Doggy Paddle

With the searing hot temperatures that we’ve been experiencing recently, we’ve all been looking for ways to cool off. It’s been too hot for dog walks in the daytime – early mornings or late nights have been our only options for a cooler wander – but even then it’s been pretty warm! My dogs have mostly been staying in the coolest parts of the house and sheltering from the overwhelming heat. It’s been hard for all of us so, with an added fur coat, it must be sweltering! Please, please don’t take dogs out when it’s really hot. They won’t get ill from missing a walk or two but there is a genuine danger of dogs suffering from heatstroke if they’re walked in very hot temperatures.

While it’s been hot, humans and dogs alike have felt the urge to immerse themselves in water – and why not? Taking a dip is the perfect way to cool down and it’s a good way to get some exercise when it’s too hot for a walk. But, just as we humans have been warned by the emergency services of the dangers of swimming in open water during a heatwave (sadly a number of people have lost their lives through swimming in lakes, quarries and rivers in the past week alone) I do have some warnings for pet owners too. I’m not trying to be a killjoy and I certainly wouldn’t discourage you and your furry friend from enjoying a cool swim, but there are some hazards to be aware of to make sure you do this safely.

Assuming your dog is confident in the water there are plenty of safe places for them to enjoy a dip. But, before you let them swim, make sure they’re happy with the situation and not nervous of the water. Take Fido for a little paddle in the shallows first and let them go in deeper in their own time; never force them into the water if they’re not keen. Dogs don’t need swimming lessons; most of them will instinctively know how to swim in their inimitable style (hence the name ‘doggy paddle!’) but they might need to take things slowly if they’ve not had much experience around water.

Where you can take your dog swimming?

Look out for the following locations for your four-legged friend to enjoy a safe swim:

– Streams or slow flowing rivers

– Sea (on a calm day in a safe area)

– Lakes (the shallower waters near the shore are a good place to start)

– Paddling pools at home (the kids love it when the family pet joins in the fun!)

Dangers to look out for:

Wherever you choose to go for a dip (whether it’s just for your dog or both of you – I wouldn’t blame you if you fancy jumping in too!) look out for the following dangers…

– Very deep water or steep sides which could make it difficult to get out

– Very cold water which can cause cramp and shock. Even if it’s a boiling hot day outside, water (especially deep or running water) can still be incredibly cold and the sudden difference between the two temperatures can lead to cramp and shock in both humans and dogs, causing panic and affecting breathing

– Hidden rocks or debris in the water which could be dangerous if jumping in, or cause injury whilst swimming

– Currents in rivers or the sea (be aware of the warning signs of rip tides if swimming in the sea)

– Blue-green algae – this is often found in still water like ponds or the edges of lakes and is more prolific during the hot weather when there’s been less rainfall. It’s not always obvious or visible unless there’s a very high concentration and it clumps together, when it gives the water a blue/green sheen and can look foamy or like pea soup. The Blue Cross has a comprehensive article about the dangers this toxic bacteria presents to animals, and you may spot signs from the Environment Agency in popular beauty spots warning of its presence, if it’s known. It is incredibly toxic to dogs (it can be fatal or cause long-term illness) so if you suspect your dog has swum in or drunk from contaminated water then wash them immediately and contact your vet.

Places to avoid: The PDSA suggest steering clear of the following places if you’re looking for a spot for your dog to take a dip:

– Canals (the water in canals is often stagnant and there’s a high risk that it may contain harmful bacteria and toxins)

– Reservoirs (these can be very deep and have strong undercurrents)

– Fast-flowing or flooded rivers (fast flowing rivers have strong currents that could easily drag even a competent canine swimmer downstream, and flooded rivers can contain all kinds of debris that could cause injury or get caught or tangled with your dog, pulling them under)

– Rough seas (stormy or rough seas or those with strong tides or crashing waves are certainly not a safe place for your dog to swim – the ocean is incredibly powerful!)

Water Sports

But, as I say, I’m not here to be a killjoy! Some time at the beach or a dip in a stream or lake can be a really enjoyable way of spending time with Fido, who’ll certainly thank you for the opportunity to splash about and cool off. Just make sure you’re aware of the risks and carefully consider the location of your water play. You’ll also need to be the sensible one and know when to call time on the fun – because dogs, much like toddlers, are notoriously bad at recognising the point when they’re becoming too tired to carry on. Given the chance, Fido may well continue swimming to the point of exhaustion so, if you see signs that energy levels are waning and your mutt is getting fatigued, get them back to dry land.

But, a swim isn’t the only way for you and your dog to enjoy the water together … you may have seen pictures of dogs partaking in surfing or happily sitting aboard paddleboards with their owners! This is becoming increasingly popular and can be another great way for you and your four-legged friend to spend some quality time together … however, getting Fido used to being a board-dweller can take some time and patience, so don’t expect your pal to just hop aboard if you’re away for a week near the coast and just trying out surfing or paddleboarding yourself for the first time!

Dogs that enjoy this pastime are likely to have been around the sea or water their whole lives and are comfortable with the sounds, the motion and the board itself. Owners can spend a long time training their dog and teaching specific commands to jump on and off the board, as well as making sure Fido sits in the right place, to ensure it’s a safe and enjoyableexperience for everyone. It’s also advisable to put your dog in a pet life jacket – and you can even get them ‘doggles’ (dog goggles!) too.

If you’re a regular boarder and want some tips on how to encourage your furry friend to participate, there’s lots of information online including step-by-step guides, videos or a book called ‘How to SUP with your pup’.

If you want to take things to the next level, believe it or not there’s even a ‘World Dog Surfing Championships’ in San Francisco Bay, California! Honestly! See for yourself: www.surfdogchampionships.com. The next event isn’t far away either, it’s on 6th August 2022, which is a shame because I don’t think Poppy and Betty will quite be ready in time… We’ll stick to a little paddle in the river, I think!

However you and your pup enjoy the water this summer, stay safe and have fun.

(Oh, and if you are heading to the beach with your pooch remember to take fresh water with you because, in the words of the famous poem, there’s ‘water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!’)