Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise that you can offer to your dog! Dogs have a blast doing it, it is easy on their joints, and allows you to burn off energy during the hottest times of summer.
The right introduction to the water is key in ensuring that your dog loves this fun activity!
How to be Your Dog’s Swim Coach
1) Consider Breed and Age
Some dogs are better suited for swimming than others. Certain breeds, such as retrievers, newfoundlands, and Portuguese water dogs are all bred for activities in the water. All dogs have individual preferences, but generally you can expect these breeds to thrive in the water.
Other breeds may have physical challenges with learning how to swim. Breeds who are front heavy and long backed, such as bulldogs and corgi’s, often struggle with keeping their heads above water. These dogs are great candidates for swimming in a life jacket.
Age is also something to keep in mind when you are teaching your dog to swim. A good example of this was Angel, a young golden retriever puppy that I was working with. Angel’s owners have a swimming pool, and wanted her to know how to swim and how to safely enter and exit the pool. She was a typical golden puppy and loved the pool from the second we introduced her to it! However, she did not have the stamina of an adult dog, so we had to make sure to keep her sessions short and successful.
Older dogs are one of the groups that benefit the most from swimming. Water is very easy on arthritic joints, and can help prevent muscle wasting and weight gain. Older dogs may have some similar issues to puppies, such as a lack of stamina. Life jackets can really help to make sure that your dog is able to have fun swimming during their golden years.
2) Start Shallow
When teaching your dog to swim, you do not want them to become scared or intimidated by the water. Gradually allow them to build up the desire to be in the water, and build their confidence around it.
Start by letting your dog play in the shallow parts of lakes, rivers, or the ocean. It can also really help to bring along another dog who already knows how to swim. When playing, dogs will often follow another dog’s lead when they splash through the water.
If you are using a natural body of water to each your dog to swim, you should see that they naturally start venturing further and further into the water. You can encourage this by getting into the water with them, or by strategic toy throwing. You do not want to throw a toy too far out and the dog get discouraged. Throw it just far enough away that they can barely touch the bottom, and then move it farther out as they build confidence.
3) Safety First
As with any activity we do with our dogs, safety is important. There are a few key things to watch out for when swimming with your pup.
- Monitor your dog’s energy level. A dog who is too tired may not stop on their own because they are having too much fun.
- Do not let your dog excessively drink or bite at the water. Water toxicity is an issue that can arise in dogs that consume too much water at one time.
- Do not let your dog swim in water with fast moving currents, and watch for rip currents if you are at the ocean.
- Be aware of the wildlife that is present in water in your area. Alligators and venomous snakes are a risk in the southern US, but will not be an issue if you are in New England.
- During the summer, check and see if there are any algae blooms locally. Blue-green algae can be an issue even in clear water, and is dangerous to dogs.
- Bring multiple toys. Your dog may loose track of his/her toy in the water and get into a frenzy trying to find it. Some dogs will get into trouble because they will swim to the point of exhaustion hunting for a toy. Bring a second item that you can throw to your dog if this happens to you.
- Make sure that you train a very good recall. This isn’t such a big issue if you are swimming in a backyard pool, but natural bodies of water are full of enticing things like ducks and geese. If your dog decides to give chase, it pays to have some solid obedience.
4) Have Fun With It!
Dogs and water are such a natural match that there are even dog sports built around it! Dock diving is the most popular, and there are multiple different ways to play. Teaching your dog to swim is the first step, followed by getting them comfortable jumping off of a dock.
People who are super passionate about the sport take lots of time teaching their dogs how to jump off the dock properly, and how to track their toy in mid-air to get maximum points!
Check out North American Diving Dogs to find a facility near you!