Dog swimming in a lake with life jacket.

Dogs and water often make for a fun and exciting combination. Many breeds are natural swimmers, loving nothing more than a splash in the lake, river, or pool. While this activity can provide excellent exercise and cooling on hot days, it also comes with risks that should be understood. Too often, many dog owners think that all dogs are strong swimmers and can navigate most swimming conditions. This is not always the case. Understanding the risks posed by water to dogs, and knowing how to prevent them, is essential for keeping your dog safe while swimming. In this article, we’ll dive into some key points to help keep your dog protected and healthy while enjoying time in the water.

It is important to understand that not all dogs are natural swimmers. Before letting your dog into the water, it's important to assess their swimming ability. Breeds with shorter legs or snouts often struggle more in the water. The key is to introduce your dog to water gradually, starting in shallow areas and always under supervision. Some dogs might even benefit from swimming lessons, which are offered by certain professional trainers. They will teach your dog the proper techniques and help them become stronger and more capable swimmers.

Whether you're swimming in a lake, river, or pool, understanding the environment's specific challenges is crucial. Avoid areas with strong currents, tides, or underwater hazards like hooks and fishing lines that can entangle dogs. It is also very important to be mindful of water quality as harmful algae and bacteria can pose serious health risks. The risks for harmful algae and bacteria increase as temperatures rise in the hot summer months so be sure to pay attention to the change in water conditions. Reference your local water resource experts to ensure the water you are letting your dog swim in is clean and safe.

Having the right equipment can make a big difference in ensuring your dog's safety in the water. Life jackets designed for dogs are highly recommended, especially for weaker swimmers or for activities like boating, kayaking and paddle boarding. When purchasing a life jacket for your dog, be sure to check the fit and make sure it does not restrict movement that can prevent them from being able to swim and walk effectively and comfortably. Consider factors like size, buoyancy, visibility, and handle design. Taking your dog to a local pet store expert for a proper life jacket fitting is the best way to ensure proper size, fit and function.

Other helpful equipment includes a sturdy leash, fresh drinking water, high-quality dog treats and dog-friendly sunscreen. Yes, sunscreen. It’s important to understand that dogs can get sunburned too and using a special dog sunscreen can help protect your dog from being burned by the harmful rays of the sun.

Never leave your dog unattended near or in the water. Dogs can quickly get into trouble if they venture too deep or encounter unexpected hazards. It is very important to understand when letting your dog swim in rivers or other bodies of water with swift currents that currents are often times much stronger than what you see with your eyes. What may seem like calm flowing water on the top, can have very swift currents below that can be too strong for dogs. It is also very important to protect yourself if you do find your dog in distress. Although the natural tendency is to jump in the water to assist your dog, you need to be keenly aware of the risks posed to you personally if you were to enter that same body of water. Training your dog to respond to basic commands like "come" or "stay" can be lifesaving in a water environment. You may also want to consider taking a canine first aid course to prepare for any emergencies both in and out of the water.

After swimming, be sure to rinse your dog with fresh water to remove chlorine, salt, or any harmful microorganisms that are invisible to the eye. Check for any signs of irritation or injury, and be sure to dry their ears thoroughly to prevent infections. Monitor your dog for any signs of illness after swimming, particularly if you suspect they ingested water from a questionable source.

Puppies, elderly dogs, and certain breeds require special attention when it comes to water safety. Puppies should be introduced to water slowly and always under close supervision. At the very first interaction with water with puppies, begin your safety command training so that becomes engrained in them from the start. Older dogs might have underlying health conditions such as arthritis that make swimming riskier. You may want to consider other adaptations for those elderly dogs that love the water in order to keep them safe while still enjoying the water they love. Breeds with brachycephalic faces (like Bulldogs) or short legs (like Dachshunds) may struggle more in the water and should be monitored closely.

Swimming can be a fun and refreshing activity for many dogs, providing excellent exercise and a chance to cool off. However, like any activity, it comes with risks that need to be understood. By understanding your dog's swimming ability, choosing the right environment, using appropriate equipment, and maintaining proper supervision, you can ensure that your wild roaming water adventures with your 4-legged swim buddy are safe and enjoyable. As with all things concerning your pet, when in doubt, consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer. They can provide specific guidance tailored to your dog's breed, age, and individual needs.