8 Water Safety Tips for Dogs

As the temperatures heat up, many dog owners start dreaming about days lounging by the pool, hanging at the beach or jumping in the boat for a lazy afternoon of fishing. With their dog bestie in tow, of course!

It sounds idyllic, but water and dogs don’t always go together so perfectly. While there are no confirmed statistics, it is estimated that about 5,000 family dogs drown in swimming pools each year. That doesn’t include any accidents that might occur at lakes, rivers or out on the open ocean among dog-owning boaters.

As with children and water, accidents can happen in an instant. To prevent accidents from occurring, dog owners should follow these eight tips for keeping dogs safe in and around the water.

1. Never Leave Your Dog Unattended Around Water

If you follow only one rule, let it be this one. Never leave your dog alone around water, whether it be a pool, lake, river or the open ocean. Even the strongest swimmer can have an emergency and if you’re not there to help, things can go wrong very quickly.

But don’t just stick close by your pup. Make sure you’re keeping an eye on him. Watch for signs he’s tiring, struggling with currents, or paying too much attention to something that could be dangerous. It’s not only the water that poses a risk when you’re out at the beach. Keep your dog away from fish and debris that wash up onto shore. You never know what might injure or sicken your dog if he tries eating it. Also keep him away from fishing tackle boxes, which are full of sharp hooks that can do a lot of damage.

If you’ve got a backyard pool, make sure it’s fenced in so your dog can’t get to it unless you’ve specifically decided to let her in. Don’t rely on a pool cover to keep your dog safe when you’re not around. Dogs expect the covers to be hard and get into trouble when they try and step onto them and get tangled up under water instead.

It’s helpful (for many reasons, not just water play) to learn canine CPR so you can do something if something goes wrong.

2. Understand Your Dog's Breed

Not all dogs can swim. Even some who can, don’t do it very well and are at greater risk of drowning.

Golden and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs and Newfoundlands are some of the strongest swimming dogs out there. If you’ve got one of these, you have less to worry about. These dogs were bred to love the water and thrive in and around it.

Brachycephalic breeds, on the other hand, are terrible swimmers. Bulldogs, Pekingese, Pugs, Boxers and other dogs with flat faces and short snouts have trouble breathing while in the water, and, as a result, tire easily and quickly.

Other dog breeds have such small legs they can’t really paddle hard enough to keep themselves afloat. Some, like Basset Hounds and Corgis, can barely swim at all and will sink almost instantly.

As if they instinctively know the dangers water presents to them, most dogs of these breeds dislike the water in general. Never force your dog into the water if he doesn’t want to go.

3. Pay Attention to Water Conditions

You know that red flag on the beach that alerts swimmers it’s not safe to enter the water? It’s a sign for dog owners too. Undercurrents and big waves can mean big danger to dogs. So can water that’s too cold, especially for small dogs or those with less fur. Even just splashing around in freezing shallows can pose a risk to your dog.

If you’re heading to the river for some fishing or canoeing, be aware of the current. Fast currents can sweep dogs under in seconds. (Rivers with strong currents are a perfect example of when a life jacket comes in handy.)

At lakes, steer clear of water covered in blue-green algae, which can make your dog sick.

4. Make It Easy

While most swimming dogs have no problem launching themselves into the pool, getting out is more complicated. Make it easy by having stairs lead into the pool or installing a ramp they can more easily climb onto and trot up to get out.

5. Consider a Life Jacket

Life jackets can be life-savers. They keep your dog afloat when their legs are too tired to paddle or if they get sucked under the water by the current or a riptide. They make it easy to spot your dog in open water. And, the nifty handles make it a cinch to grab onto your dog and haul him out.

6. Take Breaks

Lots of sun and swimming can be tiring, for people and dogs. Pay attention to your dog’s energy levels and ensure she takes breaks throughout the day, preferably in the shade.

To enforce breaks, ensure your dog is command trained so you can tell her to sit and stay, even when all she wants is to get back into the water.

7. Rinse Off / Dry Off

Whether your pup has been playing in the pool or splashing around at the beach, rinse him off when the day is over. Saltwater, chlorine, lake algae and any pollutants that made it into water can irritate your dog’s skin. And worse, make him sick if he licks his fur while he’s still wet. 

You also want to dry your dog off, particularly in and around his ears to prevent an ear infection from occurring. You may want to use an ear cleaner once or twice a week if your dog is spending lots of time in the water on a daily basis.

8. Bring Drinking Water

Make sure to have plenty of drinking water for your dog, whether you’re hanging by the backyard pool (straight from a hose is fine) or fishing lakeside. As mentioned above, the water your dog enjoys splashing around in isn’t safe to drink. But being outside all day, in the sun and water stirs up quite a thirst. Keep your dog safe and dehydration at bay with a collapsible drinking bowl and lots of fresh water.