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  • Writer's picturePeggianne Wright

Pooch Plunge: 5 Things You Should Know Before Swimming With Your Dog

Who doesn't love to cool off in the crystal clear waves of the family pool on those steamy dog days of summer? A refreshing splash with family, friends, and of course the pooch; it's pure fun in the sun.

But, delight can turn to disaster in a flash!

Dogs just now how to swim, right? WRONG.

You may believe the myth that all dogs just "instinctively know" how to swim. But, that's not always the case. [Truly, we have living proof in our Joee, who promptly began sinking upside down the first time we put her in water. But, thankfully, I was standing beside her, waist high in the lake and was able to rescue her in a flash.]

There are indeed, some breeds that are just not "cut out" to be swimmers such as the English Bulldogs simply because their heads are larger compared to their bodies.

The key with any pooch, is to start slowly, unless of course they show an instant aptitude. However, we're focusing on the fur-kid who is new to the experience of being immersed in a body of water.

Pre-plunge precautions

A flotation device (or life jacket) should be the first consideration when planning to enjoy a dunk in the pool or lake. Most definitely, if you're a boater or visiting the lake, it is a must-have for your canine companions as much as it is for your human ones. Even the strongest swimmer may become too exhausted to swim or get into some other kind of unanticipated difficulty.

For pool owners, a positive swimming experience for your pooch should be planned in advance.

Begin with a relaxed atmosphere. Some pups may be traumatized by a lot of splashing and squealing and waves. Start in the shallow end with you in the pool so you can hold and guide your fur-kid as he takes his first dip. Gradually release him when you see that he's paddling with all four feet.

Inexperienced swimmers often concentrate their efforts on using the front legs, forgetting to start-up the rear end!

Make your first few sessions short and always watch for fatigue Watch your pooch's rear. The lower the rear in an accomplished swimmer, the more tired she is.

Breed matters

Front-end-only swimming is ineffective and uses a tremendous amount of energy. It results in the dog being near-vertical in the water, with lots of splashing. Heavily muscled breeds are less buoyant compared to their average build friends; Bully breeds in particular. Shih Tzus and other "flat faced" pooches are not designed for swimming. Because their faces are flat, they must tilt their heads far back to ensure their noses and mouths stay above the water line. This causes their body to become vertical rather than horizontal, meaning they must paddle even harder to keep from sinking. Dachshunds, Scottish Terriers, and Corgis with their short legs and heavier bodies are at risk of quickly becoming exhausted due to the extra work needed to keep afloat.

Also, note that not all breeds will like the water. Sighthounds, such as Greyhounds and Whippets are notoriously known for their disdain of anything wet.

Never throw your dog into the water to let him “figure it out on his own".

Don't force your dog into the water when he’s showing an extreme reaction. Your pooch needs to know he can trust you.” And, above all else, never throw your dog into the water to let him “figure it out on his own.” Not only can this damage the relationship with your dog, a panicked dog is in survival mode, not learning mode. While some may scoff at the idea of specialty swimming lessons for pets, it’s a valuable skill that can mean the difference between life and death.

Another seriously important lesson is that of teaching your pooch to swim to and climb up the ladder to exit the pool. [We were never so thankful that we taught our pool-obsessed Cairn Terrier to do just that. One Saturday afternoon, as we were preparing to go away, my husband noticed that the deck beside the pool was wet and wondered why I would have put Brodie in just as we were heading out. But, we quickly realized that in fact, Brodie had fallen in the pool. And, because we had taught him to swim over to the ladder and climb out, he was none the worse for wear. (Of course, these days -35 years later- we don't even allow our fur-kids in the yard without supervision and we don't even have a pool now.)]

Pool etiquette not just good manners

Just as you set rules regarding pool etiquette for your family and friends, you need to teach rules to your fur-kids too. Running around, barking, and jumping in may seem like lots of fun but these can pose serious dangers with regard to pool safety. The risk of tripping over a pooch who is constantly running around the edge of the pool, the over-exuberant pup who dives in on top of one of the kids, the exhaustion and stress level of the fur-kid who doesn't know when to stop and rest, the irritation to your neighbours with a constantly barking dog are just a few. Certainly, you want to have fun, but if you plan to have several folks in the pool at one time and you're unable to carefully supervise your fur-kid, it's best to remove him to the house.

Along with the safety aspect, allowing your pooch to run rings around the pool can lead to damaged foot pads. [Our swimming-obsessed boy Brodie would run non-stop around the pool on the concrete surface until his feet bled and a red trail encircled the pool. For several days afterward, he would hardly be able to walk because of the damage to the pads of his feet. But, unfortunately, no matter what we tried, we were never successful at training this behaviour out of him.]

Health risks you might not even think about

Sun exposure. For breeds who have their "shaved summer cut" especially, wet fur will leave the skin even more exposed to the beating sun which in turn can invite sun burn. If your pooch will be out in the sun for extended periods of time, it is highly recommended to put a t-shirt on her but, according to Nationwide Pet Insurance, the areas on a dog most likely to sunburn first are the nose, tips of ears, belly, the tip of the tail and, depending on the breed of dog, the eyelids and area directly around the mouth. So it's advisable to limit time in the direct sun and if at all possible, keep your pup in the shade or indoors.

Heat stroke. Since heat stroke is often a hidden danger that lurks along the sidelines of water play with our pets, especially during summer months, it's best to limit your pooch to how long they spend frolicking in the waves with you. The most telling symptom of heat stroke in dogs is excessive panting. Other symptoms may include signs of discomfort such as drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, diarrhea, mental dullness or loss of consciousness, uncoordinated movement, and collapse.

Salt poisoning. While this is rare, it does happen and if not promptly treated, it can be fatal. For saltwater pools, there is an increased risk of salt poisoning if your pet drinks a large amount of the water. The same goes for salt water bodies of water. Be sure to always carry plenty of fresh water – more than you think you’ll need – when enjoying outdoor activities. Drinking excessive amounts of salt water typically results in vomiting within a few hours. While mild cases may only involve a few bouts of diarrhea, in severe cases the dog may suffer from weakness, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and seizures. If you suspect that your dog has consumed a toxic amount of salt water, your best bet is to get them to the veterinarian as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for saltwater poisoning in dogs.

Water intoxication. Also known as hyponatremia, is a relatively rare but potentially fatal condition that is most commonly seen in dogs that love to play in the water. Water games that involve retrieving items or diving into pools to catch toys can cause them to ingest large quantities of water very quickly. I strongly urge you to read the entire article containing Susan Paulsen's story. []

Giardia and Leptospirosis. While dogs are certainly more resilient to various bacteria in the environment than their human counterparts, Giardia is not uncommon among dogs who visit ponds and lakes. In the US, Leptospirosis is extremely common in the southwest, and also recently spread to the Midwest and into the north. However, in Canada, while on the rise, cases are still fairly uncommon. But, if your summer plans include travel, it’s always a good idea to do some research and to speak with your vet about diseases that might be uncommon or non-existent in your area, but prevalent throughout your travel route or at your intended destination.

Hot Spots, Ear Infections. Chlorine exposure can be harmful to us all, human and canine alike. Be especially diligent in hosing off your pooch after swimming. Dry her ears thoroughly, and remove a wet collar if you leave it on for swimming as hot spots can develop. Ear infections and hot spots are common in water-loving dogs. To help prevent ear infections, a post-water ear flush with a commercial ear wash or a mixture of half water, half white vinegar will help dry the ear and create an environment that’s not conducive to yeast overgrowth. [Because of our Brodie's swimming compulsion, he battled constant ear infections summer after summer. As a result, he was subjected to repeated treatment of prednisone which we believe lead to other life-altering conditions.]

Hidden dangers

Dangers can even lurk in plain sight and unexpectedly pose as safety measures. Take, for example, the solar cover, used to heat, retain the water's heat, and keep leaves and debris out. To your pooch, what looks like a solid surface to walk or run across could be a death sentence. An accidental fall into the pool could spell a quick disaster. When your fur-kid steps on the cover and immediately begins to sink, panic will take over causing her to become disoriented and entangled. And once water begins pooling around your dog, she will sink even quicker. Suffocation and drowning can happen in an instant.

While not technically "pool related", pool parties will also pose certain dangers to your pooch. Ensuring that your guests are informed of your "house rules" will protect your pup from a trip to the vet or worse. Reminding party-goers about things like not giving your baby certain foods or drinks is a no-brainer, but also be sure they understand the rules regarding your fur-kid IN the pool. Distractions of being host take your focus off your pooch and if others are not used to the presence of a dog, mishaps like an accidental and unobserved fall into the pool, exhaustion, and water intoxication could occur.

Have an emergency plan in place

Besides adhering to city bylaws regarding proper fencing, etc., it is imperative that families establish pool safety rules that apply to any individual (2-legged & four) who will be using the pool. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Implement a "buddy" system for all swim times that include kids and dogs.

  • Life jackets or Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) should be worn by canine, weak, or non-swimmers, but they are not substitutes for supervision by an adult or lifeguard with good swimming skills.

  • Do not allow glass containers around the pool.

  • Have reaching or throwing assists (such as a foam ring buoy with plenty of rope attached), a working phone, and first aid kit readily accessible.

  • Have an Action Plan in place which includes adult supervision, an emergency signal, safety equipment, and emergency procedures.

  • Keep the deck clear of toys, debris, and any other tripping hazards.

  • Do not use alcohol or drugs in or around the pool.

  • Enroll in a CPR course, both human and canine.

Our Canadian summers are very short and we all want to pack as much fun as possible into each and every hot, sticky day meaning lots of trips to the beach or dips in our backyard pools. But, along with merrymaking, we also need to be aware of potential risks and be prepared to act in case of emergency. According to, an estimated 5,000 family pets drown in backyard pools every year. And while that may seem like a tiny percentage overall, the safety of our fur-kids around water requires our 100 percent attention.



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