It is definitely summer-like in South Carolina with sunny, humid and hot weather. Since summer is the perfect time to head to the beach, lake, river or pool to stay cool, we are fortunate to have so many options. I (Perry Jameson), like so many others, like to share the fun with our dogs.
If not prepared, however, the fun in the water can quickly turn tragic. Here are some do's and don’ts to make sure your dogs enjoy a safe day in the water.
- Don’t force your dog into the water. This may cause them to develop a fear of the water that may be difficult to overcome.
- Do teach them to swim. Dogs will naturally “doggy paddle” in the water, but they should be introduced to this slowly. Have them come to you in shallow water and gradually work up to a depth where they can no longer touch. Also, the earlier in life they start swimming, the better they will be at it, so teach your new puppy to swim.
- Do be extra careful with some breeds of dogs. For some breeds, swimming will be almost second nature so they will catch on quickly. Retrievers and poodles were bred to work in the water so will be easy to teach. Bulldogs and similar brachycephalic dogs (those with short snouts and big chests) were not meant to be in the water. Their big chests make it difficult to keep their head above water, so be careful and slow introducing them to swimming. Except for the rare bulldog, wading in shallow water is recommended.
- Don’t let your dog out of your sight near water. Keep a constant eye on them. With the ocean rip currents and constant river tides, they can be swept away quickly. Once my kids, Flipper (our dog) and I were swimming off our dock on the Bohicket River. Before I realized it, Flipper was 30 feet away being swept out by the outgoing tide. Fortunately, I was able to swim to him and get him back safely. We were both exhausted after fighting the tide back to our dock.
- Do make sure your dog has an easy way out of the water and is aware of its location. For pools, this may be stairs or specially designed ramps. One of the first lessons should be where this easy exit point is. When swimming in lakes and rivers, make sure there is a shallow area your dog can reach to exit the water.
- Don’t let your dog swim when you are not around. Make sure your pool is fenced off and they are prevented from entering the ocean, river and lake behind your home unless you allow it.
- Do put a life jacket or at least a harness on you dog when swimming. Dog life jackets are designed to help them float in a natural position so they can breathe. Both also provide a handle to grab onto so you can lift your pet out of the water.
- Do force your dog to rest. Labradors may have so much fun that they will keep going until they can no longer swim from exhaustion. Just like us, gradually work up the length of swimming as your dog’s fitness improves. A tired dog may not be able to fight the tide or swim to shore.
- Don’t let your dog drink the water it is swimming in. Bring plenty of fresh water so they stay hydrated and are not tempted to drink ocean, pool and lake water. The salt in ocean water and chemicals in pool water will make your dog sick. Lakes may have bacteria that can cause GI upset when consumed.
- Do rinse your dog with fresh water after swimming. The chemicals from the pool and salt/sand from the beach may irritate their skin. They will inevitably groom themselves, ingesting whatever was in the water.
- Don’t fish around your dog. That stinky bait on your hook is irresistible to most dogs. When swallowed, that hook may lodge in the esophagus or stomach. The barb that prevents the fish from spitting it out makes it hard for us to get out of your dog as well.
Most dogs like being in and around water. Just use common sense and all family members will have fun.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.