So you want to introduce your dog to boating, swimming or going to the beach, you will want to do so carefully and have a plan, so that the experience is an enjoyable and safe one for both you and your dog. Both of my dogs are interested in the water, but not big swimmers. Every water situation is different and it all depends on the location.
The Beach: Most dogs are afraid of the waves that roll onto the beach, so in order to get your dogs comfortable with the water at the beach, go on days that are flat, with no waves. This gives your dogs the confidence to just walk into the water and swim around. Large, loud crashing waves are too much for a beginner. Be extremely cautious of sea creatures that will consider your dog . . . food. Most sharks feed in the early morning during sunrise and also again during sunset.
Boating: My dogs absolutely love boating. To them it’s just like being in the car, with the windows rolled down and their little faces loving the rush of the wind. They get this same feeling while boating, plus they get to cool off in the water with us. I strongly believe in dogs wearing life vests. Anything could happen, if your dog falls or jumps in the water, the life vest will save your dogs life. During your dogs first few times boating, avoid going fast, keep the boat slow, with no wake, so your dog does not get spooked by the loud engine noise or by being unstable.
Swimming: People forget that dogs usually cannot touch the bottom, they are usually doing the doggy paddle the entire time, which is exhausting. I would definitely purchase a life vest, this allows your dog to float, relax and enjoy the water safely with you. I introduced my dogs to swimming by purchasing something for them to float on first. They sat on the float and enjoyed the water with us, then graduated to floating around in the water without the float (with life vests of course).
There are different types of life vests to choose from, the popular “jacket style” that you can get from Pet Supermarket, Petco, PetSmart and West Marine -or- the “bra style” that fits more like a bra or harness (this is the style I purchased for my dogs). You have to take your dog to the store and try on the sizes to get the best fit, definitely ask the sales staff for assistance. The perfect fit is very important for comfort and, of course, safety.
Remember to limit the amount of time your dog is in the water. Keep the visits to the beach, boating or swimming brief and positive. Even though you are enjoying the water, it may be extremely hot outside. Too much sun and too much heat is extremely unhealthy for your dog. Remember to have a lot of cool, fresh drinking water available for your dog constantly. Also, remember to bring a towel to dry your dog after the swim. This is so important, especially if you go into a cooler temperature or air conditioning immediately after. Just think about how you feel after a bath or shower if you didn’t dry off – it’s cold!
Most importantly, have fun and reward your dog with constant praises and kisses to let them know that this new experience is a positive one that they will eventually really love.