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Water Dogs

As the heat of summer builds, water activities become increasingly popular for all family members. We may take a trip to the lake or beach, or wander with our canine companions along local creeks and river banks. However - not all dogs take like ducks to water. Here’s some ideas on how to safely introduce your dog to swimming while having fun!

Not all dogs swim

Some breeds, like the Labrador Retriever, are notorious swimmers. They have webbing between their toes to better help them paddle in the water. Other dogs, like the Bulldog, do not have the build or natural joie de vie when faced with open waters. The reality is - anatomy alone does not dictate if your dog can swim, and genetics will not guarantee that your dog will enjoy (or despise) water activities. Careful introduction, fostering confidence through motivation, and building trust are key to making your dog water-savvy, regardless of breed or genetic makeup.

Introducing Water

For young puppies, or those dogs averse to water, consider investing in a paddling pool. Begin by throwing toys and treats in the empty pool until puppies are eagerly jumping in and exploring the area. Praise and make a big fuss for dogs that show interest. Try coaxing those that are more hesitant with a tasty treat. Once dogs eagerly enter the pool, begin filling it with water, adding no more than a couple of inches at a time ensuring that the pups remain interested. Early exposure to the temperature changes, the feel of a wet coat, and movement of water will build a solid positive foundation.

If you’re visiting a creek or watering hole, start off with shallow waters. Walk into the water with your dog, praising them along the way. Use a toy to help with drive and engagement, or use some high value treats for curious and confident behavior. Start off by having your dog get used to standing the the water - and going waist deep, before attempting a deeper area and swimming. You can begin slowly going further into the water, and calling your dog to you to further build confidence. When introducing your dog to swimming, ensure it’s a gradual process over multiple days to prevent your pup from getting overwhelmed. Make the practice sessions short and sweet to ensure the focus is on confidence.

The use of doggie life vests is great when teaching your dog how to swim. It minimizes the pressure of the dog having to worry about multitasking by staying afloat, and paddling to move. This is an ideal piece of equipment for dogs that are not built to swim well, and for those lacking confidence to swim. Put on a vest and VOILA! all your dog has to worry about it paddling forward. Using a vest also prevents your dog from getting it’s head under water, thus limiting negative experiences to water activities. Going boating? Life vests are good to have for boat trips too! Check out the Ruffwear Float Coats available through your local outdoor outfitters, and through the Ruffwear website, or browse your local pet store for a good fit. The coat should not be loose when worn and have a handle attachment so you can help guide your dog in the water. Try it on at home and get your pet comfortable before using it outdoors.

If you have a backyard pool it is vital to teach your dog how to safely climb in and out. Start off by guiding your dog to the stairs and rewarding for entry. Then, from just a couple feet inside the water, reward your dog for climbing back out. Heavily praise and reward for your dog exiting the pool. Once that has been firmly established as a habit, allow your dog to further explore. Even with dogs who are averse to water, it can be a life saving skill to teach them how to at least tolerate exiting the pool - should they accidentally fall in.

Say NO to Sink or Swim

Some people believe that simply throwing their dog into the water will encourage them to swim. For a handful of dogs this may be a successful approach, but for the majority of canines it can be a traumatic experience. This method of “flooding” (as opposed to slow exposure and desensitization) often leads to a negative association and total resistance to water.  Mere over-exposure and expecting the dog to adapt can cause dogs to become fearful and lose trust in their owners. Instead of forcing your dog to be in the water, take your time to slowly build their confidence through guidance, praise, reward, play, and tons of support for confident, curious, and exploratory behavior.

Restrictions to Water Access and Activities

Not all places are pet friendly - so make sure to check out your destination regarding restrictions. Certain beaches only allow access to dogs during off-season months, whereas others have pets banned all together. Local leash laws may further restrict your activities.

Some public lakes and ponds do not allow swimming or access for dogs, because they are used by recreational fisherman. Some dangers in fishing destinations include stray hooks catching on your dog, or your pet getting tangled in snagged fishing line, and leeches in the water.

In moving water, be aware of the risk of drowning due to strong currents and waves. Learn more about the types of waters, if there are any pollutants, or if there is a health hazard to your pet - some forms of algae and bacteria can get your dog seriously sick.

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