Alberta animal trainer Christie Springs worries people are putting their dogs at risk when recreational activities happen on the water.
 
“People think it’s fun to take their dog on vacation but they’re not taking the time to teach the dog how to swim,” says Christie, an accomplished dog trainer and aquatics expert from Calgary who presented at the tenth annual Alberta Water Safety Conference organized by Red Cross this fall.
 
Christine with two dogs in lifejacketsPeople tend to treat pets like family members, but Christie says owners are unknowingly putting their pets and themselves in danger when they don’t consider their animal’s natural abilities. “Not all dogs can swim. This can be a surprise for people.”
 
A dog’s ability to swim is based largely on its anatomy. Certain breeds have shorter legs, thicker bodies, or heavier coats that prevent them from staying afloat. Christie says the family dog should be introduced to water like you would a pre-schooler. “You have to show them how to get in and out of the water safely. You need to pick an appropriate water temperature and give them a flotation device if possible.”
 
A change in seasons brings its own hazards as open water freezes, creating unsafe conditions for both animals and their owners. Christie says drownings can occur when owners risk their lives attempting an ice rescue.
 
“We’ve been successful in telling people not to jump in after a friend who’s gone through the ice, and we need to use that same caution with our pets.”

Christie says keeping pets on a leash is the best way to avoid dangerous situations. If the animal does go through the ice, call 911 first. Then, from a safe location, call to the dog and extend an assist, like a tree branch or leash tethered to a jacket.
 
Being prepared for emergencies is important, and Christie encourages owners to take pet rescue training and include pets as part of water safety education.
 
“By protecting the dog, we’re protecting people.”

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