We have a client who adopted a 7-week-old Australian Shepherd mix about nine months ago. The day she brought the dog home, the pup promptly fell into her pool. The client jumped in of course and quickly pulled her out. The dog has been terrified of the pool since, but that hasn’t stopped her from falling in again. It became clear to the owner that her dog desperately needed to overcome her fear of the pool and learn to swim. So she brought the dog to us to teach her.
While there aren’t any confirmed statistics on how many dogs drown in pools each year, the best estimate is about 400,000. Many of these could be prevented just by teaching dogs how to swim and where the steps are in your pool. Others can be prevented by having safety fences around your pool especially if you have a breed (such as bulldogs) who typically can’t swim.
Most people tell us they believe dogs naturally know how to swim, especially the breeds that were meant for water, like the retrievers. That’s not true at all. We’ve taught a number of labs and golden retrievers how to swim. In our experience, most dogs know how to do what we call “panic swimming” where they dog paddle using their front legs while never moving their back legs. In this position, they tend to be more vertical in the water and create a lot of splash. This stresses them and tires them out quickly. They end up drowning because they get so tired when they can’t find a way out of the pool.
Other than trying to prevent accidental drowning, another reason to teach your dog to swim is because it’s great exercise for a full body workout. Swimming is one of the best ways to ensure your dog stays fit during summertime heat. Our client’s goal is that her dog will learn to swim so the two can swim together.
When we teach dogs to swim, we proceed slowly, often sitting on the steps with them in our arms to get them used to being in the water. We carry smaller dogs into the water. We back bigger dogs into the pool. We never start by trying to get the dog to walk into the pool. Dogs typically can’t see where the steps are and that frightens them. Backing them in takes that fear away. Once we teach a dog to swim, we begin teaching them to walk in. Some dogs will never walk in to a pool, you will always have to carry or back them in.
If your dog’s rear end tends to sink while swimming, his front paws will likely be out of the water, causing him to splash water when swimming. You’ll want to try to get him more horizontal in the water, and encourage him to use his back legs. You can gently lift his rear and support him around the middle to do both.
If you have a pool, it is critical that you teach your dog to swim and to find his way out of your pool. With time and patience, most dogs can be taught to swim and some will learn to enjoy it. If you would like our help, just let us know, we would be happy to do so.
Sherri Cappabianca, an expert in the field of canine health and fitness, is the author of two books on canine health, and co-owner of Rocky’s Retreat, an intimate and personal boarding, daycare, hydrotherapy and fitness center, and Barking Dog Fitness, a Gym for Dogs, both located in Orlando. For more information, visit rockysretreat.com or barkingdogfitness.com.