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How to keep your dog safe in lakes and rivers

How to keep your dog safe in lakes and rivers


Summer’s finally here, and what better way to cool down your dog than with a refreshing dip in natural water? This guide explains the possible risks when swimming in the likes of lakes and rivers, and includes tips on dog swimming safety...

The best places for your dog to swim

Natural water can be great for swimming. Lakes and slow-moving rivers can be some of the safest places. Lakes are often tranquil and come with lots of safe, shallow areas for your dog to splash around in, while slow-moving rivers or streams are a calm place for your dog to take a dip.

Always keep an eye out for any boats – which can frighten your dog. They also cause dangerous undercurrents that can unexpectedly sweep your dog away.

Where shouldn’t you take your dog swimming?

Here’s a rundown of places you should avoid when taking your dog for a swim:

  1. Stagnant ponds, canals or pools of water – the stagnant water here likely contains toxins and pollutants
  2. Reservoirs – they may seem harmless enough, but often have some very strong undercurrents
  3. Fast-flowing water – the rapid currents can cause dogs to be swept away
  4. Flood waters – these are often full of debris which can injure your dog

Does your dog need to be a good swimmer to go in a lake or river?

Despite what you may think, not all dogs can swim! Bigger dogs like Labradors and Golden Retrievers tend to take to the water with ease. On the other hand, dogs with shorter legs – like Pugs, Bulldogs and Dachshunds – often struggle to stay afloat.

You can still take your dog for a dip even if they’re not the best swimmer! We recommend using a dog life jacket like the FloatCoat™ from Ruffwear. The extra buoyancy will help your dog feel supported in the water. Swimming is a great low-impact way for your dog to get exercise while reducing the pressure on their joints.

How to notice a strong current

Even if your dog is a confident swimmer, they can still be swept away. Here’s a few tips on how to spot a strong current:

  • Look at the submerged rocks. You can usually tell how quickly the water is moving by how fast it’s flowing into them.
  • Throw a stick into the stream. If the current is strong, the stick will be swiftly swept away by the rapid gushing water.
  • Opt for a bendy stream. Meandering rivers – as opposed to straight ones – typically have slower waterflows.

    Our top dog swimming safety tips

    Stop your dog from swimming off

    The excitement of being in the water – paired with the longing to swim after a ball or chase a duck – may result in your dog ignoring your commands. Before heading off for a swim in, go over some recall training techniques to ensure your dog keeps coming back to you.

    Make sure your dog can get in and out of the water

    If your dog’s desperate to play a game of fetch in a river or lake, we recommend that you get in there with them! That way, they can swim back to you instead of jumping in and out of the water. This can put additional pressure on the joints – especially in ageing or stiff dogs. For extra support for your dog's joints, we'd always recommend our YuMOVE Joint Care supplement range.

    Look out for anything strange in the water

    Consider the likelihood of any hazardous objects that might be lurking under the surface, such as broken glass, sharp branches or scrap metal. Plus, warmer weather means more blue-green algae in many lakes, rivers and ponds. It’s extremely toxic for dogs and can even be fatal. Our expert blue-green algae guide covers all the information you need to know about this toxic bacteria.

    Check your dog from head to tail

    Once home, brush out your dog’s coat and do a thorough check for any ticks or cuts. You should take extra steps to make sure your dog’s ears are completely dry, too. Water left in this area – especially in dogs with big, floppy ears – could lead to infection.

    Looking for some brilliant summer swimming spots? Take a look at our guide to the best dog-friendly beaches in the UK. Or, if you’re looking for something new and exciting to do, check out some of our favourite summer activities for dogs.

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