If you or someone you know has the luxury of a swimming pool or nearby watering hole, your dog is likely to take an interest, too. Swimming may well be one of the healthiest and most entertaining exercises a canine will ever encounter. But it’s not without its hazards. So responsible parents would do well to take note: not all dogs take gracefully to the water. They and others, like geriatrics and epileptics, need special attention while poolside.
Take it from me. I know from personal practice that pools can be as dangerous as they are fun. Apart from the many near-drowning cases I’ve attended to as a veterinarian, I’ve also experienced the tragedy of losing my own dog to a pool.
He was my first French bulldog; and this little guy always observed pool rules on instinct, it seemed. One night at a friend’s house he became confused by the old-style, black-tiled bottom and fell in. I wasn’t able to resuscitate him.
Every year since, I make a special point of writing a pool safety article in Marcel’s honor. And this year’s is practical. I’ve reviewed several products currently marketed for home-pool pet safety. Some I’ve used personally—with my own two Frenchies—and others I’ve sourced from client testimonials and a pile of pet catalogs.
Safety fences: There are a zillion versions of this child-safety product on the market. You should know that above-ground fences are the ideal solution when or can’t be completely vigilant. They may not provide the permanently-unobstructed view you’d crave for your pool but they’re your safest bet, nonetheless. They’ll run you $400 to $4,000, depending on your pool’s size and choice of materials.
Underground fencing: This has worked well for a pack of five standard poodles at one of my client’s homes. This owner also lost one of her dogs—an epileptic—after he fell in while unsupervised. Now the dogs wear collars that will elicit a mild electric shock should they approach the pool’s perimeter.
Caution: I don’t necessarily recommend this expensive and stressful apparatus, I’m just saying…
Dogs need to receive special training beforehand, just as with any other underground fencing system. This method has the benefit of near-100% security without the aesthetic challenges of a visible screen. Still, it’s not the best solution for dogs who might otherwise enjoy the pool, as they’ll shy away from the “barrier line” at all times. Expect to spend over $1,000. (invisiblefence.com)
PoolEye Invisible Pool Fence: It’s like an invisible fence but without the zap. It works to detect motion between four above-ground poles wired with LED technology and rings at a base station when a line of light is broken. For $699, it’s a stretch. Especially when products like Safety Turtle exist. (pooleye.com)
Safety Turtle: I love this product for its super-cute styling and ease of use. With this one I can read the paper in peace every morning while my two guys scamper unattended in the back yard. First marketed for children, this collar-attached device links to a base-station that alarms when it hits water. It works! It even rings when they drink sloppily. But this one requires that you be at home and in hearing distance to respond immediately. It costs $99—and it’s worth every penny. (safetyturtle.com)
Pool Patrol and Pool Guard Pool Alarm: Retailing at $199 and $179, respectively, these two water-displacement sensors will sound the alarm when something bigger than 15 pounds hits the water. But I’m not sure I’d trust it for any dog under thirty pounds. (poolpatrol.com and poolguard.com)
Skamper-Ramp: This product is great for poolside fun when everyone’s around and when your experienced swimmer starts to age. My mom’s Parson’s terrier and Dingo-mix had to be trained to use it (and they both rank high on the dog IQ scale) so don’t expect to throw it in and walk away. It’s also no match for blindness or bulldog legs but for $49 it’s a great safety add-on for strong swimmers who may be losing their edge. (skamper-ramp.com)
PoolPup Dog Pool Steps: A competitor to the Skamper-Ramp but priced way above—at $270. (poolpup.com)
Life vests: “Doesn’t she look cute in it!” She’ll be the hit of the party while guests mill around the pool at your weekend barbecue. This is the ideal time for a vest. Sure, everyone’s there but no one’s necessarily paying attention to her every move. And that’s how it happens. A vest does double-duty in dressing her up and allowing you to pay more attention to your guests. But never rely on it in unsupervised situations and always try it out in the water—does she float “head up” or does it dunk her big bulldoggy head right in the drink? These run about $20 to $50.
Pool nets and covers: Just say no—unless they can entirely support your dog’s weight above the water line and won’t leave him lingering in the sun until you get home.
Swimming school: Training to swim is a necessary adjunct for a lot of dogs. Even my Frenchies have benefited from these treat-spiked sessions. If nothing else, it teaches them to stay even further away from the water-line (should they despise the experience). Talk to a trainer for tips and private lessons.