Login Login

Connect with us.

Join thousands of pet parents and get vet-approved guidance, product reviews, exclusive deals, and more!

7 Steps to Prep Your Dog for Swimming

dog wears life jacket
Skip To

Even though there is a swim stroke named after them, not all dogs know how to doggy paddle. It is a common misconception that all dogs know how to swim instinctively. Most dogs need to be taught how to even enter the water, let alone swim.  

And although swimming can provide hours of exercise and entertainment for you and your water-loving dog, safety should always come first. Here are seven dog swimming tips to keep your pet as safe as possible when in or around the water.

7 Dog Swimming Tips

Get your dog comfortable near and in the water.

dogs on leash splash in water

Some dogs will naturally jump off a deck into a lake or run across the beach and into the ocean. Others may be fearful of the water and hesitant to even get their feet wet.  

When exposing your dog to water the first time, be sure to spend some time reading her body language. Is she afraid? Is she excited? It is not recommended to just throw her into the pool and let her sink or swim, as this may ruin her future experiences forever. Instead, slowly introduce your dog to the water and see how she reacts. Some dogs will go in, no questions asked. Others may look to their pet parent for comfort or assurance. If the latter is the case for your dog, try easing her into the water and stay by her side. 

Your dog may not trust the water. You may need to show her that you’re okay once you’re in it, at which point she may follow. You can try to entice her to enter the water with her favorite treat. You may also need to carry her in and hold her to provide security in this new environment. Just be cautious that if she fights or flails to get away and back to stable ground, she could hurt you in the process, scratching or clawing at you for help. And if your dog is not okay with the whole idea of water, you may just need to accept the fact that it’s not for her. Don’t force her, as it may put her or you in harm’s way.

Teach your dog where to get in and out of the water.  

It is important to indicate safe passage in and out of the pool, lake, or ocean for your dog. If there are steps in the pool or a ladder, you can teach her to use them to properly exit. If there is a pier stretching out over a lake, but you don’t want her to jump off, teach her to walk into the lake rather than plunging in. If there is a dangerous area of the beach, teach her to stay away from that area and keep her in a safe place. You should also watch out for rip currents so you and your dog can avoid getting stuck.  

Be aware of naturally occurring dangers in water.

dog swims in lake

Besides rip currents, there are other naturally occurring dangers in different bodies of water. For instance, lakes and ponds may have blue-green algae or other parasites. Dogs can develop blue-green algae poisoning from drinking or simply swimming in contaminated water. Blue-green algae occurs naturally in bodies of fresh water when the weather is warm (over 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and sunny. 

When swimming in rivers, be cautious of dangerous debris, rocks, and currents hidden under the water. Swimming dogs can also be exposed to a variety of water-borne illnesses, such as leptospirosis and giardia. And for those who live in the Pacific Northwest, watch out for your hungry dog eating any fish that are swimming upstream. Fish have certain parasites that can be transmitted to your pooch or can cause Salmon Poisoning Disease. The disease is seen most commonly in salmon but can be found in other fish that swim upstream to breed. 

Before letting your dog in the water, always be aware of the water temperature, to avoid hypothermia. Dogs should not be allowed to go in water under 50 degrees Fahrenheit, although certain breeds cannot tolerate even that cold. Similarly, you should not let your dog swim in water that is too warm, as it could lead to hyperthermia. The water temperature should not exceed her body temperature (about 101-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

Invest in a dog life jacket.

Boating can be fun with your dog sitting by your side, though there are many precautions to consider before letting her on board. First, your dog should always wear a life vest whenever she is on a boat, whether the boat is moving or docked. Dogs can potentially slip overboard or launch themselves off the side for a swim, so be sure that your dog is safely clipped into her floatation device.  

It is also a good idea to keep a doggy first aid kit on your vessel, in case of emergency, while you are away from shore. You never know when that clumsy canine will catch herself on something sharp, like a fishhook, or bump into something when you hit a wave. It’s best to be prepared ahead of time so you can address any situation that arises.  

Watch out for potential beach hazards.

woman plays with dogs on beach

Even though the beach is a great source of fun, there are many dangers for dogs there, both on land and in the water. Sand itself can be an issue for your pet, depending on her coat type. It may become embedded in her fur and cause irritation to her skin, or even cause infection if she is not rinsed off and cleaned properly. You should also watch out for shells and rocks that can cut or lacerate your dog’s paw pads as she sprints down the beach chasing that seagull. 

The ocean can be a very dangerous place if we let our guard down, so be familiar with the area you are taking your dog to swim, and keep an eye out for jellyfish or other creatures, like crabs, that could hurt her. Never turn your back on the ocean, and always know where your dog is in case she needs to be rescued.  

Consider your dog’s general health.  

Before your dog goes swimming, be sure your best friend is healthy and happy. She should be up to date on vaccines, as it is likely you may run into other water-loving dogs during your adventures. She should also be on year-round, broad-spectrum parasite protection. Areas near water, such as beaches and lakes, are ideal environments for fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, especially grassy areas, like sand dunes. This puts your pet at risk for vector-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and heartworm. Your dog could also be exposed to intestinal parasites like hookworms, which thrive in warm, moist environments.

Dogs also tend to overexert themselves while playing in the water, as they may not be conditioned for long stints of swimming and running. Be sure to keep a close eye on your dog’s breathing and the color of her gums, and keep her well hydrated. Your dog’s gums should be pink. If they are dark red, then your dog is overheated and needs to rest. Certain breeds may not tolerate heavy exercise, such as English Bulldogs, and their health can become quickly compromised if they overdo it. 

Make sure to take frequent breaks, offer your dog fresh water, and know when enough is enough.

Remember that after-care is as important as preparation.

dog shakes off water

After a fun day frolicking in the water, you’ll need to take care of a few of your dog’s basic health needs. First, rinse her thoroughly to remove any sand, salt, debris, and bugs. It is also recommended that you brush out her coat to catch any lingering plant matter or tangled up knots before they dry on their own and become matted and irritated.

You will also need to dry out your dog’s ear canals. If water got in your dog’s ears while swimming, she could potentially get an ear infection. A warm, moist environment, like a wet ear canal, is perfect for breeding bacteria and infection. So be sure to proactively swab out her ears with some dry cotton balls to help avoid any issues. Your veterinarian can also recommend a proper ear cleaner for your dog.

Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you and your canine companion will be prepared for plenty of fun (and safe) water adventures together.

Interceptor Plus Indications

Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.

Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information

Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.

Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus, for her services in writing this article. 

Interceptor is a trademark of Elanco or its affiliates.

© 2020 Elanco.  PM-US-20-0714

Back to top