Summer is finally here. Warmer weather draws us outdoors, and naturally our dogs come along for the fun. When the days turn hot, canines and humans alike seek out the cooling properties of water. To beat the heat, find safe places to let your dog swim and cool off.
Some dogs naturally take to water activities, while others need to be coaxed in a way that will teach them to enjoy being in the water. The best place to start is in your own backyard. For under $15 you can purchase a wading pool. The rigid plastic ones are best, since dog’s nails can easily puncture the inflatable kind. If your dog is reluctant to enter the wading pool, encourage him by tossing in a favorite toy. If the toy doesn’t work, try tossing in a treat — many float and can be good incentives for the food-motivated dog. Once they’re in, most dogs quickly learn to lie down to get the full benefit of the water. So, fill your wading pool and make sure your dog has a place to beat the heat all summer long.
After he is comfortable in the wading pool, your dog can graduate to ponds and lakes. With gradually sloping shores, ponds make it easy for dogs to wade in slowly. Some dogs will get their feet wet but don’t like the shock of water on their stomach. Cool yourself off and jump in! You can encourage your dog to come to you, by moving slowly back into deeper water.
Or, use a canine coach — a dog that already enjoys swimming makes a great teacher. Molly, my Jack Russell terrier, learned to swim by watching her best friend Darcy, a Labrador retriever (and therefore a natural swimmer). Pacing along the shore, Molly watched jealously as Darcy retrieved the buoy. Being very competitive by nature, she finally had to swim out to get the buoy herself. Now swimming in the pond is her favorite summer activity, and gives her a great workout without overheating.
If you choose boating at the lake instead, be sure to take your best friend along. Doggie life vests make it a safe activity and another great way to face the hot summer days. Some dogs enjoy riding on jet skis with their owners. Last summer, my friend Mary went jet skiing leaving her dogs behind. Friends waiting in the boat reported that the dogs barked and whined while she was gone – a sure sign that they wanted to go with her. She brought one out with her and since then, the three dogs compete for a spot on the jet-ski with Mom.
Rivers often have areas where more adventurous owners can take their dogs swimming. River waters are easy to wade into but offer a challenge because of the current. Many dogs will go in until they feel the tug of the current and then exit in a hurry. Be patient and continue to encourage wading in deeper water. Once your dog becomes comfortable with the current and is a more experienced swimmer, you can begin to throw the toy a short way down current, encouraging them to bring it back to you. This provides a vigorous workout, but know when to give your dog a break. Also remember that the old “no swimming or drinking” signs are valid for dogs as well, so the next time you see one find another place to swim. Your dog can get intestinal upsets from polluted water.
Swimming in pools requires constant supervision. Be aware that dogs can and do drown. It is often hard for dogs to find a way out of the pool, It is imperative to teach yours how to exit. Begin by showing your dog the steps. Once he is comfortable being on the step, get in yourself. Unlike the gradually sloping shore of a lake or pond, most pools drop off. It is sometimes hard to encourage dogs to take the plunge from the step to the water. You can make it easier by lifting your dog into the water and letting him begin to paddle. Then turn him around and show him the way to the steps.
Try placing a brightly colored landmark near the steps so the dog can associate that with an exit. Have treats handy at that point and reward him for coming to the steps. Before long your dog will know where to get out.
An experienced pool dog can show reluctant dogs the way to swim in a matter of minutes. Molly taught a younger puppy how to jump in to get a toy. The puppy wanted the toy and found the only way to get it was to jump in. Now they race to get the toy and retrieve it together, tugging and growling at each other all the way to the steps. One final, important reminder – remember to bathe or rinse your dog after a dip in the pool to remove chlorine from the coat!
If you are a beach person, check local regulations to see if, and when, dogs are allowed on the beach. Many beaches limit dog access to the slower hours, typically before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Some dogs are content chasing the waves, while others plunge in and swim. Remember to take sanitary bags and fresh water for your dog to drink.
Water activities are great for all dogs. Once dogs have learned to appreciate the cooling effects of water, you’ll have a hard time keeping them on dry land.