As the owner of two purebred Newfoundlands, I was ecstatic about the idea of taking my dogs to the lake each summer. These dogs are specifically bred for water rescue. Yet like most pet owners, I didn't think about the fact that swimming is just not an innate skill that all dogs have ingrained in their DNA.

In fact, most dogs have to learn to swim just like humans. Even more surprising, is that it's actually not safe for some breeds to be in water that's too deep for them to stand in.

Not All Dogs Can Swim

Jolynn Payne, owner and trainer at Rocking Paw Dog Training & Kennels (CPDT-KA, AASC), stresses that it's important to always research the breed characteristics of your pets before putting them in certain situations.

"There are breeds out there that have shorter legs and heavier heads or bodies such as English bulldogs, frenchies, dachshunds, and even corgis," said Payne. "Their legs might not be powerful enough to keep their bodies afloat. Our bulldogs have heavier heads, which makes them sink much more easily, and it doesn’t take much to fill their lungs with those short snouts.”

Bulldog 2
Credit: Jolynn Payne, Rocking Paw Dog Training & Kennels
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Swimming can also be a struggle for older dogs who have never had the chance to try their paws at swimming, as well as obese animals and those with a compromised anatomy (those animals with missing limbs or that have experienced some sort of physical trauma). That's not to say that these pups cannot enjoy some time splashing around in the water. It just means you need to take precautions to protect them, just as you would a child.

Train Your Pups & Invest in Safety Gear

Payne advises two methods of ensuring your furry friend’s safety.

"For our dogs that are not very good swimmers, or those that just don’t have the legs or are heavy headed, they can enjoy water with a life jacket," she said. "Most pet stores sell life vests for pets, along with online companies like Chewy.com. Make sure you size them appropriately so they don’t slip out of the safety device."

Dog Life Vests
Credit: Matt Seymour on Unsplash
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Second, just like training your dog to sit or stay, take the time to work with your dogs in the water. It's a no-brainer to have your child take swimming lessons, so dive in with your dog to help guide them until they gain their sea legs.

Even breeds like Payne's golden retrievers need a bit of guidance when first entering a body of water where they can’t touch the bottom. She states that the first time they visited a lake, her dog Ember needed some direction.

"My water loving dog forgot about her back end. She had her front end up, but she was splashing frantically," Payne said. "Since I was already in the water with her, I eased her back end up and she started swimming with ease.”

Golden Retriever
Photo Credit: Jolynn Payne, Rocking Paw Dog Training & Kennels
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Other Safety Tips

While this isn't a concern in the summer here in Texas, when visiting cold weather climates or in the fall and winter months, make sure the water isn't too cold. There's a misconception that all dogs can handle the chilly conditions thanks to their fur coats. While my girls have double coats that protect them against these extreme elements, other breeds do not have this built-in defense mechanism.

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The American Animal Hospital Association states that swimming, especially in frigid waters, can lead to a condition called limber tail, otherwise known as swimmer’s tail. Since this appendage helps your pup to effectively navigate the water, you need to watch the temperature and ensure that you don’t start with rigorous swimming sessions if this is their first time in a large body of water. These factors can hinder their ability to swim for long periods of time and can increase their risk of drowning when they're too far from shore.

Swimming Dogs 2
Photo Credit: Jolynn Payne, Rocking Paw Dog Training & Kennels
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Additionally, when heading out on scenic hikes, beach trips or even just to lakes in the region, check the area for sharp objects, other animals and changes in water depth. Moreover, look for irregular colors that you don’t normally see in nature.

In 2019, Austin began reporting dog deaths related to blue-green algae blooms that contain life-threatening bacteria. You want the water to be clear of debris and abnormal plant life.

Finally, always supervise your pets. Even if they are in perfect shape, your pups can get tired after long periods of activity and while in the heat. This makes it extremely important to always ensure their safety and monitor them while they are in and around water.

The dog days of summer will be here before we know it. Be safe and have fun!

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