When it comes to exercising, dog swimming is a great choice! The water provides a variety of benefits to dogs from keeping them cool to soothing their joints. Some dogs instinctively love the water, some need a little coaxing and teaching, and a small subset wants to avoid it entirely.
But in all cases, safety should be a top priority!
Follow these 8 dog swimming tips to keep your dog out of water-related trouble:
- Make sure your dog can swim
- Avoid rough water
- Be aware of natural dangers
- Take temperature into account
- Show your dog how to get out of the water
- Know when to call it quits
- Keep a close eye on your dog at all times
- Dry your dog's coat and ears
Let's take a more detailed look at advice to make sure your next trip to the beach or lake with Fido is a safe one. We’ll also go over the many benefits of swimming for dogs of all ages.
8 dog swimming safety tips
1. Make sure your dog can swim!
Whether you’ve got a puppy, a newly adopted dog, or an adult dog that’s never been near water, don’t just assume that they can swim. Yes, most dogs do have the instinct, but many may be afraid or unwilling to swim at the first exposure.
Get your dog into the water gradually and follow their lead. Natural waters, like lakes, are a great choice because your dog can wade out and choose to keep their feet on the ground if they like. If it’s important to you that your dog swims, you may need to get in with them and do a little teaching and gentle coaxing. The use of a life jacket is recommended when teaching a dog to swim (source).
Keep your dog’s breed in mind, too. Some dogs are natural swimmers, and others not so much. My lab (of course!) is our champion swimmer, but lots of people are shocked to hear that our husky likes to go for dips too on hot summer days. And our German Shepherd loves to splash around in shallow water but will not actually swim.
2. Avoid rough or fast waters
One of the biggest risks to even the most athletic dog swimmers out there is unpredictable water. Ocean currents and fast rivers, in particular, pose a safety threat to your dog. If you do take your dog to the beach and ocean water regularly, follow local water warnings for people. If lifeguards are advising that people stay out of the water due to rough conditions, your dog should NOT be swimming.
Fast rivers can also be difficult for your dog to make it out of. The current can make getting to the side difficult. Your dog may also quickly wind up very far downriver, unable to swim back up to your location.
3. Be aware of other potential dangers
When it comes to swimming in natural water, be aware of potential natural threats. Things like fungus or bacteria in water can make your dog sick. You also need to be careful of snakes, snapping turtles, and leeches.
4. Take temperature into account
Just like humans, dogs can develop hypothermia if their core body temperature drops too low. One way that this can happen is swimming in water that’s too cold! Many sources say that if it’s too cold for you to swim, then your dog shouldn’t either.
I think you can take this with a grain of salt based on your dog’s breed. For example, Labrador Retrievers were literally bred to retrieve ducks from cold water and have a thick oily coat to keep them warm. As always, you should be careful and aware, and consult your vet for specific advice if you’re concerned about your dog swimming in cold temperatures.
5. Show your dog where to get out of the water
A dog that’s stuck treading water for too long can become tired and more susceptible to drowning. It’s important to show your dog where they can exit the swimming hole right away for the safest swimming experience. This is especially true in pools, or in natural water bodies that have steep banks or thick vegetation on some sides.
6. Know when to call it quits, because they may not
Dogs that love to swim may not listen to their body’s cue about when to stop. An exhausted dog is also more at risk of drowning. Consider your dog’s endurance and pay attention to their cues such as panting and swimming speed as indicators that it’s time for a break.
7. Keep a close eye on your dog at all times
Water does bring a whole different host of risks to the table. For this reason, you should never let your dog swim unattended. Be sure that you are aware of their whereabouts in the water at all times.
8. Dry your dog’s coat and ears thoroughly
After swimming, it’s important to thoroughly dry your dog’s coat and get excess water out of their ears. Dogs who swim frequently are more at risk for ear infections due to the build-up of moisture in their ear canal.
Additionally, if your dog is often left with wet fur, you may run into issues with hot spots. These are irritating sores that develop on your dog’s skin. They are most common in dogs with long hair or thick coats like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.
And what about dog swimming benefits?
Now that you know how to keep your dog safe on their next swimming adventure, what about the benefits? Swimming is an awesome activity for your dog for a variety of reasons:
- Swimming is a great form of exercise for your dog! One minute of swimming equates to four minutes of running (source). So if you’re looking to get your dog’s wiggles out, swimming is a perfect choice
- Swimming is low impact making it a great choice for dogs with arthritis, or large dogs that feel stress when running and playing on land
- Swimming is therapeutic for dogs with injuries or arthritis and may relieve pain and discomfort
- Swimming is a good way to help overweight dogs exercise
- Swimming is the perfect form of exercise to cool off your dog on a hot day
Have fun taking your dog swimming!
With these safety tips and benefits in mind, we hope you’re feeling confident and inspired to take your dog swimming. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and a way to switch up your day to day with your dog.
If you’re not sure where to go, ask around to other pet owners for recommendations of great doggie swimming holes. You can also check online for conservation areas with lakes or ponds in your surrounding area. As long as the location is dog friendly and it’s not otherwise posted, it’s usually fair game for Fido to take a dip.