Swimming can be a fun activity for you and your dog, not to mention a relaxing, low-impact form of exercise that is easy on the joints. However like humans, dogs are not naturally accustomed to being in the water. Some breeds take to swimming more easily, but all dogs will need help and encouragement when first learning how to swim, and even once your dog becomes comfortable in the water, there are still some safety concerns you should take into consideration. Here are some tips on helping your dog learn to enjoy the water as much as you do, as well as pointers for keeping your dog healthy and safe when he goes swimming.
Getting Confortable in the Water
Although swimming comes more naturally to some breeds than others, mostly because of body type, your dog’s enjoyment of the water and swimming ability has a lot to do with how you introduce him to the water. The most important thing to remember during this process is to take it slowly and never force your dog to do more than he seems comfortable. Pushing a dog too far in the water will only scare him and slow the whole process down. When you do introduce your dog to the water, do so in a place that is quiet and not to hectic, and where the water gets deeper gradually. Starting in shallow water and staying near your dog, encourage him to gradually walk into the water, rewarding him with praise and even an occasional treat. Continue this process until your dog seems comfortable submerging himself and resurfacing in a place where he can stand. And before you try to get your dog swimming, first show him how to get out of the water (in a lake, this may just mean walking onto dry land; if you are in a pool, show your dog where the steps are!).
Taking the First Strokes
When your dog is clearly comfortable being in the water and submerging himself, bring him to a depth where he can still stand and, supporting him under the belly, allow him to try paddling. His movement might be a little flailing at first, but practice makes perfect! Allow him to paddle and then “recover” by placing his paws on the ground again. Eventually he can experiment with paddling and recovering without your support. Your dog requires very careful supervision as he is learning to swim, especially when he becomes strong enough to venture out into deeper water. You may consider using a leash to keep him from getting too far; just make sure to use a harness so you don’t strain his neck.
Remember, all dogs will learn at different speeds, and some just don’t have bodies that are well-suited to swimming. If this is the case, you can always purchase a canine life-jacket, which will keep your dog afloat so he doesn’t have to work as hard. These are relatively inexpensive and come in bright colors, which can help you keep track of your dog. Just make sure to buy one that will accommodate your dog’s size and weight. Remember, all dogs, no matter how good they are at swimming MUST be supervised at all times in the water. Accidents can happen in a matter of seconds even when your dog is wearing a floatation device, so always be nearby!
Where to Swim
In general, you should avoid swimming in rivers with your dog because of the undercurrent in moving water, but you can both safely swim in pools, lakes, creeks and the ocean. Here are some tips for different swimming venues:
If you have a pool, make sure it is securely fenced in and covered so that your dog cannot go swimming if you aren’t there to supervise. If your dog uses the pool frequently, you might consider investing in a ramp so he can get in and out freely; dogs aren’t able to climb up ladders! While your dog is swimming, don’t let him drink the chlorinated water, and be sure to hose him off afterwards so that the chlorine doesn’t dry out his coat or make him sick when he licks himself.
Lakes and Ponds
If you choose to swim in a lake or pond, swimming in a roped-off, established swimming area is much safer because you can keep track of your dog more easily and prevent him from going out too deep. Using a canine lifejacket and/or a leash are added safety options you might consider, depending on the situation. You should be aware of the potential risks of letting your dog swim in natural bodies of water. Lakes and ponds tend to be much colder than swimming pools, and can have unpredictable depths. They may also contain algae, which can be toxic to dogs, and animals such as large fish, snapping turtles, and alligators, which can harm your dog. Unfortunately, many larger lakes are also polluted due to runoff from nearby houses and motorboat usage. That’s not to say that your dog can’t enjoy swimming in lakes or ponds; just choose a body of water you are familiar with, limit your dog’s swimming time, and make sure he doesn’t drink too much of the water!
Playing in the waves with your dog is a fun experience for both of you, just remember that you have to be extra-cautious of the tides and undercurrents, especially if your dog is not used to swimming in them. It’s essential for your dog to wear a lifejacket in the ocean if he wants to swim, and using a long leash isn’t a bad idea, either. As with lakes, be careful of sea life that might harm your dog, and discourage him from drinking salt water (or picking up any creatures that have washed ashore!) After your dog is done swimming for the day, be sure to hose him down so that salt doesn’t irritate his skin, and check to make sure his paws aren’t irritated by the hot sand and salt.
Other Safety Concerns
Wherever you choose to swim with your dog, there are a few more things to keep in mind. Overall, dogs and humans have the same needs during a day at the pool or the beach. Keep your dog well-hydrated, make sure he has a cool spot to rest, and remember that dogs can get sunburned too! There is sunscreen specially formulated for dogs you can buy, but you should also avoid being in direct sunlight for too long. Again, swimming can be a fun and healthy activity for you and your dog to share, just remember to be safe!