Does your dog love being in water? Here’s what you need to know

For many dogs, water is a great source of fun! Whether it’s days at the beach or a quick dip in the lake at the park, our four legged friends can’t get enough time off dry land. However, there are a number of dangers that every dog owner should know about if their pooch loves a paddle.

Generally, it’s best to limit your dog to exploring shallow water, perhaps the shoreline of a beach or a small, shallow lake that you’re familiar with. If your dog does happen to be a bit more adventurous and you want to enable them to explore safely and confidently, here’s what you need to keep in mind.

Your dog’s swimming ability

Swimming is often a fundamental part of growing up for many people – it’s an essential skill as well as being a fun pastime. However, not every dog owner will consider swimming lessons for their pooch! 

The sooner you can help your dog develop their swimming skills, the better – it’s often assumed that dogs are natural swimmers and will immediately take to the water, but it’s better to test this before assuming.

Another consideration is whether your dog actually enjoys swimming! If it’s clear that they’re attracted to taking a dip when you’re out and about, you can take this as an indicator that they might like to explore water more. 

You can help them become stronger swimmers by:

  • Letting them explore the water slowly – walk into the shallow water then back to shore repeatedly
  • Keep your dog on their lead for the first few session so they don’t swim out too far
  • Watch your dog constantly – never leave them alone in the water!
  • Take some fresh, clean water with you and give your dog regular hydration breaks – don’t let them drink water from the river, lake or pool as this can lead to discomfort and even sickness.

During these sessions, you should be aware of your dog’s eagerness and body language. They might be a bit unsure at first because it’s a new experience, but never push a dog if they’re anxious, scared or reluctant to do something – perhaps swimming just isn’t their thing! If they do show encouraging signs, continue with slow and regular sessions. 

As your dog becomes confident enough to paddle in deeper water, support their stomach to help them keep afloat if needed – this will also encourage them to use their back legs, not just their front. Give your dog lots of praise and post-swim treats, and soon you’ll both feel confident about their adventures in water!

Large dog swimming outside with stick

Safety at the beach

There’s nothing like a walk on the beach, especially with your dog in tow. It’s a great chance for your dog to have a paddle, but you should always keep the potential dangers of swimming in the sea in mind – just as you would if you were considering a dip yourself.

Lifeguards will often keep visitors up to date with anything they need to know about the sea that day with signage and signals. If it’s a windy day, it’s best to keep your dog out of the water and look out for any indication that it isn’t safe to go in the water.

Look out for areas of the beach that are quiet and clean. These will be the best places to let your dog swim, as distractions and debris can be dangerous for a swimming dog. Sharp shells and stones should be looked out for to help your dog avoid standing on anything that might cause them pain. Unfortunately, not all beaches are pristine so if the water looks dirty or it has rubbish floating in it, keep your pooch on the sand or walk them to a cleaner area of the beach.

Keep an eye on the tide and of course, for strong waves. Pets and people can easily get swept away in rip currents so know the signs and how to escape them before letting your dog out into open water. 

Avoid visiting the beach at high tide and areas with crashing waves too, and always tell someone where you’re going for a walk – especially if it’s an area you’re unfamiliar with.

Dog and owner on a beach looking out at sea

Safety in lakes and rivers

Lakes and rivers might look like safer environments than the sea, but they can present their own unique dangers to dogs. Large lakes have their own current, just like the sea, so you should take this into account if you take your pooch to a particularly large body of water. 

Rubbish and debris once again pose a hazard to dogs looking to go for a swim. From plastic bags to abandoned trolleys, all sorts of things make their ways into lakes and rivers so you should always assess the area for discarded items that could prevent your dog from swimming safely. 

Small lakes and rivers can soon fill up after or during heavy rain, so it’s best to avoid letting your dog swim in rainy conditions. They may find themselves in danger quickly if the water rises, and ways to get out of the water may become slippery and inaccessible. 

Dangerous algae can often be found on lakes and ponds. Usually there will be warnings, and alternatively it’s usually easy to spot on the surface of the water. If your dog regularly swims in these kinds of spots, you should familiarise yourself with types of algae and where they’re found. The toxins in algae can cause a wide range of issues for dogs, from skin irritation to liver failure, so if you suspect algae is in the water, don’t let your dog swim there.

Two medium dogs on a walk at a lake

Safety in the pool

If you have a pool in your garden or you are planning to go away with your dog to a holiday home with a pool, it’s worth considering poolside safety for your pooch.

When the pool isn’t being used, you should always put a sturdy protective cover over it to prevent any accidents. It’s important to remember that if rainwater can’t drain through the cover, it can pool on top which dogs can drown in so ensure it’s made of material that lets this water through. 

Cold water can cause shock to your dog. Test the temperature of your pool before letting your dog go in, and you should never throw a dog into water as again, this can cause shock which can be dangerous. 

A pool is a bit different to a natural body of water because there isn’t an obvious way for your dog to get out. They should be able to leave the pool whenever they like and be able to do so easily – one option is installing a ramp or wider, non-slip steps that your dog can use when they feel tired.

Show them how to use the steps so they know how to get out at all times and by themselves – this will be especially important if they fall in accidentally.

Large wet dog standing by swimming pool

Be aware at all times

There are a great deal of hazards that a dog faces when they decide to go for a dip, so keep them on their lead near any body of water until you’re able to assess it thoroughly. Even if it appears to be safe and your dog is a confident swimmer, there’s no guarantee that they will always evade trouble. 

You should have a plan in place should anything happen to your pooch and you should be confident that they will return to dry land should you call them back. 

Swimming is very tiring so don’t let your dog stay in the water too long, – especially cold water – and always take a towel to dry and warm them up afterwards!

Even though your dog will love any chance to have fun and cool down in water, it’s not worth the risk if you’re not sure. 

Phil’s top tips:

  • Some dog breeds are better suited to swimming than others. Long haired dogs and dogs with short snouts aren’t very well suited for life off dry land!
  • Consider taking your dog to swimming lessons and commit to learning CPR especially for dogs if you and your dog are keen for them to swim often – it could save their life.
  • Salt water and chlorine can cause slight irritation to the skin, so be sure to give your dog a good wash after they’ve had a swim.