The first thing to consider is that not all dogs like water or swimming. Some dogs would much rather watch you enjoy the pool than jump in with you. It’s important not to try to force a dog to swim on a regular basis. However, if you have a pool, you should teach your dog to swim regardless of whether or not your dog likes the water. This is not to be cruel or impose your will. It’s simply a matter of safety. If your dog falls into the pool and can’t swim, the result could be disastrous.
Your pool can also help to keep your dog safe in hot climates by keeping him cool. Dogs can enjoy your pool as much as you do and often even more! Follow the tips below to keep him safe while in and around the pool.
Manage Your Pool Area Space
Building codes in most areas require that all new pool installations include a fabric safety barrier around the pool to prevent children from inadvertently falling into the pool and drowning. Until you are 100% sure that your dog knows his way out of the pool (see below), consider using a fabric barrier to prevent your four-legged family member from falling into your pool.
You can take the fence down when you are in the pool area to keep an eye on your dog. Most of the same safety rules you would follow for your kids apply to your dog. The most important is to never leave your dog unattended in the pool area without a barrier installed. Your dog will likely be active on the pool deck between dips and while you are swimming so try to keep the pool deck free of objects that your dog could trip on. Is your pool deck slippery? If it is slippery for you, it’s slippery for your dog. Dogs can injure joints and break bones just like humans. Maintain your pool deck to prevent slips, falls and other injuries.
Don’t assume a screen pool cage will contain your dog. If your dog sees a small animal or something that causes him to run, he can go right through a screen. Make sure you have a strong and tall fence around your pool area that is capable of containing your dog.
Keep your pool as full as possible. Dogs who panic and try to exit the pool from somewhere else besides the steps can do so more easily when the water level is close to the pool deck. Be careful not to overfill your pool, as the filtration system may not function properly if you do.
Manage Your Dog, Family and Friends
- Well meaning family and friends can be a source of stress and a potential danger to your dog. If your dog prefers not to swim, make sure you inform them of this so that they don’t try to make him enter the pool. This could be stressful for your dog and cause him to be more fearful of the water
- If you have a lot of people in the pool and your dog joins in, put a life jacket with a handle on him — this will help keep him safe if he panics and will make it easier to get him out if he tries to exit somewhere other than at the steps.
- Ask the adults to keep an eye on the dog making sure he doesn’t try to exit the pool anywhere except at the steps (see training below) — if there is a lot of activity in the pool, your dog might get agitated and forget where to exit.
- If you think the activity is going to be too much for your dog, put him away in a safe place while your guests are in the pool– a properly configured crate can be a sanctuary for your dog.
- Discuss pool safety for your dog with your kids and make sure they understand that handling the dog in the pool is to be avoided.
- Watch out for signs of fatigue or exhaustion in your dog. Swimming is tiring for a dog and they may not realize how exhausted they are. Encourage rest periods and to drink from a fresh water bowl instead of drinking from the pool. If your dog is playing fetch in the pool, try to limit the play session time to reduce risk of Water Intoxication (see below).
Train Your Dog to Exit the Pool Safely
Most dogs take to swimming naturally. However, do not assume your dog can swim. There are some breeds that can’t swim at all and if they fall into a pool, they will sink straight to the bottom.
If a dog falls into a body of water, it will naturally try to exit at the point where it entered. So, if your dog falls into your pool, he will try to exit at the same spot. Most dogs cannot exit a pool anywhere other than at the steps so you will need to train your dog to exit at the steps regardless of where he jumps or falls in. Following these simple training steps will make the pool a much safer place for your dog:
- Conduct these exercises with a leash attached to your dogs collar and use the leash as the guide instead of grabbing the collar directly
- Put a life jacket with a handle on your dog so that you can pick him up easily if required
- Using the handle on the life jacket, place your dog in the pool from the steps so that he sees the steps as his point of entry. He will naturally exit at the steps. If he goes in another direction, gently guide him to the steps with the leash. Repeat this several times until he always exits at the steps without guidance
- Place your dog into the pool using the life jacket handle at various locations around the edge of the pool. Use the leash to guide him safely to the steps to exit. Repeat until he automatically goes to the steps without guidance.
Be mindful of your dog’s state through each step. Don’t push to hard. If your dog is anxious or afraid, stop and try again later.
Know the Signs of Water Intoxication
It’s hard to believe but drinking too much water can be dangerous and potentially fatal to your dog. It’s not a commonly known condition but if your dog is crazy about water and swimming, you need to know how to watch out for symptoms. When a dog swims, he drinks lots of water especially if his mouth is open carrying a ball, stick or toy. If he drinks too much, he may be at risk of suffering from Water Intoxication (hyponatremia). The condition occurs when a dog’s blood sodium level falls to low because of excessive water intake. The dog’s cells try to take in water to balance the blood level. This can cause serious health risks. Here are symptoms to watch out for (Lotz):
- Loss of coordination
- Increased salivation
- Pale gums
- Dilated pupils
- Glazed eyes
- Later stage symptoms can include difficulty breathing, seizures and loss of consciousness
Smaller dogs may be at higher risk along with very active dogs that are likely to spend more time in the water and therefore may intake more water. Don’t let this stop you from having your dog play in the pool, as it’s a relatively uncommon problem. Watch out for symptoms and try to limit your dog’s water time to reduce the risk.
Be Prepared with Pool Safety Tools
Having a few safety tools around your pool can help keep you and your dog safe in an emergency.
A life jacket for your dog reduces drowning risk and helps to prevent exhaustion.
A rescue hook can help you guide a panicking dog or human to the pool exit without risk of the rescuer being pulled down by the victim.
A fabric safety fence will help prevent accidental falls into the pool
A pool entry alarm can alert you if your dog enters the pool when unsupervised. These devices sense entry into the pool and sound an alarm when the water moves.
There are additional safety devices available including collars that sense water immersion and sound a remote alarm when submerged. Do some research and decide what tools are appropriate for your pool area.
Pool safety for dogs requires many of the same common sense considerations as pool safety for humans. This article discusses some of the risks posed to your dog when around a pool but don’t let that stop you from letting your dog swim. Pools are a great source of fun and can be a much-needed cool break for your fur coated friend in the summer months. Being informed, prepared and vigilant will help you and your pup enjoy pool time to its fullest!
Master Dog Behavioral Therapist & Trainer
Bark Busters Treasure Coast