Summer is upon us, which means time for fun in the sun and water. Whether you live near the sea, a lake, river, stream or your own swimming pool, chances are your dog will come in contact with water this season.
But, did you know dogs are not natural swimmers?
“Most dogs do not just jump in and start ‘doggy paddling’ with ease,” says Jennifer Fish Office Manager and swim coach at Dogs Gone Swimming in Portland, Oregon.
My husband and I want to take our two-year-old Shetland sheepdog kayaking and maybe even rafting this summer but since the only water he has ever been in has been a tub or a kiddy pool, I wanted to make sure he would be safe should he fall overboard, so I contacted Fish about swimming lessons.
Fish uses toys and treats to get the dogs used to the water in a positive way. With shy dogs like my Merlin, the owner may also help.
Once he was getting close to the water on the ramp, we just lightly pulled him and it was as simple as that. Jennifer took him to the end of the pool so he would be swimming toward me and the treats.
Taking it slowly, Jennifer supports the dog while they figure out what they need to do.
“At first, most dogs try to paddle to hard and the end up getting their head under,” she explained. “He needs to learn to go slow and controlled.”
To help them, she doesn’t hold the dog up, so much as keep their shoulders down, which keeps the head up.
“Dogs really don’t need to use their back legs to swim,” explained Fish.
So, you want to concentrate on them using those front legs properly – which is slowly and deliberately.
You will see in the video there is a big change from Merlin’s first attempt and what he looks like after twenty minutes. As your dog starts to relax and use those front legs properly (there should be little to no splashing) you will know he is getting better at swimming and you can release your hold a bit more.
After a mere 20 minutes, Merlin was swimming much calmer and even gripping the landing pad when he got to it!
Fish explained that not all dogs are good swimmers, she’s even met labs that were terrible! Conversely, she has a doxie that comes once a week that’s a pro.
“It really has to do with the individual dog and not the breed,” she explained.
A Nice Side Effect
Merlin is a reactive dog, over threshold a lot and the best thing about this experience was how calm he had to be. Trying to run and fly around in the pool didn’t work – he had to swim calmly and put his paws out deliberately. It wasn’t a result I was expecting, but it certainly means I will be back – not only does it exercise him, but it’s teaching him to be calm that will hopefully translate to other faucets of his life. Plus, I know he will be safer when we go out in a kayak or boat after having some swim lessons.
What about you, would you take your dog to swim lessons?