Water Safety Tips for Dogs

Water Safety Tips For Dogs: A Helpful Guide For Pet Parents

When it’s warm out and vacation-mode kicks in, there’s nothing better than packing up the car and taking your pooch along on a day trip. Whether hitting the beach, a campground by the lake, or even the backyard pool, it’s natural to want to involve pets in family activities – including summer fun in the great outdoors. However, many folks assume dogs automatically know how to swim, but that’s actually not true: while canines instinctively know how to tread water if they fall in (known as dog paddling), they aren’t born swimmers. Therefore, it’s important that all pet parents acclimate dogs to water as early on as possible.

In order to effectively teach a dog to swim, the first step entails obedience training. The reason is quite simple: if a dog doesn’t obey his owner on land, he’ll most likely disobey his pet parents in the ocean, lake or pool, too! This article will address the various aspects of dog water safety, including dog swimming safety practices to follow at the beach, in a swimming pool, and other outdoor locales.

Water Safety for Dogs: Understanding Why Certain Breeds Can’t Swim

While there are many breeds who are considered “water dogs” – such as the Irish Water Spaniel, the Portuguese Water Dog, and the Labradoodle – not all dogs automatically know how to swim, even if they were bred to work in the water. Therefore, it’s essential to introduce your pooch to the water early on to ensure his safety and create positive associations with the water so he doesn’t fear it.

As mentioned, certain dog breed families including spaniels and retrievers are natural swimmers and don’t require much encouragement to get into the pool, a lake, or even the bathtub. However, other dogs have certain body types that are much less suited to swimming and require special supervision around water. Below, a list of breeds who (as a general rule) cannot swim, primarily due to their specific build and/or anatomical features:

Additionally, other types of brachycephalic dogs usually find it difficult (if not impossible) to swim. Other dogs who need to be closely monitored include breeds (mixed as well as purebred) who are top-heavy and densely-muscled with large heads, as well as canines with very heavy double-coats (such as the Chow Chow).

Furthermore, some dog breeds may have an aversion to the water – such as Siberian Huskies– because going in the water wasn’t an inherently instinctive activity and could have actually been dangerous to them in their natural habitat (i.e., freezing weather conditions). In other cases, there are some dogs who simply dislike water, or have had a negative experience in the past that may have instilled fear or anxiety. 

While each individual dog is unique – for example, breeds who aren’t known for their swimming abilities that have learned how to under the guidance of a loving pet parent – it’s still essential for owners to supervise the dog’s progress very closely until he has proven himself able to swim with confidence.

According to the American Kennel Club, no matter what type of breed the family dog is, he should always wear a life jacket when first learning how to swim. The AKC also suggests a lifejacket with a handle so owners can guide dogs in the water and attach the leash to the D-ring as an added safeguard.


Swimming & Your Dog: Teaching Him the Basics

For pet parents who are introducing the family dog to the water for the first time, there should be a certain degree of planning involved to ensure his safety. Here are a few water safety tips for dogs to keep in mind when introducing him to the water for the first time:

  • Ready, Steady: Whether it’s at a lake, the ocean, a pond, stream, or the family pool, be sure to expose dogs gradually to the water
  • Keep It Positive: Whenever possible, opt for ideal conditions to make swimming and water-related experiences a positive activity for the dog – choose warm, sunny days, and provide him with plenty of praise and tasty treats and toys (waterproof, float-y toys are the best in this case)
  • Slow & Low: Select a shallow spot in the water, preferably quiet and free of distractions, if possible, and take it slow – the main focus it to teach your dog to enjoy being in the water
  • Safety First: Always keep the dog on a leash during training
  • Stay By His Side: Owners should be in the water with the dog at all times– never leave a dog unattended in the water
  • Dress Appropriately: Since pet parents are going to be in the water with their faithful companion, be sure to wear a suit or whatever is most appropriate for the location (i.e., a shallow stream may just require rolled-up jeans and flip-flops)
  • Be Proactive, Stay Alert: At the lake, beach, pond etc., start out at the edge of the water, and only remain in as long as the dog seems to be enjoying himself. If in a pool, remain in the shallow end until the dog displays more confidence
  • Go Easy On Him: If the dog displays hesitation, fear, or simply doesn’t want to go in, do not force him, as this can instill a fear of the water
  • Show Him The Way: When the dog begins to paddle with his front legs, gently lift his hind legs to show him how to float in the water
  • Take A Dog CPR Class: Dogs are part of the family, so it’s natural for pet owners to want to take every precaution to protect their beloved four-legged companions. Pet CPR is an excellent skill to have, especially for owners of dogs who swim frequently.

In addition to following these swimming tips, pet parents should always try to remain positive, have tasty dog treats on hand, and keep each swimming experience as stress-free as possible so the dog doesn’t develop negative associations with the water. Owners should never force a dog into the water, nor should they ever ‘drop’ a dog into the water to teach him to swim, as it’s not only cruel, but may traumatize him to the point where he won’t want to return to the water any time too soon.

Once pet parents see that their dog is making progress and getting more comfortable in their surroundings – without showing signs of anxiety – it’s okay to go deeper into the water, as long as the dog continues to appear comfortable. Remember to be patient: just as it takes months to teach young children how to swim, dogs are no exception – don’t rush training. Some dogs may learn quickly, while others may take more time.


Protecting Your Dog Around Water: Safety Hazards & Precautions

Once a dog has been taught how to swim, there are many safety precautions pet parents must be aware of. Whether it’s at a backyard barbecue by the family pool or at the ocean on a hot summer’s day, certain risks need to be taken into consideration in order to protect dogs from potentially dangerous scenarios. Here are a few common swimming sites and related safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Swimming Pools: Swimming pools in the backyard require fencing to keep out both dogs as well as small children. Never allow kids or pets to be in or around the pool unsupervised. When not in use, cover the pool and firmly secure to prevent dogs from slipping underneath. Pool owners may want to consider an alarm system that goes off when the surface of the pool water is broken; this can be beneficial for households with both pets and young children. After every swim, be sure to rinse off dogs with clean water, as the chlorinated pool water is not only drying to his skin and coat, but can make him sick when he licks himself. Always keep fresh water available for dogs to drink poolside.
  • The Ocean: While dog-friendly beaches are popular destinations for canine lovers and pooches alike, it’s important for pet parents to keep an eye on their four-legged friend. For starters, make sure to watch him if he’s romping in the water – a strong surf or riptide can quickly pull him under water. Watch how far he’s swimming out – a spirited game of fetch can quickly become dangerous if he’s out too deep in the water. Outfit your pooch with a doggie life jacket, and keep him on a long lead in the instance he’s accidentally pulled out to sea. Always check the water for jellyfish and sea lice, and discourage your pooch from drinking the water – be certain to keep plenty of fresh water and a collapsible bowl on hand during trips to the beach. Finally, check your pup’s paw pads for burns, scrapes or lacerations from the hot sand – sometimes there is glass and other sharp objects at the beach, so it’s essential to keep an eye on him for injuries. Last but not least, be sure to rinse off the salt, itchy sand and sea water, which can irritate his delicate skin.
  • Lakes & Ponds: Always keep dogs in close proximity when visiting lakes or ponds. Use a long leash or line during trips to ensure the dog’s safety, and outfit the dog with a pet flotation device or life jacket, especially for dogs who are still new to swimming. If you happen to reside in (or are visiting) a state where alligators live, keep dogs away from all ponds, lakes, marshes, wetlands, swamps and rivers, as alligators can attack and kill canines. Check the water for other reptiles that could potentially pose a danger to your pet. Avoid any water that appears to have blue-green algae; this is toxic and can be fatal to dogs. For owners who believe their dog may have been exposed to blue-green algae, contact a vet immediately. Never let a dog drink from a pond or lake, and always carry fresh drinking water during outings, camping trips or extended visits at such sites.
  • All Locations: No matter where pet folks take their beloved fur babies for a swim, it’s crucial to ensure your dog always has fresh water to drink. Be sure to check for signs of fatigue – if you notice your dog is tiring in the water, it’s time to get out and let him rest. To avoid heatstroke, limit a dog’s outdoor activities, especially during warmer temperatures. Always clean and dry the dog’s ears prior to a swim to keep bacteria and yeast growth at bay. Apply specially-formulated dog sunscreen to dogs, particularly for short-haired, pink-skinned breeds, and avoid prolonged sun exposure. Last but not least, train dogs to “come” on cue (even in the water) to prevent swimming-related accidents or mishaps.

Canine Water Safety: Ensuring Your Dog’s Well-Being

As most professionals will agree, the sooner a dog can be acclimated to the water and taught how to swim, the better. Some experts recommend introducing puppies and smaller breeds to the water at home in a bathtub, so the dog can get used to the water at a very young age. In other cases where the animal is too large or is an older dog who needs to get comfortable with the concept of swimming, a doggie pool in the yard is another great option to consider – it will not only acclimate dogs to the water in a familiar setting, but provide respite from the heat in the warm summer months, as well as a great form of exercise.

For pet parents who are unable to train dogs in the water, are experiencing difficulty teaching their pet, or are faced with some other reason they cannot show their dog how to swim, there are professional trainers specializing in dog swimming lessons who can assist with this important canine life skill.


Sources Cited:

  1. “Dogs and Water Safety.” FETCH by WebMD (pets.webmd.com), (no publish date), https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/pets-water-safety#1-4. Accessed February 28, 2020.
  2. AKC Staff. “Teaching A Dog To Swim: Canine Swimming Lesson 101.” American Kennel Club (akc.org), June 18, 2015, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/teaching-a-dog-to-swim-canine-swimming-lesson-101/. Accessed February 28, 2020.
  3. “Why Some Dogs Can’t Swim.” Wag! (wagwalking.com), (no publish date), https://wagwalking.com/behavior/why-some-dogs-cant-swim. Accessed February 28, 2020.
  4. “Can Your Dog Swim? Why Some Dog Breeds Can’t Swim.” Pets4Homes (pets4homes.co.uk), (no publish date), https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/can-your-dog-swim-why-some-dog-breeds-cant-swim.html. Accessed February 28, 2020.
  5. Fantegrossi, Dina. “These 13 Dog Breeds Are The Worst Swimmers.” I Heart Dogs.com, (no publish date), https://iheartdogs.com/these-12-dog-breeds-are-the-worst-swimmers-2/. Accessed February 28, 2020.


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