A very sad article was recently sent my way regarding a five-year-old Labrador Retriever that went for a summer swim in a Minnesota lake. Unbeknownst to the parents, the lake contained blue-green algae (algae that produce harmful toxins). Within hours after swimming, this otherwise healthy and vibrant Labrador Retriever died. The article prompted me to write a helpful blog regarding swimming safety tips for our canine companions so that we can enjoy our summers and prevent as many accidents as possible.

Helpful tips

No matter where you are heading to take a quick dip (the pool, ocean, or lake), here are a few helpful things to keep in mind:

  1. Not all dogs know how to swim. Don’t just toss your dog in and hope that instincts take over. Many dogs need to ease into swimming. Certain breeds (such as bulldogs and pugs) are not built to be naturally strong swimmers, so you may need to train them in the art of doggy paddling.
  2. Swimming is exhausting. Make sure you keep a close eye on your furry friend and stop before true exhaustion hits. Dogs don’t always know when to stop having fun! An exhausted dog is a recipe for disaster, so call it quits before your dog reaches this point.
  3. Make sure you provide plenty of clean drinking water. Pools, lakes, ponds, and especially the ocean may provide fun water to play in, but this water is not for drinking. Between the heat of the day and the energy it takes to swim, your dog will need to refuel and recharge frequently with fresh water.

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Location specific recommendations

Now that we have hit the main points for all swimming, here are a few location specific recommendations:


  1. Dogs do not instinctively know how to use the stairs to exit a pool. This lesson needs to be taught (sometimes over and over again), to ensure your dog knows how to safely climb out of the pool.
  2. Don’t allow your dog to go swimming without you. Many drownings or dry drownings stem from unsupervised access to the pool.
  3. Be cautious if kids are playing in the pool at the same time. Dogs can accidentally injure or drown young kids while "playing."

The ocean

  1. Dogs do not understand currents. Be aware of changing weather and wave patterns to make sure your canine companion doesn’t get swept away.
  2. Seawater is very upsetting to the GI tract. Make sure you provide plenty of freshwater to drink and discourage any saltwater drinking.
  3. Keep an eye out for other species that are naturally in the ocean. Dogs don’t understand that crabs and jellyfish aren’t play toys and that they can be harmful.


  1. Stagnant water sources are the perfect place for toxic algae to set up shop. If you wouldn’t want your kids swimming in a water source, don’t let your canine companion. Toxic algae come in all different colors and can be difficult to detect. Heed any and all local warnings.
  2. Be careful of debris that may be in the water before letting your dog jump off the dock. Fallen tree branches and broken water toys can be dangerous to you and your pet.
  3. Watch out for local residents. Depending on where you live, you may have to watch out for wildlife (alligators, bears, snapping turtles, etc.). These friends don’t always enjoy sharing their space…

No matter where you are heading, take a few minutes to assess the situation and try to prevent any accidents. Just as important is to make sure you are as prepared as possible to handle any accident that comes your way. This is a great time to sign up for a doggie CPR class, or perhaps invest in that doggie flotation device you’ve been researching. With a little preparation and a keen eye out for prevention, everyone can enjoy the local watering hole!

Aug 7, 2014
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