How to keep your dog safe while swimming

Living Well | Dr Kerry Bail | Posted on 23 February 2019

Does your dog like a dip? Our vet explains some water-safety rules.

We all love to head to the beach or pool for a cooling dip in summer. But should we let our pets swim too? As with anything, there are risks and benefits.

For dogs that enjoy it, swimming is a great way to beat the heat and get some exercise. There are breeds, such as retrievers, that love water and find that swimming comes naturally. For some other breeds, not so much.

So if you want to let your dog swim, know the risks and undertake some essential training.

Remember, not all dogs like swimming, so don’t be disheartened if your pooch is one of these.

Dogs need to be taught to swim. If you take them to the beach, they need to learn about waves, as they can be knocked over or caught in a rip, just like us. In pools, they need to be able to find the steps to get out.  

To teach your dog to swim in a pool, start off by having them with you on the first step. They can get their feet wet, but still get out easily if they are scared or uncomfortable. Feed them some treats if they remain calm. This might be all you do in the first lesson.

Dress for success

Once your dog is comfortable walking onto the first step on their own, encourage them onto the second (if they are big enough) and continue rewards. If they’re still uncertain, consider a lifejacket. This helps them to keep afloat and gives them confidence. Lifejackets are especially good for small dogs, but any dog may benefit.

Dog with owner at the beach

In deep

If they are happy entering the first and/or second steps, encourage them further. Stay beside them and support them so they gain confidence as you slowly take them into deeper water for a few seconds, then back to the step. If they are still relaxed, let them be more independent and swim further away from you. Remember, not all dogs like swimming, so don’t be disheartened if your pooch is one of these.

Pool rules

  • Brush your dog first to reduce the amount of hair in the pool and filter.
  • Encourage your dog to toilet before entering the water and at frequent intervals after. They may swallow water and need to wee more often.
  • Provide lots of fresh drinking water.
  • Keep nails trimmed to reduce scratches if they panic or are very exuberant.
  • Be careful of toys. Dogs can injure their teeth by grabbing at toys at the pool edge.
  • Rinse your dog to remove chlorine or salt, or wash them with dog shampoo. Don’t use human shampoo – their skin is very different to ours.

On the beach

  • If you’re hitting the beach, there are some other things to keep in mind. Firstly, make sure your dog can swim in a pool, and check the beach is dog-friendly – some do not allow dogs at certain times, and some have no off-leash areas.
  • Avoid choppy water or beaches with rips and high waves – even the most confident dogs can get caught out (just like people). A good rule of thumb is if it isn’t safe for kids or weak swimmers, it’s probably not safe for your dog.
  • Provide clean drinking water. Some dogs swallow sea water, which can cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

Shore hazards

Watch out for dangers in the sand. Sometimes dead creatures wash up, and dogs are attracted to smelly things. Some fish are toxic to dogs, such as puffer fish, and some are dangerous because of the bacteria load. Other sea creatures are spiky.

It’s a good idea to take a sun shelter, and consider a pet-safe sunscreen, especially if your dog is light coloured or has short fur.

Finally, rinse your dog after their swim, and remember to pick up their poo as you leave.

Veterinarian Dr Kerry Bail works out of Emerald Veterinary Clinic and owns Great & Small Veterinary Services in Upper Beaconsfield.