Category Archives: Dogs and Water

If the Water’s Green – It’s not Clean – Keep your dog away.

It’s that time of year again, late summer, when the weather’s hot, the water’s stagnant, and bright green scum floats on the surface of the lake.   Take a scoop of the lake water with a clear cup. Are there green particles suspended in it? Does it look like someone dumped green paint on the lake? Likely, it’s blue-green algae or cyanobacteria–even though the water looks green.

My last springer spaniel would jump in any body of water, lie down and take a drink. But don’t let your dog do this. Many dogs each year get very sick and some die. Just today, I read an article about a dog dying from drinking algae infested water.

Blue – green algae toxins affect dogs, people, and other animals. Last year Toledo shut down its water distribution because blue-green algae toxins on Lake Erie entered in its water supply. It may happen again this year.

Toxins are not always present when the lake looks this green, but be on the safe side and stay away. Not all species of blue-green algae form toxins, and of the species that do, they do not always produce toxins. Various tests can determine if the toxins are present. But the water conditions can change rapidly. If the cells die, they release their toxins into the water. The various types of toxins can affect the liver, nervous system, or the skin.

Symptoms of algae toxicity

Blue-green algae scum on a lake.

Blue-green algae scum on a lake.

  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • diarrhea,
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • seizures
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • blisters of the mouth or skin rashes

If any of these symptoms occur, take your dog to the vet immediately (or yourself to the ER). Most dogs die within days or even hours after drinking contaminated water.


  • Install signs warning of the blue-green algae hazard.
  • Prevent dogs from drinking and swimming in blue-green algae.
  • Don’t swim in areas with blue-green algae blooms.

Long-term prevention involves reducing nutrient loading into the lake, which would eventually limit algae blooms, but it may take many years to see an effect.

Cold Water and Dogs

Taking a walk to view the ice conditions along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Hosah Park in Zion, I never expected Cassie to start walking into the ice cold water. She’s usually cautious, but since we come here often in the summer, I think she was surprised at the cold water. She quickly backed out once I yelled at her.

Cassie shaking off the cold lake water.

Cassie shaking off the cold lake water.

It’s always a good idea to keep your eye on your dog near water, especially when there is ice. My last springer, Kaylee was a real water dog, swimming in any open water, no matter what the temperature. Sometimes when I took her to the beach in the winter, she would jump in and get thoroughly soaked. On the walk back to the car icicles formed on her fur.

Ice along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Ice along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Often the ice conditions along the lakefront are unsafe, with ice flows near shore. Once I watched a deer swimming in the lake, desperately trying to grab onto an ice flow, until it lost its strength and drown. Not something I like to think about. So keep your dog on a leash near ice! I’ve even seen my dogs walk on half inch thin ice. They can’t tell when the ice is too thin.
How does your dog act around cold water?

Water Dogs


Buffy waits for waves to bring her ball to shore.

I love water dogs, the one’s that can’t stay out of the water. I’ve had several and have learned that there are swimmers, waders, and one’s that can’t stand to even get their paws wet. I’ve owned all three types. Some of it has to do with the breed, but it seems mostly it has to do with how the dog is introduced to water when it is a puppy. If you get an older dog, it may be a lost cause, although they may learn to tolerate it.

When I was a teenager, I had Skippy, a springer-border collie mix. He learned to swim in the flooded street after a major storm. He learned while he was on leash walking besides me in the street. He became a waterdog.

My first dog as an adult was Penny, a border collie-lab mix. I thought she would love the water, since labs are known as waterdogs, but she hated it. My dad picked her up and tossed her into a pond. She had to sink or swim, but hated us for it. I never did that again.

I took Penny canoeing with me and she jumped out of the boat onto dry land whenever she could, even rocks when I performed an eddy turn around them. Although she went whitewater paddling on dozens of rivers each year, but never learned to like it, she just tolerated water.

Then I got Kaylee, a purebred springer spaniel. At the time I was working on my master’s thesis and was collecting stream data several times a week. Kaylee followed me as I waded through puddles and into the creek when she was a young puppy. She followed me voluntarily, although with a lot of encouragement. She and learned to love water. She’d jump out of the canoe and swim alongside as I paddled down the river. Any pond or stream was a magnet for her. She’d swim around in circles for the sheer joy of swimming, even when it was cold. Sometimes she would get icicles forming on her fur as we walked back to the car.

Now I have Cassie, also a springer spaniel, but she is a wader, not a swimmer. She’ll go in about chest deep and turn around. If she has to, she’ll swim, but she’s a wader. I attribute this to her not being exposed to water until she was over six months old. She was born in October and due to the cold weather, she couldn’t learn to swim until the following May. She loves canoeing, but will not jump out of the boat until we are onshore, which is a good thing.

I recently inherited two cocker spaniels from my mom. Buffy is 5 and Chipper is 9. Neither of them had been exposed to water until this summer. Buffy is motivated to chase the ball, but only so far. She doesn’t like to swim. Neither does Chipper.

So, what have I learned from these dogs? If you want a water dog:
• Get a breed that is known to like water. Most of these are hunting dogs.
• Expose them to water early, preferably when they are between 2 – 6 months old.
• Make their first experience pleasant. Stand next to them and encourage them to walk into
the water to join you.
• Use a ball or stick if they like to retrieve. This helps them get over their fears.
• Praise, praise, praise.
• Never throw your dog into the water.
• Don’t have their first experience be in very cold water.

The more often you expose them to swimming and water, the better. Time and exposure helps alleviate their fears. Happy swimming!