There are basically three types of dogs – dogs who are natural swimmers, dogs who aren’t built to survive in the water, and dogs that can be taught to swim. For senior dogs, swimming is a fantastic exercise because it is joint friendly, particularly for arthritic dogs who have issues with bones, joints and cartilage.
Swimming is great cardiovascular exercise, burns off excess energy and helps to reduce stress. It can be very therapeutic for senior dogs because water makes a dog’s body buoyant and makes moving easier. It can also reduce pain by strengthening cartilage, joints, and muscles, and improving circulation.
But what if your dog doesn’t know how to swim? You can teach him!
Teaching Your Dog to Swim in a Pool
The first thing in teaching your dog to swim is you want to make sure it is a safe and positive experience. The first time, you may want to put a life jacket with a front handle in the appropriate size on your dog. Make sure it fits him correctly.
Never throw your dog into the pool or drag him in. According to Russell Harstein, CEO of Fun Paws in Los Angeles “That method, called “flooding,” is not recommended, says Hartstein. “Unfortunately, I see dog parents along ocean and lake edges pulling their dog in the water, and clearly the dog is petrified,” he says. “That will backfire in a big way. There is a lot of emotional fallout. We have to respect the autonomy of the animal and just allow them to make their own decisions.”
Getting in and Out of a Pool Safely
If your dog is afraid of the water, start in a pool – oceans and lakes can be intimidating. Every year, an estimated 10,000 dogs drown in the United States. Most of these tragedies occurred when dogs found their way into a pool but couldn’t get out. It is important that the dog know how to get in and out of the pool safely, usually by using the stairs. If a dog falls into a body of water, it will naturally try to exit at the point where it entered. Train you dog to enter and exit at the steps:
- Using the handle on the life jacket, place your dog in the pool from the steps so that he sees the steps as his point of entry. He will naturally exit at the steps. If he goes in another direction, gently guide him to the steps. Repeat this several times until he always exits at the steps without guidance
- Place your dog into the pool using the life jacket handle at various locations around the edge of the pool. Always guide him safely back to the steps. Repeat until he automatically goes to the steps without guidance.
Once In The Water
When your dog is in the water, hold him underneath and give him a lot of praise. Get him comfortable with the water and stay in for about ten minutes at a time. It is best to stay in the shallow end at first so you have control of ther dog and he can’t push you under!
For elderly dogs, you can also consider using a Help ‘Em Up™ Harness, a full body lifting harness that places a handle on the front shoulder harness and one on the rear hip harness. This comes in especially handy getting dogs up and out of the water since you can lift not only their front torso but also their hind quarters. It’s made of neoprene so it is bouyant and can handle water. Many boaters use the harness on their dog for this reason (see article (Where the Coconuts Grow) along with canine rehabilitation therapists who also use the Help ‘Em Up Harness in pools for aqua therapy.
Other Safety Tips
- Your dog may ingest a lof of water. Watch out for water intoxication or lethargy.
- Dogs can get sunburned, too – especially around the nose and ears, so talk to your veterinarian about sunscreen made for pets and give your dog plenty of time in the shade.
- Is your pool deck slippery? If it is slippery for you, it’s slippery for your dog. Dogs can injure joints and break bones just like humans. Maintain your pool deck to prevent slips, falls and other injuries.
Just remember to be patient and keep your lessons short, and before you know it you and your dog will be beating the heat and having a great time splashing together! If not, wading in the kiddie pool may be more his speed or he may be a land lover at heart!