In the heat of summer, it can be difficult to find outdoor activities to share with our pets. It may be too hot for walking or hiking, but summer is the PERFECT time to enjoy a cool and refreshing swim with your dog. A cool dip in a pool, lake or stream is the ideal remedy for a hot summer day.
If your dog has never been swimming before, it is important to remember that not all dogs know how to swim. It is not an intuitive skill that all dogs possess. While some dogs pick it up quite quickly, others may need a fair amount of help in the beginning. With your assistance and a few helpful tips, you and your dog can be enjoying the cool, invigorating fun of swimming together.
For dogs that have never tried swimming, it is important that you introduce them to the water slowly and gently. They will remember their first attempt as either being great fun or very scary. With that in mind, you should never throw or force your dog into the water. Instead, try coaxing him in with praise or even a doggie treat. Let him feel the water on his feet and experience the cool, wet sensation.
For swimming pools, the steps are the place to start. It is important that your dog learns that the steps are ALWAYS the place to enter or exit the pool. Placing a vertical marker (like a flag or a potted plant) next to the steps will help him find them when he’s in the water. Each time you enter or exit the pool, say “steps” and have him touch the marker you have set up. He will soon associate the marker with the place to get in and out of the pool.
Coaxing your dog onto the first step of the pool can be a major accomplishment for some dogs. Once you have achieved that, it’s time for swimming! To help your dog swim, place your hands on his sides, holding him in the water so his rear end is up and his body is parallel with the top of the water. As you move through the water together, he should look like he’s running in the water. Some dogs will try to swim using only their front legs instead of using all four. You may need to help move his rear legs for him while he’s first learning. As his skills improve, take him a very short distance from the steps and help him swim to them. Gradually increase the distance he needs to swim to the steps, keeping your lesson times to about 10 minutes. After each successful swim, remember to give him LOTS of hugs and praise.
If your dog seems to be having a lot of difficulty staying afloat on his own, the aid of a canine life vest can be very helpful. The extra buoyancy that it provides may be just enough to keep him afloat and build his confidence.
As your dog’s swimming skills improve, it is still important to limit your swim time to about an hour and a half. No matter how MUCH fun you’re having, don’t overdo it. Taking frequent breaks for a drink of fresh water and a rest in the shade will be beneficial to you both.
Before and after swimming, your dog will require many of the same precautions we take for fun in the sun. Dogs can get sunburned too. The skin around their nose, eyes, and ears are the most susceptible to sunburn. You may want to ask your veterinarian to recommend a sunscreen for those sensitive areas. After swimming, it is always a good idea to give him a thorough rinse off or even a quick bath with shampoo. After a good rinse, be sure to dry the inside and outside of his ears.
With a little practice and patience, you and your dog will be swimming together and enjoying all the fun that swimming provides.
Have fun, be safe, and stay COOL!