With summer in full swing, it’s natural for dog lovers and their dogs to take to the water–including swimming pools. For all its fun, however, pool safety for dogs is top priority–and we’ve got training and vet tips on how you can keep your dog safe around your swimming pool.
According to Stephanie M. Colman of Caninestein Dog Training, “A dip in the pool can be a great way for our four-legged friends to beat the heat this summer! Since we can’t outfit them with water wings, it’s important to teach dogs safe pool manners in order to keep everyone happy and healthy all summer long.” But for all the fun the pool offers you and your dog, it’s important to make pool safety for dogs a top priority. With a few preparations, it’s easy to keep your dog safe around your swimming pool—and enjoy a dip with your best friend!
Danger of Pool Covers
Many pool owners keep their pool covered to keep leaves and debris out of the water…or they use a solar cover to heat the water on days that aren’t quite as warm. These covers, for all the good they can do, though, can mean big trouble for dogs.
“Unless your pool cover is solid and strong enough to support your weight, do not leave it on when your dog is unattended near the pool. Countess dogs, even accomplished swimmers, have lost their lives following an unexpected tumble into a covered pool. Once they’re in, the cover is disorienting, the dog gets stuck under it, and it’s almost always impossible for a dog to find his way out.”
If you must leave a pool cover on your pool, be sure to invest in a pool fence to prevent access to the pool by your dog when you’re not watching. A swimming pool fence will provide you peace of mind (and make the pool safer for neighborhood children who might wander into your yard as well.)
A pool alarm is also a great tool to sound the alarm if the movement is detected in the water. It won’t help your dog if you are at work or otherwise gone, but it will help keep your dog safer while you are in the home.
Pool Steps and Pool Ramps for Dogs
While your dog might happily jump right into the water, getting out of a pool can require a bit of training and possibly some special equipment.
“Your new pup or adult dog needs to know is where the pools steps are,” says Dr. Margolin. “Enter the pool with your dog in your arms or on leash. You may need to encourage or lift him/her onto the first step. You should conduct several sessions over the first week just performing this exercise. Repeat until you feel confident your dog will easily step out of the pool.
“Next, enter the shallow end of the pool with your dog, either encouraging him in or carrying him/her to an area a few feet from the steps. Dogs have a natural ability to paddle.
“Allow your pet to paddle free of you, and guide him/her in the direction of the steps they’re already familiar with. Repeat this until you see a consistent pattern of swimming onto and exiting the pool by the steps.”
Trainer Coleman agrees. “Teach your dog only to enter and exit the pool via the steps. This helps prevent human pool guests from unexpectedly becoming victims of a canine cannonball as the dog launches himself in from the side of the pool.
“More importantly, it cements the idea of the steps in the dog’s head, which helps navigate him back there in order to safely exit the pool. Sadly, many dogs, even accomplished swimmers, have drowned while trying unsuccessfully to claw their way out from the edge of the pool.”
What if your dog doesn’t have pool steps? Above the ground pools use ladders—so a pool ramp or graduated pool steps for dogs might be the answer:
Teach Your Dog to Swim
You think your dog can swim, right? But just how well does he maneuver the pool–and could he use a little swimming lesson? “Many dogs benefit from a swimming lesson or two. While all dogs know to instinctively paddle when submerged in water, their initial technique rarely wins them a spot on the Canine Olympic Swim Team!” Explains Colman.
“Inexperienced swimmers often concentrate their efforts on using the front legs, forgetting to start-up the rear end! Front-end-only swimming is ineffective and uses a tremendous amount of energy. It results in the dog being near-vertical in the water, with lots of splashing.”
The founder of Caninestein Dog Training explains how to teach your dog to swim efficiently in the pool: “Getting in the pool with the dog and supporting his back end as he swims a short distance is often a great way to prompt him to begin doing more with his back legs. As the dog gets the hang of using his front and back ends in unison, the body evens out and the splashing disappears. The most effective swimmers can enter the pool and swim a lap without ever getting the top of their backs wet!”
Not every dog is a good swimmer…and some breeds, like English Bulldogs, usually can’t swim because of their large heads compared to their body size. And even the best canine swimmers, like the best human swimmers, still need to wear flotation devices when they’re out on the water because there’s always the chance of hitting your head or becoming just too exhausted to swim.
And Colman reminds dog owners that not all dogs are equally good swimmers. “Keep in mind that heavily muscled breeds are less buoyant compared to their average build friends. Bully breeds in particular come to mind. For these breeds, consider desensitizing them to a dog life jacket to provide an extra layer of pool safety for dogs during their poolside adventures. Also, not all breeds will like the water. Sighthounds are notoriously known for their disdain of anything wet. Never force your dog into the water when he’s showing an extreme reaction. Your dog needs to know he can trust you.”
Consider a Dog Life Jacket
A dog life jacket is a great way to assist dogs and especially useful for dogs who aren’t yet confident swimmers, dogs with arthritis, and dogs who tire easily.
Exercising Your Dog in the Swimming Pool
Want to help your dog get in shape and stay cool at the same time? Swimming just might be the answer–but, like all exercise programs, that means starting off slowly, especially if you have an overweight dog.
“Swimming is a great way for dogs to burn off excess energy, stay in shape and even shed some unwanted pounds! When swimming an overweight dog, be sure to check with the veterinarian first and be careful not to overdo it. The more overweight the dog, the quicker he will tire out.”
“Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time your dog swims. Similarly, when dealing with dogs who lead traditionally sedentary lives, avoid the Weekend Warrior Syndrome of too much of a good thing. Dogs, like people, experience muscle soreness and stiffness, and they’re counting on us to lookout for their best interests.”
Never Leave Your Dog in the Pool Unattended
No matter how well your dog swims, never leave him unattended in the pool. A dog can suddenly struggle with exhaustion—and may breathe in while struggling. This inhaled water can cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs that can lead to respiratory distress or cardiac arrest). Dry drowning can happen hours or even days after a near-drowning accident, and it can be deadly.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Getting Tired in the Pool
Just as you don’t want your dog to overdo the swim time, you also don’t want to overdo total pool time for your dog.
Dogs and pools can be a great summer combination, perfect for getting exercise, cooling down, and having fun all at once. But pool safety for dogs comes first.
Dogs, like young children, don’t recognize when they get tired in the pool. Colman notes, “Dedicated swimmers often forget they’re dogs, not ducks! Keep a close eye on your dog and be sure to get him out of the pool for a break as soon as you see signs of physical fatigue or over-stimulation.”
How can you tell if your dog is getting tired in the swimming pool?
“Watch the rear. The lower the rear in an accomplished swimmer, the more tired he is.”
How to Keep Your Dog Calm Around the Pool
Swimming is an exciting time for dogs–really, really exciting for most! Staying calm around the pool is essential for enjoying the pool safely—and for everyone to enjoy some relaxation.
“It’s important to teach your dog to remain calm when others are swimming and he has to stay back at the cabana. Many dogs want to excitedly race around the exterior of the pool, barking madly while watching their favorite humans take a dip,” says Colman. “It’s hard for dogs to not be right smack in the middle of all the fun!
“If you don’t want him racing around the pool in bark-fest mode, try not to ever let him practice. When you wish to have some dog-free pool time, consider confining your dog indoors where he can’t see the pool activity, and be sure to give him something wonderful like a favorite chew bone or other consolation prize.
“Additionally, set up training sessions where one person works the dog (leashed, with wonderful treats in-hand) while another casually enjoys the pool. Reward generously for calm poolside behavior.”
Can My Dog Drink Pool Water?
While your dog might be surrounded by water in the pool, make sure he’s drinking the right water. “Pool water belongs in pools, not dogs! Avoid letting your dog drink excessively from the backyard pool,“ says Colman. “The same goes for rivers, ponds, lakes and the ocean. Always keep an ample supple of fresh water on hand during outdoor activities.
“Keep in mind that your dog will likely unintentionally ingest larger-than-normal amounts of water while swimming. Be sure to give him lots of opportunities to relieve himself when the fun is over (and expect him to “go” more than normal) to avoid possible accidents in the house.
Find a Dog-friendly Swimming Pool Near You for Doggie Splash Day
Did you know that, as the summer pool season draws to a close, many public pools wrap up the summer with a Doggie Splash Day? These events, generally planned for late August, open up the pool to be enjoyed by dogs! These make a great dog day trip for dogs who enjoy the company of other dogs and people.
To find a Doggie Splash Day in your area, call your local parks and recreation department or search for your city’s name and “doggie splash day” or “dog pool day.”
Once you locate a Doggie Splash Day in your area, check out the restrictions. In general:
- your dog will need to be current with immunizations
- your dog will need to be licensed
- you’ll need to keep your dog on a leash when he’s not in the pool
- some splash days restrict entrance into the water to dogs only
- you’ll need to clean up after your dog
Some doggie splash days have swimsuit contests and pool races for the dogs. If you do attend a doggie splash day, have fun! You’ll make some great summer memories (and get some fun photos!)
Want something more private but don’t have a pool of your own? Companies like Swimply let you book private pools for a few hours; filter your local results to find dog-friendly options.
After Your Dog’s Swim
Your swim with your dog may be over–but you’ve still got a few steps left to take to ensure your dog’s safety and good health. “Canine pool enthusiasts can quickly wear their nails down to the point of bleeding as they excitedly race around the pool’s exterior,” says Colman. “Keep a watchful eye on the pads of their feet as well. Repeated launching from pool steps can tear up paw pads; especially on dogs who spend most of their time on grass.”
PetSmart grooming expert Linda Erickson advises, “Be sure to rinse your pet after swimming to remove chemicals or irritants from their coat, as these can dry out your pet’s skin.”
And don’t forget the ears! “Also, try to keep your dog’s ears clean and dry after swimming. Swab their ears with a cotton ball and use a recommended ear cleaner to help remove any waxy build-up or water left.”
Even when they’re rinsed your job isn’t over. Colman adds, “Avoid letting your dog sit in a wet collar, as hot spots can develop. Be mindful of other areas that may remain damp for longer than normal: ears, groin and armpits, as they can quickly develop moisture-induced irritations or infections.”
In summary (or should that be summery?!), here’s a look at recommendations from M. Duffy Jones, DVM of Peach Tree Hills Veterinary Clinic:
- Do not leave pets unattended near a pool.
- Make sure the pets have a way out of the pool like a ramp or shallow area.
- Make sure that pets do not get too tired. Many of them will swim until they cannot swim anymore.
- Make sure pets have plenty of clean water to drink so that they do not drink the pool water.
- Make sure people are out of the way when the dogs are swimming. Many dogs will swim over people.
The extra effort required after a dip in the pool is well worth it. You’ll keep your dog safe and healthy–and the time spent swimming with your dog will make memories to last a lifetime. And that’s what summer fun is all about!
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Parts of this article were originally published in 2009 and included interviews from Michigan-based Swimtown Pools.