Whether you take your dog out paddling in the canoe or boating in the lake, it pays to be safe by having him or her in a life jacket. Don’t assume all dogs can swim, because they can’t. And those that can swim may not be great swimmers. If your dog falls overboard, will he/she be able to avoid exhaustion or hypothermia before being retrieved?

When your dog is in the water there’s always danger as many dog Guardians find out each year. No matter how good a swimmer your dog is, you should always ensure he wears a life jacket when swimming or boating because:

  • Cold water can cause hypothermia, and cause his muscles to fatigue or cramp
  • Fast currents can be stronger than his strength to out swim them
  • The distance to shore may be further than he can swim
  • He may become disoriented and not swim towards shore
  • A dog that jumps from, or falls from, a boat at high speed can be injured when impacting with the water

Believe it or not, PFD’s (“life jackets”) are made just for dogs and may be purchased at specialty pet retailers such as Pet Planet. Make sure the PFD fits securely and allow your dog to practice swimming while wearing it. If your dog has never worn a PFD they may be resistant to it at first. Give them time to get acquainted with it before actually getting on the boat.

Water Toys

Another potential water hazard comes from a dog’s natural desire to fetch. The scenario is unfortunately common; a loving Guardians takes their dog out to the river or lake for a swim and some games. The dog finds a stick and brings it to the feet of his Guardians, who hurls the stick at the water. The dog pelts off full speed ahead. Tragedy can strike in an instant if the stick lands sticking upwards in the grass, or if the dog dives into the water and lands on the stick, making contact with it at full speed. Where the stick hits the dog is now up to chance, and it can end up injuring the dog.

A safer alternative to throwing sticks is a ball, just make sure it is large enough so your dog can’t swallow or choke on it. There is also a huge variety of safe and durable fetch toys available, designed to fl oat, be easy to throw and be visible to you and your pet in the water. For those dogs that love a stick, there are even buoyant rubber toys shaped like sticks!

After Swim Care

Even if your pet wears a PFD and uses safe toys in the water, there is one final step you need to take to make his water experiences safe and enjoyable. After swim care is the most neglected aspect of swimming, but one of the most important. Dogs that swim can be prone to “swimmer’s ear”, ear infections caused by leaving the ears wet after swimming. The prevention is simple: each time your dog swims ensure you clean their ears afterwards using an ear cleaner specifically formulated for dogs, and dry them thoroughly. You also need to care for their skin and coat, especially if they swim in salt water or chemically treated water such as in swimming pools. Even most “fresh water” rivers and lakes often contain chemicals, bacteria or other organisms that can cause itchiness, redness and skin irritation. Ensure you rinse your dog with clean fresh water after swimming, and bathe them with a soothing shampoo that is pH balanced for a dog (not human shampoo). Getting your dog groomed during the summer can also be helpful, as professional groomers will notice potential problems and be able to alert you of any they find.