaxing him to more shallow water is much safer than jumping in with him, as he may pull you under.
3. Consider the Lepto Vaccine
If your dog will be swimming in lakes, ponds, or other sources of stagnant water, consider getting him vaccinated against Leptospirosis or Lepto.
Leptospira are a group of bacteria that are found in these types of water. As your dog is swimming, he will probably ingest water on purpose and on accident.
Swimming is an exhausting form of exercise so it’s important to keep fresh water on hand to offer your dog. Even if you do so, swimming in these types of bodies of water can expose him to many different harmful organisms.
These bacteria can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to the contraction of a fatal disease. Your best line of defense besides avoiding the water is getting your dog vaccinated.
The lepto vaccine won’t protect against the harmful effects of ingesting pesticides or other chemicals found in these water sources. Do your best to keep your dog from ingesting the water by keeping him hydrated. Remember that it’s virtually impossible for dogs to avoid chemicals entirely as they are everywhere.
As long as you are taking the precautions that you can, it’s okay to let your dog go for a dip.
When swimming in ponds and lakes, look out for blue-green algae. Also called cyanobacteria, this algae can be fatal if ingested by your dog.
We weren’t sure how clean this pond was, so we opted for an inflatable pool instead.
It is hard to spot if it hasn’t clumped together. Keep your eyes out for brown or green flakes and blue-green film on top of the water. If you spot any weird looking algae, keep your dog out of the water and away from the shoreline, where it tends to wash up.
4. No Drinking From the Ocean
If you are lucky enough to live by the beach or can bring your pup on vacation with you, be sure that he doesn’t drink from the ocean.
Just like with us humans, drinking from the ocean is extremely dangerous for dogs. The salt in the water will pull liquid into his intestines, leading to diarrhea and vomiting. These can lead to dehydration.
This illness is often called “beach diarrhea” and it’s much more dangerous than regular diarrhea. It usually strikes quickly and leads to fast dehydration. It can also lead to kidney damage, which can be fatal.
You can prevent your dog from drinking from the ocean by offering him plenty of fresh, clean water. Keep a very close eye on him while he’s in the water and stop him right away if you see him drinking.
Drinking from the ocean can be tempting, but it can make your dog extremely sick.
5. Consider a Life Jacket
If your dog is just learning to swim, he should wear a life jacket or life vest. Life jackets should always be worn by dogs who aren’t secure in the water, whether they are nervous or have difficulty staying afloat.
Breeds with body types that just aren’t designed for swimming should wear a life vest so that they can stay above water.
Dogs who are nervous about being in the water can easily become worn out. If they panic, they will breathe more quickly and experience a higher risk of drowning. A life jacket will keep them afloat.
Even if your dog is a strong swimmer in certain environments, consider getting them a life jacket if they are going somewhere with new dangers. For example, if your dog is going on a boat for the first time or if they are going to the ocean with strong waves, consider purchasing a life jacket.
These are the rules in my family:
My dogs aren’t required to wear a life jacket while swimming in the family pond. This is because they have been swimming in it all of their lives, my husband and I are always in the water with them, they are usually on a flotation device, and they stay fairly close to the shore.
They are strong swimmers and I am confident that my husband and I could get them to shore if need be. However, if they are swimming in any other body of water, they wear life vests. It makes swimming easier on them and me.
Remember that a life vest needs to fit well to work. If your dog has a unique body type, head to your local pet store to try on different life vests to make sure you choose the right size.
Check out this guide for life jacket recommendations.
6. Be Cautious on Boats
If you are bringing your dog with you on a boat, he should always wear a life jacket.
You should confine your dog to the boat so he doesn’t fall out. If he does fall overboard, do not jump off a boat with a running motor to go after him.
Pro tip: point at your dog and keep your finger pointed at him so you don’t lose his position in the water. Unlike a human, he can’t wave or scream for your help.
Boating with your dog at night is even more risky. If he falls off at night, you will have a hard time finding him if the boat is moving. While dogs can boat safely, you should be extremely careful.
Boating presents additional dangers to dogs.
7. Check the Water Temperature
Dogs can experience hypothermia from swimming in cold water, but they can’t express that the water is too cold to their human.
If the water is too cold for you to swim, it’s too cold for your dog, even if he doesn’t think so.
My dogs have tried to sneak a swim in freezing temps. Of course, they didn’t get away with it.
Even on a warm sunny day, freezing cold water is dangerous to your dog. My dogs have a kiddie pool so they can swim in the backyard. Even if I fill it up and let it sit out, if it doesn’t get enough sunlight, it might not get warm enough for them to swim.
Kiddie pools are a great way to introduce your dog to water or cool them down on a hot day.
8. Be Careful on the Beach
Beaches and dogs don’t always mix.
You’ll find that even state park beaches often forbid dogs. If you are planning to take your dog to a public beach on a lake or ocean, first make sure the beach allows dogs. You’d be surprised how many of them don’t.
This Indiana state park does not allow dogs on the beaches. This was as close as we could get.
Even if a beach is dog friendly, keep your eyes out for any advisories or closures. The EPA monitors public beaches for harmful bacteria and closes them when levels get too high. Usually, beaches are closed due to high levels of E. coli. This often also indicates that there are high levels of other pathogens in the water.
The best rule of thumb here is that if it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your dog. If your dog is allowed to swim at the beach, keep them close and away from the current. Take into account the currents and the height of the waves as well as their swimming abilities.
Be cautious of debris on the beaches as dogs can step on jellyfish and broken shells. Make sure your dog is on preventatives before hitting the beach as beaches are often homes for roundworm eggs and other parasites.
9. Swimming Pool Safety
If you have a dog and a swimming pool, your dog should know how to swim.
There are several safety tips that can keep your pooch safe if you have a pool. First, consider putting in baby fences or other simple barriers to block your dog from accessing the pool. Ideally, you should supervise your dog when he is in the pool area.
If you have dogs or kids, a pool alarm could save a life by notifying you if someone falls in.
Never let your dog drink chlorinated pool water.
Finally, show your dog how to safely exit the pool. This should be done each time your dog swims in the pool to make sure he knows. He will feel safer while swimming and will know what to do in case he falls in. Simply show him the steps or ramp that he can use to get out.
Your dog should be supervised at all times around water.
10. Clean Your Dog After Swimming
You should bathe, or at least rinse, your dog after each swimming session.
This will get any remaining bacteria or chemicals off his paws and coat. If you don’t clean him, he can ingest these substances while grooming himself later. Sand can be hard to get out of a dog’s coat, but leaving it there can cause itching and irritation.
Cleaning and drying your dog’s ears after he swims can help prevent this. Keep a close eye on his ears and if anything seems amiss, contact your veterinarian.
Scotty all cleaned up and dressed in his Hawaiin shirt after his swim session.
Swimming can be a blast for both dogs and their humans, but if your dog doesn’t like to swim, don’t force it. For some dogs, swimming is a life-saving measure and not a source of entertainment.
If water if a big part of your family like it is mine, choose a breed that is built to swim. Remember that swimming can be dangerous for dogs, just like for people, but with proper supervision and common sense, swimming can become a pastime and healthy form of exercise for your dog. Even if you don’t plan on your dog swimming often, teaching your dog to swim might just save his life.