My mother-in-law has a pool in her back yard and there is no safety fence around it. She recently adopted a small terrier mix (Sam) from the animal shelter and frequently leaves him unattended in the back yard. She seems to think that this is fine because the dog doesn’t go into the pool and shows no interest in going into the pool. But the way I see it is that her dog is potentially in danger back there and can end up drowning.
I know my mother-in-law really loves this dog a lot and would never intentionally allow it to be in a life-threatening situation, but I don’t think she realizes the potential for a problem. I’ve said just about all I can say to her on the subject without crossing the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law line. I know she reads your column and thinks a lot of your opinion. Maybe you can settle this for us.
Anne, Garden Grove
Your concern is justified. Even though most dogs can swim, not many can get out of pools once they have fallen in. Eventually, the very best dog swimmers will become exhausted and drown because they have no way of exiting the water. Animal control agencies routinely respond to calls from pet owners whose animals have accidentally drowned under these exact circumstances.
Most cities require safety fencing around pools. This is a good idea even if your mother-in-law is exempt from this type of regulation because you can never be too safe when it comes to swimming pools. I would strongly urge her to consider this option.
Second to installing safety fencing, she should show her little terrier how to successfully get in and out of the pool without assistance. Have her take him in the water and then lead him over to the steps repeatedly so that he can become familiar with their location and how to use them. It is extremely important that she practice this training on a daily basis so that finding the steps becomes second nature to her dog. This will also help your mother-in-law determine how well Sam can swim. There are a few dogs who cannot swim for various reasons. She should find out if he falls into this category.
Some dogs cannot manage using pool steps. If this is the case with Sam, you should suggest adding a ramp to the step area. Ramps are easy to make, but are also available through pet supply companies for those individuals who are a little less handy with tools and such.
I have seen some water safety alarms on the market that use sensors which are attached to a dog’s collar. If a dog falls into a pool, a corresponding receiver will sound a loud alarm in the house. However, these devices seem to break easily during normal dog activities and haven’t received high marks in consumer reports. Further, if you are not home to hear the alarm go off, there’s not much of a benefit.
Essentially, the best advice is this – if you can’t be outside with the dog in a backyard that has an accessible pool, then the dog needs to be indoors. Pets are like children and all the same common sense safety rules that apply for kids should be applied for animals as well.
Finally, if after implementing a pool safety regimen at you in-law’s home you discover that Sam truly loves water, remember that he will need a little extra care for his ears and skin. Lots of dogs develop ear infections after swimming. The simplest method for combating these problems is to clean out your dog’s ears after every swimming session. An inexpensive ear wash can be made at home using a solution of 50% water and 50% vinegar. Also, be sure to dry his ears thoroughly following this treatment. With regards to skin – remember, dogs can get sunburn just like people. Apply sunscreen to your dog’s nose, especially in areas that have no pigment and appear pink.
By following these simple water safety rules, your mother-in-law will be ensuring that Sam has a safe and fun home in which to live the rest of his life.
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