Even if you have a dog that is an excellent swimmer, dogs should never be allowed unsupervised in a pool as it can be difficult for them to get out of the pool if they get overtired or confused. A dog can only exit via steps in a pool, not a ladder, and not by jumping or pulling themselves out on the side, and this presents a safety hazard. Dogs can drown in a pool if they can not figure out how to get out and become exhausted. You should make sure your dog cannot access the pool unsupervised by fencing off your pool--a good idea to protect children as well. That being said, learning to swim in a pool can be a safety benefit, by providing a controlled environment for your dog to learn to swim before taking your dog into open water. It also presents an excellent opportunity for physical and mental exercise, play, and recreation. You just need to take some precautions to prevent any mishaps. Misty should benefit from learning to swim and have lots of fun with her family in the pool.
Dogs that are going to use pools for swimming need to learn where to enter and exit the pool. This is very important as they can not climb upright ladders or pull themselves up on the sides of the pool like we can. Dogs need stairs and if these are not available you will have to create steps with cinder blocks or commercially available pool stairs. Once your dog can get in and out of the pool, you may need to provide support while your dog learns to doggie paddle, by proving a life vest or holding your dog.
Be sure to determine whether your dog is capable of learning to swim first, some dog breeds, those with short legs, or who are especially lightweight, may not be able to swim. Breeds that experience problems swimming are pugs, bulldogs, basset hounds, and dachshunds. If you have a dog from one of these breeds they will not be able to swim in your pool unaided, they will always require a lifevest. Also, some dogs, even of strong swimming breeds, may have physical problems like arthritis or orthopedic conditions that prevent them from swimming proficiently. In these cases, support will need to be provided in the form of a life vest and physical assistance getting in and out of the pool. Puppies can learn to swim, but require close supervision in a pool, and may get excited and forget how to get out of the pool, became distracted and confused, or panic. If training a young dog to use your pool you will want to take extra precautions.
Some dogs are reluctant to get in the water at first; this does not necessarily mean they will not learn to like the water and be good swimmers, some dogs just need some encouragement to learn that the water is fun and gain confidence in their swimming ability. Training to achieve this so your dog can share your pool activities is possible, just be sure to pay attention to your dog's signals. Although there are many things you can do to introduce your dog to water and help him overcome resistance, if your dog is afraid or truly reticent, do not force your dog to swim, make sure this activity is fun for your dog before proceeding with training your dog to swim in a pool.
There are several things you will need to ensure are in place before starting training your dog to swim in your pool. First of all, make sure there is a good, safe way for your dog to enter and exit the pool. Non-slip steps must be in place, dogs cannot use ladders, and cannot pull themselves up on the side of a pool. Cement blocks or commercial steps are required for your dog to use the pool. Also, if your dog is using the pool, you may need to put more chlorine in your pool to keep it clean. Your dog will need to have this chemical rinsed off after using the pool, so make sure you make preparations to get pool chemicals off your dog--and dry your pup off if you don't want wet dog smell in your house!
Many owners introduce their dog to swimming using a life vest, these are available for dogs from pet stores and it is important are the correct size and fit well. Other training aids that you can use include, clickers, treats, kiddie pools, and toys. Remember to make sure your dog does not have access to the pool unattended, it is possible for dogs to drown in pools, especially if they become disoriented and cannot get out of the pool on their own. All pools should be fenced off to protect pets and children.
My dog is very afraid of water. Can I desensitize her to water by slowly pouring a little bit of water on her while giving her treats and gradually expose her to more water?
Hello Kate, You should be able to desensitize her to water but not while pouring it on her like that - you need her to choose to gradually get closer to the water on her own by motivating her to interact with it - pouring it on her before she is ready for that will likely increase the fear. I would start out by running a hose outside on low, with just a slow stream of water coming out. Set the hose on the ground or against something so the water is pouring out without you having to hold it, and toss treats large enough for her to see around the hose and water. Toss them further from the water, toward her at first, and gradually toss them closer to the water as she relaxes around the water and hose more. When she can handle that, turn the hose water up a little higher and do the same thing again. You are going to encourage her to get close to the water on her own using rewards - you can also use games with toys, such as fetch or tug and play with her near the water if she finds that really fun. You want to practice with the water at it's current flow rate until she is comfortable with that amount of water. Whenever she gets comfortable with the current amount of water, turn it up a little again - continue to turn it up as she improves until she can handle a normal flow rate. When she can handle the hose being turned up pretty good, then make the water shoot up a bit while it sprays, like a sprinkler. You can place the hose so it sprays it's water into the air first instead of just straight at the ground or buy a sprinkler hose attachment. Turn the water back down some when you first make it shoot up more. The goal now is for her to reach into the mist and sprinkles to grab the treat instead of just getting close to the water and getting her paws wet. When she will reach into the sprinkling water to eat treats, then make fun games with rewards and exciting toys that involve quickly running through the sprinkler together. When she is no longer afraid of the sprinkler, then take your training to a lake, pond, slow moving river, or stream that has an area where you can very gradually enter the water. Avoid rapids and strong currents. Play games with her on the shore such as fetch or tug, and very gradually move the game deeper and deeper into the water overtime. Expect this to take several trips to a water source throughout the summer or fall - not just one. Your initial goal is just her getting her paws wet, then when she is comfortable with paws - legs, then mid-height on the legs, high on the legs, higher on the legs, shoulders, chest, then briefly not being able to touch the bottom (put a hand under her belly for support if she needs the security or help keeping her bottom up at first - most dogs don't know how to keep their bottoms up while swimming at first. The thing to remember is to expect this to take time, to practice often, and to make it fun - without being too pushy or anxious yourself - confidence, happiness are what you want to express. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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