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The summertime is a great time to enjoy the water with your dog, but it can be a dangerous place if you’re unprepared. Whether you head to the pool, the beach, the lake, or even out for a boating adventure, follow these easy tips to insure you and Fido have smooth sailing in waters of all kinds.

Dogs need to learn to swim just like humans do. Although your pooch will likely be doing laps in far less time than it took you, making your dog feel comfortable in the water is an important step that you should not skip over. Playfully tossing your dog into water can be traumatizing and is never a safe or smart way to introduce a dog to the water. Tossing a stick or a ball in the water, progressively further from shore or shallow steps is an easy way to teach him to feel comfortable in the water.
Don’t assume your dog can swim; many dogs will never feel comfortable in the water. Dogs with large bodies and short legs don’t swim for fun; they will swim to survive. American Bulldogs are an example. For those that have mastered the doggy paddle, you should be aware that a dog’s vision decreases dramatically at night and with advancing age.
Have a boating adventure planned? At night, make sure your dog stays confined inside the boat. If your dog falls overboard at night, you are unlikely to find him if you are moving. If your dog falls overboard during the day, point at him continuously in the water so as not to lose his position. Dogs cannot wave at you and don’t know to scream for help.
Moisture in a dog’s ear can set the ideal stage for an ear infection, so make sure to clean your pooch’s ears thoroughly after each romp in the water. Ocean and lake water can set up nasty bacterial infections rapidly which can eat through your dogs ear drum, giving an ear infection a whole new meaning—one you don’t want to learn first hand. Ask your vet for an ear cleaning demonstration.
Though it sounds great in theory, the beach is not always the best playground for a dog. Sand can be disastrous to get out of a long coat, and dogs don’t know to avoid stepping on jellyfish or broken shells. Dog beaches may also be teeming with roundworm eggs, among other parasites. Use caution when taking your dog to the beach and never let your dog swim out far enough to be taken by the current.
Have a special needs dog? He may not make the best candidate for swimming, even when supervised. I have a number of dedicated pet parents to dogs with epilepsy who have lost their pets when they had a seizure in the pool while the pet parent witnessed the entire tragic episode. Drowning can happen very quickly for a dog.
Invest in pool safety products. Baby fences are among the simpler barriers but there are more advanced options such as pool alarms that sound when anyone falls in. Life vests for dogs are readily available and affordable. Don’t rely on a barrier or safety device! This is the last defense and no substitute for continuous supervision.
Train your dog to know how to exit the pool should they fall in. Teaching your pup where the steps or ramp are is something that can be easily done. Provide a refresher course each swimming season.
Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from hypothermia in cold water, but they won’t understand the water is what is making them cold. The general rule is that if you need to get out of the water because you are getting cold, your dog is at risk of getting cold as well.
While I hate to have to mention this one, or even think about it, it is not to be missed: medium to big dogs that panic in the water can drown a human, in particular small humans or poor swimmers. Jumping into deep water to help them by swimming next to them puts you at risk. Instead, use a calm voice and guide them to a location where you can get them out of the water safely.

While we don’t have an estimate of how many dogs are lost each year to swimming accidents, each and every one of these is exactly that–an accident. Take the time to prepare yourself and your pup and you can easily include him in the swimming fun.

by Dr. Laci Schaible