Did you know that not all dogs can swim? Most people think that swimming comes naturally to dogs. We have all seen the funny videos of little dogs doing the doggie paddle in the air when held above the bath water by their owners, but that movement doesn’t mean they will be able to swim, stay afloat or tread water.
Being on an Island, dog owners should consider this when out at the beach, on a boat, near a lake with their dogs, or hanging out by the pool. We are lucky that nowadays there are life jackets made for dogs, scamper ramps to help dogs out of a pool and dog trainers willing to teach dogs to swim. But that doesn’t mean your dog is going to like it or have a swimming technique come naturally to them.
Dog owners should never try force your dog into the water by dragging them into the water or throwing a dog in a pool. It’s not only cruel, but can scare a dog or make the dog fearful of water. If you have a puppy, you want to start young introducing the pup to the water, always, always monitored by an adult and never left alone near a body of water. Keep the puppy leashed, and it you have a dog life jacket (properly fitted for the dog’s size), have the puppy wear it. You can get the puppy accustomed to wearing it, by having the dog wear the vest for a few minutes at a time while indoors or on a short walk. While the puppy is leashed you can go into a pool or in the calm water on a shore and just have the pup wade in the water along side of you. Let the dog go in on its own or if you have a dog or friend with a dog that likes the water – that will often help your puppy have less fear.
When teaching the puppy how to swim, make sure that you eventually take the life vest off during lessons for short periods of time, so the dog learns to become buoyant on their own. Owners can assist by helping hold up the dog’s body from the mid to back section of the dog.
Some dog breeds do take much more naturally to the water as that is what they were bred for. Labs, Goldens, Portuguese Water Dogs, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, to name a few are natural water dogs, but they still may need help along the way learning. Some breeds are not designed for long swims or swimming at all. My Pit Bull Max, is an excellent swimmer, but his mouth is so wide that he tends to inadvertently swallow a lot of water while swimming. Which can make him sick, so his swim time is never more than 10 to 15-minutes, and that is in and out of the water.
If you are unsure how to teach your dog to swim, the best thing to do is to hire a skilled dog trainer who knows how to do this properly. (Interview the trainer to be sure they know how to teach this). In teaching a dog to swim it’s best to be in the water with the dog as some dogs can panic, and you or the dog trainer can help assist them out.
Another thing to consider is if you are at the ocean beach, be careful of throwing a ball or stick into rough surf – this could easily knock down a dog and injure the dog. Dogs can easily be tossed around by a wave. Some bay beaches have a quick drop off, and if your dog is not used to swimming, a deep drop off can be dangerous. While we all want our dogs to cool off, not every dog is suited to swim. So take steps to enjoy the water with your dog, but safety first!