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Water Safety: It Isn't Just for People

Updated on January 17, 2018
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Alison has been practicing Animal Communication for over twelve years. She has a certificate from The Gurney Institute.

Ollie demonstrates life jacket safety.
Ollie demonstrates life jacket safety.

Canine Water Safety

Water Safety; It’s Not Just For People

Water safety is as important to practice with your dog as it is with your kids. A lot of people believe that all dogs instinctively know how to swim. While most dogs are good at the doggie paddle they can still drown. Even an old pro can get into trouble and panic. Following a few basic guidelines can help keep a family fun day from turning tragic.

First and foremost never, ever teach your dog to swim by tossing them into the water. This is cruel, ineffective and can cause irreversible damage. If your dog has never been in water you need to introduce them, slowly. Try swimming them in a pool first. Here are a few techniques we use at The Total Dog. Hold your dog on your lap while sitting in the water. You can accomplish this by putting their two front paws over one of your legs and the two back legs on the other. Hold them until they relax, signals are eye blinking, lip licking and panting. Second always show your dog the places in the pool where they can safely stand. And most important show them how to get out of the pool. If you can the best option is to find a pool near you with a professional. A Veterinary Technician or Dog trainer may be able to help you.

As with people, the buddy system also applies to swimming with your dog. You wouldn’t let your child go swimming by themselves and you shouldn’t let your dog, either. You or someone you are with should be able to swim well enough to rescue your dog if needed. A life jacket is a necessity, not a luxury if you are out on a lake or in the ocean with your dog. And please, always supervise your dog if it is anywhere near water.

While most dogs know the basics of the dog paddle they can still get in trouble in the water. For instance they may have more trouble than you staying afloat in turbulent waters such as a fast moving river or a rip tide. Remember your dog doesn’t have the opposable thumbs to grab onto a branch nor do they grasp the concept of swimming parallel to the beach in a rip tide, but even calm waters can pose a danger. If your dog falls off a dock or the side of the pool, in a panic they may forget how to get out. Don’t assume that your dog will just swim to safety if they get caught in the deep end. A dog will most likely try to get out at the same place they fell in. Even if they swim all the time a panicked dog can lose focus and drown. Life jackets go a long way in supporting your dog if they get into trouble. Many of my clients have trained their dog to stay out of the water unless they have their float coat on. This is a good way to keep your dog safe if you can’t keep them away from the pool.

There are many wonderful floatation devises on the market today. They range from very sturdy right down to very colorful options. Make your decision according to how you will use the vest. If you are avid water fanciers with a boat then a good sturdy life vest is in order. I like Outward Hound, it has a good selection, pretty sturdy life vests and I like that they have an extra wide strap for under the belly. It helps the life vest stay on better. Their vest also has a handle on the top if you need to pull the dog out of the water in a hurry.

If you are a hunter or hiker and your dog encounters a lot of running rapids you definitely want a stronger vest. I would recommend one that also helps keep the dog horizontal as well as keeps its head above water. Ruff Wear has one with a pillow to hold the dog’s head up. Again, be sure the straps are wide enough under the belly to keep the vest nice and secure on your dog.

Remember that you are your dog’s lifeguard when near the water. Teaching your dog to swim before you head out to a lake or the ocean can help prevent a disaster in the long run. Life jackets save lives. Everyone can have a good time if we all just follow a few simple rules about water safety.


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