When we lived in New Hampshire, I drove to a camp four hours away, and took my three dogs with me. When I arrived, I could see a big field behind the main building. Being assured it was a safe area, I told the dogs to “go play” while I strolled casually after them. I stopped in shock as I rounded the corner and discovered that the big field was comprised mostly of a large pond that I hadn’t seen from my vantage point. Otter, my black Lab, was delightedly swimming in the middle of it, lily pads draped over his head, back and tail. Molly, my yellow girl, was chest deep, dancing in the water. Tootsie the Terrier-ist was on her back in the mud, happily rolling on a dead frog! The reactions of these three pretty much sum up the way most dogs feel about water. Some love it, some like to splash about, but don’t want to swim, and others prefer to stay dry.
With the advent of summer, many people want to take their dogs swimming. While this can be a lot of fun for you and your dog, it’s important to remember that not all dogs can swim. Among those that are capable of it, not all of them are happy about doing so.
Heavy-bodied and short-legged dogs are among those that either can’t swim, or can swim only with great difficulty. Among these are basset hounds, bulldogs, dachshunds, pugs, corgis, Scotties and Boston terriers. It is important to use great caution when you have these breeds around the water. You should also be careful with all dogs, even those that swim well, if you have a pool or decorative pond, or are going out in a boat.
Gemma and I once visited a friend with a securely fenced yard, so I had no fears about putting Gemma out. When I called her in, she didn’t come. I called again, sternly, and heard a small whimper. I found her in the deep Koi pond, paddling tiredly and unable to either stand or grip the ledge to get out. I don’t know how long she was in, but she was exhausted and shaky when I rescued her.
If you have a water feature in a dog accessible part of your yard, it needs to be fenced off or redesigned with a ramp or steps. Pools also need to be fenced. With pool or feature, even one fenced off, it’s important to teach your dog how to get out should he go in when you aren’t around. Water driven dogs will climb or jump fences in order to swim, and can drown if they don’t know how to leave the water. If you plan to take your dog out in a boat, a doggy life-jacket should be considered necessary equipment, even for water loving breeds such as retrievers. Should a dog jump or fall out in the middle of the lake, a life jacket will keep them safe.
If you have a dog capable of swimming but that doesn’t seem to know how or doesn’t want to go into the water, you can give your dog swimming lessons. The first thing to remember is to keep it fun, and not to force your dog to go into the water. If you force it, you will probably teach your dog to hate the water.
Play with your dog on the shore, occasionally going into shallow water. If your dog likes to retrieve or chase a favorite toy, play with it just at the point where he gets his feet wet, and eventually throw it out a bit deeper. If you or a friend has a water loving dog that gets along well with yours, take both of them to the water. Start a vigorous, competitive chase game on dry ground, and when both dogs are excited, throw the toy into the water. Oftentimes, the water-worried dog will be so excited about the game he’ll forget and charge in without thinking.
Never throw your dog into the water. You can hold your dog while you wade out and then lower him carefully in, supporting his weight until you’re sure he is paddling. If he starts to sink when you let go, provide immediate support; don’t wait to see if he’ll surface on his own.
With lots of encouragement, patience and love, most dogs will learn to be comfortable around the water, and some will learn to love it!