Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist water – lakes, ponds, the sea, ditches or even large puddles!
I’m a very confident swimmer and learned my skill in the icy cold waters of lakes nestled in the Rocky Mountains in Canada. My humans were also close at hand to ensure I didn’t get into any trouble and they made sure I didn’t stay in for too long. At those temperatures, my limbs would start to numb, and my lungs would find it more difficult to breathe – but I loved swimming. I made doggy paddle an artform.
Now I’m back in the UK, I don’t have to encounter such cold waters although temperatures here can still be pretty breath-taking and it’s still important for me to be looked after. My humans are much more likely to take me paddle boarding or out in a boat – much longer periods and in deeper water, sometimes with strong currents. When they are on the water, they wear life jackets, so why not me? Fortunately, they thought about this and bought me a really comfortable, orange life jacket. I think I look much more stylish than they do. Don’t you?
The Life Jacket
As much as Duke loves to swim and loves anything to do with water, that is not the case for every dog. Some dogs will be naturals and others will have a deep fear of even getting their paws slightly wet - and that’s OK. But it is still extremely important for safety that all dogs learn to be comfortable in or around water.
Water sports with your dog can be a fun and interactive way to spend your time, whether it’s paddle boarding, kayaking, boating or swimming. However, it is essential to make sure both you and your dog are physically ready for the activity you chose to do. If you are considering swimming with your dog, here are some tips and recommendations to ensure they are safe at all times.
Firstly, let’s talk about breeds
Just looking at different dogs gives an idea of which type may make more natural swimmers. For example, the retrieving breeds that were bred to retrieve water birds for hunters, or newfoundland’s that were developed for water rescue. These dogs tend to have large webbed paws and thick water-resistant coats. On the other hand, we have dogs with different weight distribution problems, brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds which are prone to breathing difficulties or very short-legged dogs – think of the daschund. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions or that these dogs can’t swim, it’s just that extra caution is advised and a flotation device or shallow waters are strongly recommended.
Starting Out With Your Dog
For a dog new to water, we want the experience to be rewarding and enjoyable, not scary and off putting. For that reason, a well-fitted life jacket is a good idea. And we definitely don’t want to be forcing our pups into the water if they are not ready. This could really do some long-term damage to their confidence around water – just like us humans. According to the American Kennel Club, swimming is all about courage and confidence and, therefore, a dog in a supportive life jacket will feel braver and more confident and is more likely to find success for later on in life.
Regardless of breed type or experience level, we feel all dogs should be in a life jacket if they are going to be in or around water for an extended period of time. Even the most confident of swimming dogs can become tired or get cramp. If you are on a boating trip and the dog was to go overboard, a lifejacket could save his or her life if there were to be strong currents or rough waters and they could not get back to the boat. Most good life jackets have back handle's too so, if you do need to grab your dog and give them a helping hand, having this handle is very useful.
In terms of getting them in the water. Get in yourself if possible. If not, use a toy or ball or something you can use to lure your dog. Make it fun and rewarding – use lots of praise – so they want to continue and repeat their actions. Like I said before, never force your dog into the water. Let them figure it out themselves and be patient. Your dog will be so much better off if they make a conscious decision to swim and realise how enjoyable it can be.
Is extremely important whenever you’re taking your dog swimming, with so many dangers, you must keep a close eye on your dog. This is not intended to scare you – I love taking Duke for a swim – and he loves it too. Just a reminder that there are dangers involved. You need to be aware of them and be ready to take action if necessary.
Rough waters, ingesting toxic water (for example, blue green algae), sharp objects such as rocks or fishhooks, other animals, such as water snakes and extremely cold conditions can be a problem with hypothermia or problems with the tail. If you encounter any of these issues then it is important to get straight to the vets. However, being aware of these problems and taking adequate precautions, you should be fine!
After you’ve finished your swim session, make sure ears are cleaned and dry to avoid any infections and, if you’ve been on the beach, make sure you give your dog a good rinse and wash with doggy shampoo to get salt water and sand out of the coat.
I hope after reading this article that you are not put off from water-based activities – in fact, I strongly encourage them for the fun and health benefits that can be brought to both you and your dog – however, I just urge you all to use common sense and be aware of the possible dangers. Water sports can be a great way to build on that special bond that you have so just get out there and give it a go!