Summer is here and that means dog owners are heading out on getaways to lakes, rivers and oceans for beach days with our dogs. Most dogs enjoy a day at the shore, but it's important to be prepared to help your dog stay safe while they are having fun.
Hit up dog friendly beaches
Before heading out to a local lake, river or ocean beach make sure that the location you plan to go to is dog friendly. The website for the local, state, or national park will generally have posted information about any rules and regulations about bringing dogs to the area. Some beaches are only open to dogs during certain seasons (generally not spring and summer), and others restrict dogs to only certain areas or trails often away from swimming areas. When you bring your dog to a beach be sure to follow all rules for that site including staying on trails to avoid damaging plants or scaring wildlife, scooping poop, and following all leash laws.
Spending time near and in the water can be a great way to stay cool this summer but be sure to check temperatures before bringing your dog. You'll want to be especially careful when walking your dog across sidewalks and parking lots. At 87 degrees pavement is 143 F degrees and at 125 F skin damage/destruction can happen in just 60 seconds. Like summer concrete, hot sand can cause burns to your dog's paws. A good way to test the temperature of sand or concrete is to hold your hand against it for 5 seconds and if it's too hot for you to keep your hand there, it's too hot for your dog's paws.
While enjoying a day at the beach, it's important to keep an eye on your dog to make sure they are staying hydrated and comfortable during the day. Young puppies, older dogs, dogs with preexisting medical conditions, and flat faced dogs all can overheat easily. Be sure to closely monitor your dog for any signs of heatstroke or distress.
When planning to spend the day at the river or beach with your dog it's important to come prepared with everything your dog is going to need for the day. Pack plenty of fresh water for your dog and a portable or collapsible water bowl so you can make sure to keep your dog hydrated through the day. If you are going to the ocean, you'll want to prevent your dog from drinking salt water, but even with rivers and lakes it's best to encourage your dog to drink clean fresh water from home. Bring waste bags to pick up after you dog and don't forget to bring plenty of treats for rewarding your dog during the day for following your cues to ignore other dogs or people, staying away from people's BBQ or picnics, or stinky things they may find on the shore. You'll also want to pack water safe toys for your dog, and If there won't be shade available where you are going it can be a good idea to bring beach umbrellas to create shade for your dog to be under when not playing in the water.
When you are preparing for your beach day, be sure that your dog is wearing a collar or harness with a tag that has your updated contact information. You'll also want to bring a regular 6 foot leash, and if you are going to a more deserted space you may want to consider bringing a long-line leash (15-30 feet) to give your dog more space to safely run, swim and explore. I particularly recommend long lines made from biothane because they are easy to hold, light yet strong and water resistant.
Although swimming comes naturally to many dogs, it's always a good idea to have a properly fitted life jacket for your dog. In particular if you are going to be bringing your dog out on a boat it's important they wear a life jacket. Similarly, any flat faced dogs like bulldogs, french bulldogs, pekingese etc. should be wearing life jackets anytime they are near the water as their build/confirmation makes swimming very difficult for them.
Beware of beach dangers
Many dogs naturally love the water, other dogs are nervous near the water. If you have a dog that is uncomfortable in the water, look for locations with calm water instead of waves and don't force your dog to enter the water. Use treats, toys and positive reinforcement training techniques to build your dog's confidence near and in the water as they learn how to swim. Like you wouldn't let children play in water unsupervised, if your dog is in or near the water it's important that someone is always watching. Sneaker waves, strong currents, and submerged logs or other objects can catch even strong canine swimmers by surprise which can lead to drowning. Similarly falling from boats or docks can lead to dogs becoming disoriented and injured in the water.
If you are going to a freshwater swimming spot like a lake or river check local news and water advisory sources for any reports of Blue-green algae in the area. This widespread naturally occurring algae can be fatal to dogs who ingest or come into contact with it. When you're at the water with your dog, closely supervise to ensure your dog isn't getting into things that could make them sick such as dead fish which can cause salmon poisoning and infection which can be fatal. Water Intoxication is a rare but very serious illness that impacts dogs who consume too much water. Dogs that enjoy playing in the water and who are jumping into the water or playing retrieving games in water over a long period of time are most at risk of this condition, which can be fatal.
Dogs that eat too much sand, either intentionally, or indirectly because it's on their toys, can become very ill with a condition called "sand impaction" where the sand actually creates blockage in the dog's intestines. In serious cases, this can require surgery. If, during a beach day, your dog begins acting strange or unwell including seeming lethargic, vomiting, loss of coordination or seeming to have difficulty breathing, your dog should be seen by a vet right away.
When you are at the beach with your dog make sure that you and your dog take breaks from playing in the water. Dogs aren't always very good at knowing when they need to rest, and some dogs will play to the point of injury or exhaustion. Instead, while you are enjoying your beach day, create opportunities for your dog to rest in the shade. Once your dog has had time to lay down for a little nap and had a drink of fresh water, then you can go back to playing in the sand and water.
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