by Kathy Dannel Vitcak 5 min read


It is finally summer here in northern Minnesota, after the winter that would not end, and our dogs are all enjoying toasting their tummies to the sun.

While it feels fabulous to them (and me), too much summer fun is no good for anyone – two-legged or four! Let’s hit some of the high points of dog water safety tips for safe fun at the lake, pool or beach.


Nope, not every dog can swim. Contrary to what your know-it-all buddy says, not every dog is born knowing how to dog paddle. A group of Newfoundland dog owners often come to our resort to train their dogs in water rescue techniques. (Yeah, it is a BLAST). Not even every Newfie knows how to swim naturally!

Take is slow and easy that first time you and your dog venture into the water. Walk him slowly into the water beside you while on lead. Make it fun and let him get used to the water at his own pace. Lots of positive reinforcement and fun! Do not let your sister’s jerk boyfriend throw him in or push him off the dock or side of the pool.

Like we talked about earlier, while all dogs will instinctively dog paddle when they get in the water, they won’t all naturally swim. In the beginning you see dogs really working their front legs and forgetting to use their back legs to swim with. That gets them tired and FAST. Splashing and thrashing is the hallmark of this stage.

To teach them to use their rear legs, hold them under their belly and support them as you would a child and encourage them to kick their back legs. Most will naturally do so when they feel safer, which your holding accomplishes!

Be patient and support them until they seem to get the hang of it. Keep an eye on your dog, even if other summer fun is calling you. Of course, if that Alcide guy from True Blood shows up at the beach, stop any lessons and ask him to help you teach your dog to swim. Not interested in Joe Manganiello? Insert your choice of distraction.

If your dog starts dropping his rear while he swims, even if he is usually a strong swimmer, he is getting tired and time for some rest and recharging. For the novice swimmer, be sure and end any lessons on a positive note with lots of praise and pets.

If your dog is a heavy bodied or short-legged dog they are further compromised by not being built like a dolphin. Our Frenchies usually swim like bowling balls, yep, they SINK. If you have a dog that falls into those categories, make 100% sure they have a life jacket when around bodies of water. Your pet store should have tons of them to choose from or check out French Bulldog Rescue Network’s Shop

French Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, are just a few of the breeds that do not usually swim very well. As a rule, anything flat faced, barrel chested or short-legged is not going to be a swimming natural.


First and foremost, never allow any dog unattended access to a swimming pool! Accident waiting to happen, no matter how strong a swimmer they are.

Teach your dog how to enter and exit the pool using the steps. Put something by the steps to act as a reminder for where the exit is for your dog, one website I stumbled upon suggested a potted plant. Dogs can become disoriented and frantic if they get tired or cannot get out and forget where the steps are.

Now is a good time to reinforce the common sense of teaching your dog to STAY. A solid stay can give you time to get in the pool or help your grandmother out before the 110 pound Lab leaps in.

Try to keep them from drinking the pool water, chlorine does us no good inside or out. That rolls into – rinse your dog off after they swim in a pool to get the drying chlorine off their skin and coat. No need for a full bath (unless they need it), a rinse with the hose is enough.

Tip: Make sure nails are trimmed so your dog does not scratch when playing in the water or swimming with you.


All the tips and hints from above are applicable for natural bodies of water with a few extras. Also, while we may love having our dogs with us, sometimes it is just better to leave them at home. A 12-hour day at the beach will be too much for any French Bulldog I know! They will be safer and it will be less stress for everyone. Geesh, I sound like a big old party pooper!

Gotta say it, make sure dogs are allowed in any public waters you are swimming in – follow the rules of good doggie water fun.

Ocean beaches are fabulous fun, just make sure your dog does not swim out too far. Beware of undertows and dare I say it…shark warnings. Of course, your dog have a life jacket and plenty of shade to rest in as needed. Check with authorities or lifeguards on any ocean beaches you and your dog visit for canine specific tips or rules. A good rule of thumb is to always keep your dog on lead.

Steams and rivers are to be entered with caution, by dogs and people. Currents can surprise you and knock you and your dog off your feet and sweep you away. Defer to local experts on proper swimming conditions for any moving bodies of water.

Lakes can be great fun for many dogs. But even Labs and Golden Retrievers can get tired after the 1010th jump off of the dock. Keep an eye on them to ensure they are not over doing their water fun.

Show them where you want them to enter and leave the lake, just as you would a pool.

One year we had an older Lab here at the resort who swam so much and went back and forth from the beach to deeper water, that he abraded his pads! His poor feet were a bit raw from running on the sand in the lake.

Gotta say it, watch out for boats! What may seem like common sense to YOU (watch out for my dog, guy in the $30,000 bass boat) may not to the guy in the bass boat. Call or bring your dog into you when boats approach.

Summer water fun with your dog can create some of the best memories EVER. Throwing the ball into the lake as you sit with your feet in the water and watching your grinning Border Collie retrieve it over and over…and OVER is a blast. Watching your Lab jump off the dock for the first time and realizing he was BORN to do that is another quintessential summer fun moment. Putting your mom’s Shih Tzu in a life jacket and floating with him on a water raft is a hoot! By remembering these few canine water safety tips and hints you can have a SAFE and FUN summer with your dog.

water safety dogs lake


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