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When it’s warm outside, humans tend to flock to the water. Whether swimming, boating, or lounging on a raft, it’s a great way to spend a day. If you own a dog, chances are you want to include them in your fun-filled activities.

But canines and water don’t always mix. Here are tips on how to keep your pup safe when they’re by the water.

1. Get a Life Vest That Fits Properly

Your first thought should be about getting your dog a life jacket. Whether your dog is swimming or onboard a vessel, wearing a properly fitted life jacket that is in good condition will help prevent drowning accidents.

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“A worn-out life jacket can be dangerous,” says Jennifer Fish, owner of Dogs Gone Swimming Wellness Center in Portland, Oregon. “Also, make sure the jacket is snugly fitted around the dog’s neck. I’ve seen dogs get their front leg caught in the front of a loosely fitted life jacket.”

2. Provide a Safe Introduction to the Water

Slowly and safely introduce your dog to water and your watercraft — whether it’s a boat, kayak, paddleboard, or another vessel. If your pup is trying swimming for the first time, try to find “calm, warm water with a gentle, sloping bank,” says Fish, who also has a certificate in canine hydrotherapy.

“Bring your dog’s favorite treats and toys and be prepared to get in the water yourself.  Start by encouraging your dog to step into the water and walk along the bank. Slowly encourage him out deeper as he gets comfortable. Once he is comfortable walking into the water, encourage him to step off and swim to a toy or treat.”

Slovakian Wirehaired Pointer swimming in a pool holding a dummy.
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Fish adds, “If the dog swims, allow him to turn back to the bank where he can stand, helping him if needed. Many dogs are uncertain of stepping off to swim. If that’s the case, gently carry them a few feet out into the water and let them go to swim toward the bank, guiding them if necessary. Once they are comfortable with swimming straight back to the bank, try to encourage them to step off and swim on their own again.”

Keep in mind that not all dogs like the water, so you should never force your canine companion to swim. If they continually run out of the water, find a different activity that you’ll both enjoy.

If you want to get your dog comfortable on a boat or any other type of water vessel, make it a fun experience with plenty of toys and treats. But, if your pup is uneasy in the water, they probably won’t like being on a paddleboard, a kayak, or anything else that’s too close to the water’s surface.

3. Watch Your Dog Closely

No dog should swim without a human closely observing them. “Some dogs naturally want to bite and splash at the water while swimming,” adds Fish. “I always caution owners from encouraging this behavior, as it can quickly develop into obsessive-compulsive behavior. This could result in a dog that won’t come out of the water when called, potentially swimming to exhaustion. Try to redirect the dog’s attention with a toy instead.”

Along the same vein, watch your dog to make sure they’re not ingesting too much water. “Some dogs tend to swallow a lot of water while holding a toy,” Fish says. “Small, flat toys are best for these dogs.” Ingesting too much can cause water intoxication, a life-threatening condition.

Two French bulldog on boat looking at the sea
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On a boat, watch to make sure your dog doesn’t jump over the side. Keeping your dog on a leash will help prevent this from happening. Just make sure the leash is not so long that your dog can jump over the side while you’re holding on to them.

4. Take Breaks

While on a boat, don’t forget that your dog will need potty breaks. If you are sailing for hours or overnight and don’t want to dock to walk your dog, pick a spot on board to create a potty area with pads or artificial grass.

Make sure your dog is taking breaks from swimming, as well. “One minute of swimming roughly equals four minutes of running on land,” says Fish.

5. Make Sure Your Dog Has Plenty of Fresh Water

Your dog shouldn’t be lapping up water in a lake or ocean. So, be sure to always have fresh water on hand for your canine companion to drink. An insulated, portable water bottle that comes with a bowl, for example, is easy to carry and keeps your dog’s water cold.

Related article: How to Go Boating and Kayaking With Dogs
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