Not all dogs like to swim and like us, many dogs need to learn how to swim. Some breeds are more suited to swimming than others. Some dogs discover they like the water if they have a canine friend who likes the water. Dogs sometimes learn to swim gradually when they chase a toy or ball into shallow water or if they go in with their owner. Just be sure the introduction to water is safe and gradual.
If the dog doesn’t want to swim, don’t force him to. That can be frightening for a dog and potentially dangerous.
There are lots of styles of life jackets available for dogs these days. My dogs have been conditioned to wear life jackets and my preference are the high visibility jackets with handles you can use to pull your dog from the water if necessary.
Know what sea animals inhabit the area you are visiting. Interactions between dogs and some wildlife can result in injury to either animal and diseases can be transmitted. What looks like “play” between a dog and a sea otter, for example, can result in injuries or fatality for either party, so ensure your dog has a totally reliable recall or will leave anything you ask him or her to if they are off leash. In the area that I live in, dogs are prohibited on beaches certain times of year when some wild birds are visiting to feed or to raise young.
Wherever you are with your dog, don’t allow your dog to eat carrion that may have washed up. A dog in the UK reportedly died after eating poisonous fish parts washed up on the shore after a sudden storm. Dog owners in Australia report that dogs have been poisoned by sea creatures named “sea hares.” Jellyfish and other sea animals can also pose a risk to dogs who are swimming.
Some bodies of water carry water-borne diseases so familiarize yourself with what may be in your area. Some plants are toxic including some types of algae. In 2016, a lake in our province came under scrutiny when several dogs died after swimming in it and owners reported a blue-green algae bloom.
Water toxemia is a condition dogs can get if they ingest too much water. This can happen when they are retrieving balls in the water and ingest water. The ingested water brings their sodium levels to a dangerously low level. Symptoms of water toxemia include loss of coordination, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. This condition is often fatal so a dog with these symptoms needs to see a vet immediately.
Some breeds of dog have double coats (an outer layer and an inner layer) and water can get trapped in the coat and create irritation on the skin. Rinsing the dog after a swim helps avoid this. Other breeds have natural oils in their coat that protect them. Let dogs shake the water out of their ears and dry the ears carefully (without going too deep into the ear canal) because water in the ears can provide a good environment for microbes to grow and cause an ear infection. Check the temperature of the sand- like concrete it can get very hot and burn a dog’s pads.
Have fun with your dog and stay safe!
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc. Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog-related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force-free and humane training methods for all animals. Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the "Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers" and as a behaviour consultant through the "International Association of Behavior Consultants" and through the "Association of Animal Behavior Professionals". These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of "The Pet Professional Guild," an organization committed to force-free training of animals and the "Association of Professional Dog Trainers," a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education. Jane is the content creator of the online course "Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour," which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of "Perfect Puppy Parenting," a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog. Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer. Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it's participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client's dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.