Dear Lisa: I have two wonderful German Shorthaired Pointers I got from rescue. The older male could care less about our pool but the younger female wants to be near the family when we go swimming. I've heard chlorine is bad for their eyes, bad to drink and causes ear infections. How true are these claims and can I safely take her swimming with us? --Swimming with Shorthairs.
Many dogs enjoy a plunge in the pool with their owners during the warm summer months. Most "pool people" will tell you that chlorine is safe at the levels used in pools. Humans swim in it and occasionally will ingest some water accidentally without great harm. A dog's eyes, nose and ears are more sensitive than a human's and as such may be a tad more susceptible to the effects of chlorine. I wouldn't want the dog to drink large amounts of chlorine. Some dogs think of the pool as one big personal dog bowl to lap up, not unlike the toilet bowl. This behavior should be discouraged. As for the ears, most infections in dogs with floppy ears are caused by water and dampness, not the chlorine in the water.
Some pool owners opt for non-chlorine chemicals like bromine which may be less harmful to pets. To be on the safe side, give your dog a quick spray with the hose to rinse off the chemicals after a swim and give his ears a dab with a dry towel or use a blow dryer to keep them moisture free.
More important than what your dog swims in is how it learns to swim. Your younger Shorthair may be very interested in joining the family in a round of ring toss, but first you must build confidence in your dog around the pool. Many dogs are fearful the first time they enter the water. Take it slowly and praise your dog each step of the way. Making it a pleasant experience will have the dog swimming in no time. You don't have to teach the dog to "swim" since they are natural swimmers. It is easy to teach a dog to jump in the pool, either toss a toy in the pool or escort her over the side.
However, most dogs begin to panic when it is time to get out for the first time. They are unaccustomed to exiting using the human steps or ladder and need to be taught how to use them. A thrashing dog trying to escape will get tired and may drown. Never leave your dog unsupervised in a pool. They may need your assistance if they are in trouble and can't bark to grab your attention. With proper guidance you and your pet can have lots of fun in the pool and if you are lucky he can teach you the proper way to do the dog paddle.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.