We all love to spoil our dogs, and if you have a mer-pup who loves to splash and swim you’ll want to give them opportunities to indulge in their favourite hobby.
As with all outdoor activities, particularly those that take place in nature, it’s important to be mindful of your environment and take precautions to stay safe. Here, we’ve made a list of 10 ways to keep your dog safe and happy in the water while also staying wildlife aware.
1. Look out for signs.
Landowners and managers will often put out signs warning of things like sluices, strong currents, or blue-green algae. These dangers can be hazardous all year round, so even if a sign looks old it may still be relevant. But there will be times when there are no signs so you also need to check the area yourself – scan around for busy roads, watersports users, or anything else that could cause potential difficulty.
2. Pick one place.
By keeping most of your walk to the pathway or the top of the beach, going down to the water for a swim, then walking back up, you will reduce your impact on coastal birds. Coastal birds feed at the water’s edge and it’s important to keep an eye out for them. During high tides you will find birds resting on spits, so it’s kinder to leave these areas for wildlife. If they are disturbed too often, they may not survive the winter.
3. Take care around strong currents.
You may see evidence of strong currents where there’s choppy water or fast-moving lines on the water’s surface. However, currents are not always visible so be careful of places where they are more likely, such as sluices, entry points of canals, streams or rivers, narrow parts of rivers and anywhere there is infrastructure like promenades and slipways.
4. Be mindful of bacteria and algae.
Blue green algae is especially toxic to dogs so look out for signs warning of it and avoid water with a blue-green sheen on top. It is a good idea to steer clear of stagnant (still) water as this is where bacteria often grow.
5. Avoid wreckage and rubbish.
Unfortunately, some people leave all sorts of rubbish that could be dangerous for dogs, so keep your eyes peeled for anything they could get tangled in or sharp items they could cut themselves on.
6. Keep it clean.
Steer clear of pollutants and rubbish, and aim for somewhere with clear water that doesn’t have any strange colours in or on top of it, or any strange smells.
7. Stick to the shallows.
Look for a nice safe spot for your dog to enter the water, where it starts shallow and gets gradually deeper. This way they can go as deep as they feel comfortable – don’t try to force or encourage them to go deeper as they may suddenly panic. If you can’t see the bottom, it may be too deep for your dog to safely swim, so it is far safer to let them splash around in the shallows.
8. Don’t get stuck in the mud.
During low tides, dogs can get stuck in the deep mud found in estuaries and saltmarshes, so it’s best to leave these areas for wildlife.
If you think your dog has got into trouble, remain calm and try to call them to a place of safety. This might mean moving to somewhere the water is shallower or there is a easier exit. Don’t go in after them as this can get dangerous quickly and means the emergency services will have to rescue both of you. You are better off safe and dry so you can call for help, monitor where they are and grab them once they are close enough.
10. After swimming.
Giving your dog a good wash with freshwater after swimming is always a good idea, that way they’re less likely to be licking off any bacteria or too much salt. If you’re out in the winter or cold weather, protect them from the cold after with a towel dry, popping a coat on them or getting straight into a car with the heating on. Some dogs have coats specialised to deal with the wet and cold, but others are far more susceptible to it.