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Water Wags the Dog

Your water loving dog is probably counting (with all paws) the days until the pool or beach is open to visitors of the four-legged persuasion. With the official first weekend of summer closing in, a lot of tails are about to get wet while wagging. But as veterinarian Dr. C. Christian Benyei, owner of Westport's Schulhof Animal Hospital points out, it's also time to think about your pet's safety in, around and near the water.

"All dogs have an innate survival ability to swim," says Dr. Benyei. But that doesn't mean they all enjoy water sports. Some dogs are averse to it either because of a previous water-related trauma or because they've never been exposed to it. Dr. Benyei explains that convincing a water-fearful dog to enjoy the water is similar to the approach one might take with a small child. "Start with splashing in shallow water and gradually go to greater depths as confidence is gained," he says.

But many dogs greet a day of water sports with unleashed enthusiasm. In fact, it's up to dogs' "humans" to be mindful of factors that could hinder four-legged fun, particularly in multi-purpose recreational water holes. The ASPCA cautions keeping dogs away from fishing lines, lures, hooks and bait. And if you're spending a day at the bay or ocean, the ASPCA also recommends rinsing a dog's paws after contact with sand or salt water, drying his or her ears after any water contact and brushing those with heavy or soft coats after a dip because wet coats can mat and trap bacteria.

Along with your book and sandwiches, remember to pack an appropriate toy that won't sink and send your dog to the bottom of the body of water to fetch it. The best water toys are made of hard rubber with a flotation device and easy-to-grab rope attached.

But If they do spend time with their heads under water bobbing for " Kongs ," don't be too concerned: "Most dogs don't like the taste of salt water and won't drink too much," says Dr. Benyei. But he strongly suggests bringing along a supply of fresh water for your dog at the beach to keep them hydrated, cool and happy.

Speaking of happy, Dr. Benyei recommends keeping a keen eye on your dog's "attitude." If your pet starts to "slow down, takes longer getting out of the water and has a droopy tail, then it's probably time to call it a day," he says. Additionally, dogs with little pigment -- those with pink lids and noses -- are prone to skin cancer in that region. Non-chemical sunscreens, such as Little Twig products, are helpful in protecting these susceptible areas from the sun.

Dr. Benyei also recommends that humans are considerate and aware of their canine companions' instincts. "Some dogs are trained for water rescue work, particularly Newfoundlands. My wife was gently "saved" by an ex-Coastguard dog while swimming in the river in our backyard," he says. "The dog "gently but persuasively took her arm in his mouth and brought her to shore."

There's nothing more fun for a dog than a day near the water, except of course for a day of frolicking in the snow, or a day of hiking in the mountains, or a day of... Well, it is a dog's life, after all.

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