Why You Should NOT Jump Into Icy Waters To Save Your Dog

Young woman throwing stick for her dog on misty lakeside

(Picture Credit: Corey Jenkins/Getty Images)

Pet parent instincts seem to activate the moment we sense our dogs in any danger. We rush in to stop them from eating anything toxic or getting into an accident. However, when it comes to your dog falling into icy waters, jumping in after them should never be your first course of action.

It may be hard to resist those protective instincts, but you will put your dog and yourself, as well as anyone else who tries to help you, in even more danger if you jump in after them.

Here’s why you should never go into icy waters after your dog and what you should do, instead.

You, Your Dog, And Anyone Who Helps Are In Greater Danger When You Go In The Water

When you go into the water after your dog, you’re putting your own life at risk. That may be acceptable to you to save your dog, but you’re actually putting your dog in more danger, too. You’re also endangering the lives of rescuers.

Think about it: if you get stuck in the water, the rescuers will have to work harder to save both you and your dog. They’ll also save you first — that’s just the way it goes — which means it will take that much longer for them to get to your dog. And those precious moments could make the difference between life and death.

Even if you do manage to get your dog out of the water and get stuck, yourself, who will be there to stop your dog from falling in again? Or from running off, getting lost, and suffering from hypothermia?

Your dog needs you. Don’t risk your life and others in the heat of the moment.

What Could Happen?

In 2019, officers saved a man and his nine-month-old American Eskimo pup, Pika, from the icy waters of Lake Michigan. Pika jumped into the water, and her human rushed in to save her.

Although he was able to lift Pika to safety, two-feet high ice walls trapped the man in the water. “I trudged through the icy water for maybe 20 feet and came upon a portion of the ice wall that was lower,” the man said.

Luckily, a passerby alerted authorities. The officers formed a human chain and pulled the man out with a dog leash.

In this case, the rescuers had to risk their own lives to save the man by going out on the ice. He may have gotten his dog out of the water, but he couldn’t get out to help Pika after saving her. She could have easily fallen back into the lake or run off and gotten hurt.

The rescuers could have also fallen in trying to save him. The man, his dog, and the rescuers were all in danger due to his actions.

Everyone was lucky in this situation, but that’s not always the case. If your dog happens to fall in the water, try to remember that going in after them will make the situation far more dangerous.

Take Steps To Keep Your Dog Off The Ice

It can be hard in winter to keep dogs off the ice, especially if you allow your dog to roam off-leash or if you have water on your property.

Dogs don’t always know when the water is safe. They can wander, or they can chase after squirrels, birds, or other animals on the ice. They may not sense the danger of thin ice and push forward with the chase without a second thought.

A father and son experienced this when their Rottweiler chased after geese and fell into a pond in Delaware. The father jumped in after the dog, and when he struggled to get out, his son also jumped in to help.

Fortunately, bystanders in the area got them out with a flotation ring. The rescue crew arrived and brought the father and son into the ambulance to warm them up. After even just a short time in the water, the two already showed the early symptoms of hypothermia.

“Keep your dogs off the ice. There’s a lot of geese around here, and that seems to be when everything is happening because the dogs are going after the geese. And when they go in, of course, the owners are going to want to go in also,” said Mill Creek Fire Co. Chief Joseph Stewart.

If you take your dog outside anywhere near a body of frozen or semi-frozen water, it’s best to keep them on a leash with a firm grip. Be mindful of wildlife, and don’t let your dog chase. Never let them near water unsupervised. Any ice that has cracks, darker patches, or white spots tends to be weaker and less safe.

What To Do If Your Dog Falls In Icy Waters

Sometimes accidents happen, even if you do your best to take precautions. If your dog falls into icy water, try to remain calm and do NOT jump in after them.

Follow these steps, instead:

  • Call 911: The fire department has flotation devices and equipment to save your dog. They are trained and prepared. You are not. They also have blankets and emergency supplies to provide your dog with any care they may need after getting out of the water.
  • Find something to throw or reach: Dogs are usually good enough at holding the edge of the ice to prevent themselves from going under the water completely. They may struggle, but they should be able to hold on until rescuers arrive. In the meantime, you can help by grabbing some kind of flotation device to throw, preferably one with a rope. This can help your dog stay afloat, especially if the ice wall is too high for them to hold on. If you can’t find a flotation device, you can look for a branch, ladder, or long pole to try to reach your dog. Anything they can grab onto will better their chances of survival.
  • Avoid making them swim: It may be tempting to call to your dog to try to guide them to a shallower area or a place where they can hold on more easily, but swimming will cause them to lose body heat faster. It’s best if your dog stays as still as possible, so avoid exciting them if they already have a good hold on the ice. Just wait until rescuers arrive.
  • Hold back and follow directions: Again, do NOT go in after your dog or rescuers may have to risk their lives to save you, as well as your dog. Follow their instructions. Let them get your dog to safety before you rush in to help. They’ll take measures to prevent hypothermia and frostbite in your dog and tell you what you need to do.
  • Follow-up care: You’ll likely need to head to an emergency vet if your dog’s condition is dangerous. Regardless, you should follow up with your regular vet. Dogs who suffer hypothermia or frostbite are prone to developing those conditions again. Talk to your vet about what care you need to provide and what preventative measures you need to take.

Have you heard of any dogs needing rescue from icy waters in your area? How are you keeping your dog safe this winter? Let us know in the comments below!

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