As summer approaches, dog water safety is often the last thing on your mind. But dogs can drown in just minutes, and thousands lose their life every year to preventable accidents. As a professional dog trainer, I've personally witnessed the devastation a family goes through when a fun day at the beach with the dog takes a tragic turn, or when a family returns home to find their beloved pet drowned in the pool. Here are some tips to keep your dog safe while enjoying fun activities near the water this summer:
Where ever your child would wear a life preserver, so should your dog.
It's as simple as that. Any time your dog is near fast moving water, on a boat, or playing in the ocean, he should have a life vest on. Even strong water breeds like Labs can get caught in a riptide, strong current, or fall overboard. Not only is this life threatening to the dog but it can endanger a family as well. In November of 2012, three members of a northern California family died trying to save their dog that was swept out to sea by a big wave.
All vests should have reflective stripes to help with visibility, quick release buckles, and, most importantly, a large nylon handle on the top of the vest to make it easier to snatch your dog out of the water. Have your dog wear the vest at home to ensure that it not only fits correctly but to also give your dog time to get use to it. You don't want him battling his life vest as he is trying to swim to safety.
The steps to safety:
The most dangerous body of water for a dog is the family pool -- not because dogs aren't able to swim, but because they can't find the steps to get out of the pool. They will paddle at the point where they fell in until they are exhausted and drown, even if the stairs are just a few feet away. To teach your dog how to get out of the pool, take him in and out of the pool several times. Give him lots of praise as he starts to find the stairs on his own. As he gets more comfortable, take him further and further away from the stairs until he can be anywhere in the pool but still know how to get out. Dogs have poor depth perception so you can also mark the exit with a large pot or piece of furniture. This will make finding the stairs easier in a crisis. If you have a small pup that wouldn't be able to get out even if he knows where the stairs are, then buy a non-slip ramp, teach your pup how to use it, and leave it in your pool.
Unless your pool cover is strong enough to hold your body weight, then your dog should NEVER be allowed near your covered pool. If your pup falls in, he will either get tangled in the cover or lose his bearing if he slips underneath. If your dog must be left unattended while your pool has this type of covering, then install a fence. It may cost extra money, but your pup's life is priceless.
Keeping your dog safe on the open water:
If you are taking your dog on a boat with you, he should always have a safe place to be. Boat decks are slippery, especially for paws. If the boat is underway, keep your dog on leash and stay with him. We can see what turns are coming, he can't, and a quick shift in direction can send even the most sure-footed pup overboard.
"Come" is the most critical command to teach any dog. If you teach your dog nothing else, teach him this. It will save his life one day. If your dog responds reliably to your command, you could call him away from a rogue wave, help direct him in a strong current, or guide him to the stairs of a pool. He will thank you, and you'll never have to endure the pain of losing your pup to a preventable accident.