Water safety for dogs: tips for swimming and boating

January 23, 2024

As summer approaches and outdoor activities increase, ensuring the safety of our furry friends near water becomes paramount. Whether you’re planning to spend time by the pool, at the lake, or out on a boat, understanding water safety for dogs is essential. Dogs, much like humans, vary in their ability to swim and their comfort levels around water. Some may instinctively know how to swim, while others might be apprehensive or even at risk of drowning. In fact, ensuring your dog’s safety in and around water requires forethought, preparation, and vigilance. This article provides you with comprehensive advice on keeping your dog safe while swimming and boating.

Understanding Your Dog’s Swimming Abilities

Before you consider taking your dog near water, it’s important to understand their swimming abilities. Despite the popular belief that all dogs are natural swimmers, some breeds struggle more than others due to body shape, size, and other factors.

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The first step is to introduce your dog to water gradually. Start with shallow water and observe their reaction. For many dogs, swimming is an acquired skill. Encouragement and gentle guidance can help build their confidence. Remember, never force your dog into the water since this can cause fear and anxiety, potentially leading to a dangerous situation.

Observe your dog as they learn to swim. Are they paddling with all four legs, or do they seem to be struggling to keep their head above water? Dogs should swim with an even, smooth stroke. If your dog’s head is too low in the water or if they seem to panic, it’s time to step in and provide support.

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Life jackets for dogs are not just a cute accessory; they can be lifesaving. A well-fitted life vest can help keep your dog afloat and make them more visible. This is especially important for dogs new to swimming, those who tire easily, or breeds with short legs and heavy bodies.

Pool Safety for Your Pet

A pool can be a great place for dogs to enjoy water and stay cool, but it presents specific safety challenges. Dogs don’t instinctively know how to exit a pool, so you must teach them where and how to get out safely. Ensure they are familiar with the steps or ramp, and practice with them until they’re comfortable.

Never leave your dog unattended around a pool. Not all dogs will avoid water if they can’t swim, and even strong swimmers can become tired or get into trouble. Pool covers can be particularly dangerous as dogs may not recognize them as a barrier and could potentially get trapped underneath.

It’s also crucial to maintain a clean pool environment. Monitor chlorine levels to ensure they are safe for your dog. Excessive amounts of chlorine can irritate their skin and eyes. After a swim, rinse your dog off with fresh water to remove any residual chemicals.

One often overlooked hazard is blue-green algae in fresh water, which can be toxic to dogs. If you have a natural pool or pond, be vigilant about the water quality and watch for harmful algal blooms, especially during the warmer months.

Boating with Your Dog

Taking your dog on a boating adventure can be a fantastic experience, but additional precautions are necessary to keep them safe. Your dog should wear a life jacket at all times while on a boat. Make sure it’s snug but comfortable and provides enough buoyancy for your dog’s weight.

Introduce your dog to the boat when it’s docked to familiarize them with the environment. While on the water, keep your dog secured in a safe area to prevent them from falling overboard. If they do end up in the water, don’t jump in after them immediately. Instead, help guide them back to the safety of the boat or shore.

Boats can be slippery, and dogs may find it difficult to maintain their footing. Non-slip mats can help provide them with stability. Also, ensure your dog has access to shade and fresh water to prevent overheating.

If you’re going boating in saltwater, rinse your dog off at the end of the day to remove salt from their fur, which can be drying and cause irritation.

Teaching Your Dog Water Safety

The key to a safe and enjoyable time around water is teaching your dog water safety. This includes commands such as "stay," "come," and "leave it," which are particularly useful in and around water. Training your dog to respond reliably to these commands could potentially save their life.

Start training in a controlled environment and gradually introduce distractions. Consistent, positive reinforcement methods work best. Reward your dog for following commands and staying calm around water.

If you’re not confident in your dog’s swimming abilities, consider swimming lessons. Many pet organizations or local pools offer dog swimming classes, which can be an excellent investment in your dog’s safety and your peace of mind.

Remember also to educate yourself on canine first aid, including CPR. Knowing what to do in an emergency can make all the difference while waiting for professional help.

Preventing Water Intoxication

Water intoxication in dogs is a lesser-known but serious risk. It occurs when they ingest too much water, leading to a dangerous drop in sodium levels, which can result in lethargy, bloating, vomiting, and even seizures or coma.

To prevent water intoxication, monitor your dog’s time in the water and encourage breaks. Watch for signs of excessive swallowing or fatigue, and if you notice these signs, get your dog out of the water immediately and seek veterinary care.


Understanding your dog’s swimming abilities, ensuring pool safety, being prepared for boating, teaching water safety, and preventing water intoxication are all critical steps in keeping your dog safe around water. Always stay vigilant, equipped with the right knowledge and tools like life jackets, and you’ll help ensure your time around water is enjoyable and secure for your beloved pet. Remember to keep your furry friend’s safety a priority, and they will enjoy many happy, splash-filled adventures by your side.