Swimming: How To Introduce Your Dog To Water
Living in sunny Queensland, days spent poolside or by the beach is a lifestyle that many of us are accustomed to. For those of us with pets, we want our fury companions to enjoy that lifestyle with us, which includes spending time swimming either at the beach or in the pool.
As much as we would like them to participate in water activities alongside us, it is important to note that not all dogs will enjoy being in the water. Also, the way you introduce your dog to water will play a significant part in how they will react to it moving forward.
Common Mistakes Owners Can Make When It Comes to Water:
1. Throwing your puppy or dog into the pool
The old wives’ tale that the best way to introduce your puppy or dog to water is to throw them into a pool, could not be further from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are born natural swimmers, and this can cause significant trauma resulting in a fear of water. Further to this, they can inhale water into their lungs causing serious harm or illness.
2. Nursing a frightened puppy or dog in the pool and soothing it with words and affection
Dogs lack complex reasoning which means they cannot understand us when we attempt to reassure them. When we give them a lot of attention their perception is the attention is for their current behaviour and thinking. This well-meaning attention is in fact, involuntarily rewarding fearful or anxious behaviour and will teach the dog that they are right to be scared in that moment.
3. Dragging a dog towards water.
You may have come across it at the beach when an owner will drag their dog towards the ocean to encourage them to play in the shallows. Like everything, dogs need time to adapt to new situations. While some dogs may naturally gravitate towards the water, it may take longer for others. Give your dog time to feel comfortable with their surroundings and do not force them. Rather encourage them when they move closer to the water of their own choice.
4. Assuming all dogs can swim
Not all dogs are strong swimmers. While some dogs may be total water babies, others can struggle. The genetic makeup of a dog and the breed can also hinder their ability to swim.
Introducing a Dog to Water:
Disclaimer: If your dog still prefers to avoid water even after taking all the appropriate steps of introduction, this must be respected. Although we want our four-legged pal to be involved in all family activities, have your dog’s back, after all, swimming in the ocean or in the pool is not essential
Like most things, positive, early exposure is crucial if you hope to have a dog who is confident in a specific environment. Exposure to water should occur before the age of 16 weeks. A puppy’s key time for environmental exposure occurs within their first 16 weeks of life so a positive introduction during this time could help shape confidence around water for years to come.
If your dog is encountering water for the first time, you must remember that this will be completely foreign, and we cannot explain to them that they are “okay” during this process. It is important that you introduce water slowly and in a controlled manner. Allow dogs to build their own confidence, in their own time.
For introductions, we recommend you begin near still, shallow water. Rather than to drag or pull the dog towards the water, we suggest walking parallel and allow the dog to gravitate when it feels comfortable. If puppy enjoys chasing a ball, then try tossing it just slightly out of reach where your puppy or dog will need to get their feet wet to retrieve it. It is better to start small and work your way up as your dog’s confidence increases. Doing this around shorelines with crashing waves may deter your dog.
If your dog shows a lack of confidence or a fear like behaviour wait for it to calm down again and praise and reinforce the calm confident behaviour.
What If My Dog Is Not A Strong Swimmer?
Strength and competence in the water will vary from dog to dog. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are natural born swimmers.
If you find that your dog’s rear sinks in the water, you may need to have your dog practice swimming more and may even need a life jacket. Dogs whose rears sink often find themselves splashing a lot with their front paws and getting tired very quickly.
The Bulldog, Pug, Basset Hound, and Boxer are some of the most popular breeds of dogs who are generally unable to swim due to their anatomy and facial structure. The core reason why Bulldogs and similar breeds struggle to swim is because of their Brachycephaly. They must tilt their faces up higher to keep them out of the water. Dogs tilted up have more difficulty staying afloat, especially since their short legs and heavy torsos are not conducive with flotation.
These types of dogs may require a life vest and all dogs should have supervision around water.
At The Beach
Crashing waves can be frightening, especially if it the first time dogs have encountered it. It is important that you do not force them, drag them or put them in a situation that can be potentially dangerous.
If you visit the beach and your dog appears frightened of crashing waves, do not pull your dog towards the ocean. Instead, move further away and walk parallel to the water. Once your dog is calm, praise your dog and move slightly closer.
While you are at the beach, your dog should remain on lead until you have a solid recall and trust that your dog will return to you on the first call. The reason for this, other than to maintain control, is that if your dog happens to love the water they do not swim too far out. Some dogs have been known to just keep swimming forcing the owner to swim after them. It does not take much for the current to take hold of us, let alone a dog.
By The Pool
Dogs swimming in a backyard pool is a personal choice. Whilst it is safe for your dog, please note that dogs carry a lot of bacteria in their coat which will affect your pool’s chemical balance. Further to this, you will be left with a film of dog hair that may be a pain to clean.
Early and positive exposure is key to building confidence around the pool area. You may wish to introduce your dog to the first step and allow them to be comfortable before enticing them to swim. It can also be good practice to show them how to get to the step should they fall in.
Do NOT leave your dog in pool areas unsupervised. Even the strongest swimmer could become disorientated at any stage and may find it difficult to find the exit to the pool. This can be potentially fatal. This is also especially important if your dog is not a strong swimmer (i.e. a bulldog).
Another potential threat are pool blankets. While they may protect your pool from leaves and debris, they can also look like a hard surface to your dog and if they step on it, it will collapse around them.
It is also important to understand some dogs will get very excited around the edge of the pool while people are swimming. When people are splashing, laughing, and screaming in the pool this may trigger a dog’s prey drive. If your dog gets extremely excited and/or agitated around the pool area when people are swimming you will need to implement some impulse control around the pool, alternatively remove your dog from the pool area to prevent it from rehearsing the behavior.
- Start slow; allow your dog to build its
- confidence in its own time
- Encourage confidence and do not involuntarily reward frightened behaviour
- Begin exposure as early as you can (ideally before 16 weeks of age)
- Visit an area with a still, shallow body of water and entice by tossing a ball
- Do not drag or pull your dog towards water
- Not all dogs are strong swimmers; make sure your dog is not left unsupervised in a pool area