Make a splash: Safely swim, boat, and play in the water with your dog
Some dogs take to the water like they were born to splash, while others require some encouragement. Still, others may exhibit a more feline attitude towards even the smallest drops of water.
To paraphrase the old saying about horses, you can lead a dog to water, but you can’t make them enjoy a swim. The best advice when it comes to pets and bodies of water or pools is to take things slow this summer and gauge your pet’s enjoyment incrementally — one paw at a time.
Introducing a slightly hesitant dog to the water for the first time is very similar to introducing them to any other big, new, and potentially scary or overwhelming environment or situation. It requires a slow and steady process of desensitization.
Allowing your dog time to explore the water's edge, as well as using praise and playtime as both encouragement and reward can help a dog feel more confident at the shore line.
“When you're at the cottage or wherever, it's trying to encourage them to step into the water first before they dive right in. Make that a positive thing by playing fetch, where you throw a toy into the shallow water. That’s a good one because they’re trying to get this high-value toy out of the water or the stick out of the water. They have to step in and that's a good way to desensitize them,” says Dr. Schuilenberg.
Even though it may have been a favourite method of sitcom dads in the 1950s, he doesn’t support throwing your dog into the deep end to see if they sink or swim.
Whether they are new to water or a strong swimmer, it’s also good to equip your dog with a life jacket, providing added safety for both them and you. This will not only provide floatation support, but high visibility, as well as easy-to-grab handles if you need to hold onto your pet.
As with any apparel, ask an ACE for help with sizing and ensure your pet is used to the jacket (think: positive rewards and treats) well before hitting the water.
Finally, if you have a dog who just doesn’t enjoy a swim, you might simply have to accept their decision to be anti-water. “Sometimes you do everything that you can and they just don't want to go in the water. They don't like it,” says Dr. Schuilenberg.
Jackpot! You love the water and you’ve got a dog who loves the water too. Unfortunately, there are a couple of parasites who also love water.
“A lot of dogs will pick up Giardia from water,” says Dr. Schuilenberg. “They can pick up Giardia, parasites, and other sorts of infections. A lot of these parasites are transmitted orally, so they get them by getting water in their mouth.”
If your dog does a lot of swimming, Dr. Schuilenberg recommends pet parents ask their vets for more frequent fecal testing to ensure that their dogs are parasite-free.
Also keep in mind that some dogs may be prone to ear infections if they spend a lot of time in water. Swimmer's ear is more common in dogs with floppy ears, as they trap moisture and bacteria.
Regular inspections, cleaning and drying of the ear goes a long way to keeping your dog comfortable.
Water play essentials
Your local Pet Valu store carries products that can make time in the water with your pet a little safer and a lot more fun.
From life jackets for pets who love a lazy float or exciting boat ride to floating toys that are perfect for playing fetch in the water to water-proof collars, it’s easy to make summer at a lake (or other body of water) special.
Coat care can also be a concern for pups who love to get in the water. “A lot of the double-coated breeds like golden retrievers and others with really thick hair coats will go swimming and then can develop hotspots if they're not dried off properly,” Dr. Schuilenberg says.
“A hotspot typically happens when all that water is trapped right under the thick fur coat, right next to the skin. Bacteria grows there and then can lead to these really horrible and painful sores that usually need antibiotics and treatment.”
Drying your dog thoroughly with towels (you may need more than one) and going over their coat carefully with a brush and a detangling product can help to prevent this.