Dog Swimming
Many dogs love a trip to the lake, river or ocean, and many others love to go boating. But preventing accidents that could injure your dog? That's up to you.

Even dogs who swim well can drown, just as people who are good swimmers sometimes do. People and dogs both often overestimate their skills, and they frequently don’t give enough respect to the water and the weather.

You may think your dog swims better than you do, but you’d better believe that his life is in your hands regardless. You need to think ahead before you go boating or swimming to help prevent catastrophes, and you need to keep thinking about how to protect him as conditions change.

Assess Your Dog's Risk

If you have a Bulldog or similar barrel-chested breed, think long and hard before taking him swimming or boating. Not only are these dogs prone to rapid overheating, they’re also not designed for swimming. In fact, bulldogs and other short-nosed, top-heavy breeds find it difficult to stay afloat, and disaster doesn’t take long to develop for these dogs. If your dog isn’t made for water, you’re probably better leaving him home for his own safety. If you decide to take your dog along anyway, keep him in a life preserver and in the shade.

Remember, too, that even dogs who once swam like dolphins can be at risk in the water as they age. For these dogs, too, it's important to bring them back to shore at the first sign that their energy is flagging.

And of course, the most important rule of all: Never leave your dog unsupervised in the water.

Get the Right Gear for Your Water Dog

All dogs need to travel with fresh water, and something to put it in. While this is very important at the ocean (to keep dogs from drinking salt water), it’s even important when at a lake or river, which may be contaminated with bacteria, protozoa or blue-green algae that can make your dog ill. Also bring a towel; you can use it to dry your dog off, of course, but you can also soak it in cool water and apply it to your pet's groin and other areas if he overheats.

Thin-coated or dogs with short white fur need sunblock on exposed skin, such as the nose and ears, and lightweight clothing to protect the rest of their body from sunburn — or better yet, keep them in the shade of a beach umbrella. While you can find products made just for dogs, you can also make do with a waterproof children’s sunblock — just keep your dog from licking it off until it has time to soak in. Even dogs with lots of protective fur can end up with a sunburn if they have light-colored noses, by the way. Don't laugh it off: Sun exposure is a surprisingly common cancer trigger in dogs.

For boating, your dog should wear a life preserver just like everyone else on board does. Look for one with a handle, so you can easily get your pet back in the boat if he goes over the side. Life vests are also a good idea for dogs who don’t swim well, puppies and older dogs.

Finally, choose a ramp for your boat or dock that your dog can use too, and teach her how to use it.

Be Aware of Changing Conditions

Before you let your dog in the water, take a look around and heed any warning signs. Riptides are dangerous for dogs as well as people, and hungry sharks won’t avoid taking a bite of your dog given the opportunity. If conditions aren’t safe for people, they’re not safe for dogs. In rivers, be aware of currents, and in all bodies of water, look out for underwater debris. In the mountains, the beach can be hot — but the water can be very, very cold. Beware!

While no one wants a good day to end, don’t ever take a chance on the day turning tragic. If water conditions aren’t safe or if the weather turns ugly, grab your dog and head for home. The same is true if your dog seems tired or hot.

I'd rather see you and your dog live to play another day.