It might not get a lot of attention, but dogs do drown. Drownings can occur even among breeds that take naturally to the water, such as retrievers and poodles. The heartbreak and guilt owners feel when they discover their beloved pooch’s body lifeless in the pool can be overwhelming, so do yourself and your dog a favor and observe pool safety. In addition, you can use your pool to teach your dog commands that will keep it safer when you go out to lakes and other natural bodies of water.
The Dog Paddle
Despite common wisdom, not all dogs know how to paddle in the water, or can do so only clumsily. Don’t assume your dog can keep itself afloat on its first trip into the pool. Your inexperienced (or panicked) dog might concentrate so much on its front legs that it forgets to use the back two. This kind of swimming is inefficient and can quickly exhaust the animal, which can lead to distress and drowning if not prevented.
The answer is to introduce your dog gently into the pool by holding it in your arms. You’ll want to support its back legs as he gets the hang of swimming. A doggie life vest is also a great idea, as it will save the dog a lot of energy trying to stay afloat. Eventually, your pet should begin using its back legs and splash around less.
Certain breeds are not built for effective swimming, but can be taught to enjoy the water nonetheless. If you have a corgi, pug, bulldog or other breed with short legs and broad chests, don’t expect them to be graceful swimmers. Bully breeds and other heavily muscled dogs may expend too much energy when swimming and exhaust themselves quickly. When a breed is both muscular and skinny, such as greyhounds and whippets, they have little body fat to remain buoyant and they are still prone to exhaustion. In all these cases, get a well-fitted life jacket for your dog and remember to always make sure it is properly fastened.
Is Your Dog a Fatso?
Swimming is good exercise, especially for dogs that don’t care for long walks or runs. Sedentary (and/or overfed) dogs can become portly and need ways to burn calories. How do you know if your dog is overweight? Well, if you don’t believe your eyes, ask your vet about it, and about how much exercise you should give your pet. You don’t want to overdo it at first, because an out-of-shape dog will tire quickly in the water. Begin modestly and slowly build up the dog’s swim time. If you suddenly introduce heavy exercise to a sedentary dog, it might suffer from muscle stiffness and soreness the next day. Even if your dog loves swimming, give it an occasional break to rest up, especially if it’s an older animal. Be on the lookout for dogs that show fatigue (their behinds will ride lower in the water) or overstimulation (frenetic movements and wide eyes). Overexertion can even lead to heat stroke on a hot day, even though the water is relatively cool. If the dog is panting, get it out of the pool and into the air conditioning. If you suspect heat stroke, get your dog to the veterinarian right away. It’s a good idea to ask your vet about the warning signs of heat stroke.
For safety sake, you’ll want a fence around your pool that your dog can’t scale, and a gate it can’t open. If you have a breed that can jump over any reasonable fence, use a pool cover when the pool is not in use. The cover should be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of a heavy dog. Purchase floats for the pool and show your dog how to use them. A rope across the deep end can help dogs that suddenly tire. Your pool should also have a set of shallow stairs that the dog can use to get in and out comfortably. Put a large red kerchief or other easily visible marker around the step rail so that your dog can spot it if it gets into a panic.
Finally, you’ll want to teach you dog to respond to commands to stop and return. This can be a mix of verbal cues, whistles and hand gestures. By training your dog to come back to you in the pool, you can help avoid more serious problems when you go out to a lake. Don’t be afraid to enlist a trainer to help teach your dog how to swim, use the stairs and respond to commands. With proper training and support, you dog will get years of enjoyment from your backyard pool.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.