Summer has arrived! Here’s how to make sure your breed can take the plunge safely and swim to shore…
Summertime is the perfect time to take your dog to the beach. But before you toss that stick in the ocean, remember: not all breeds can doggie paddle! One thing is for sure; swimming is the most effective form of exercise for dogs, namely, because it involves the use of the majority of muscles required for movement. It’s also the best way to regain muscle and flexibility in injured dogs. While water resistance is more substantial than air resistance, swimming does not put any concussive stress on joints. Therefore, for dogs suffering from degenerative diseases such as arthritis, spondylosis, and hip dysplasia, swimming is fundamental to their recovery and the general improvement of their health. Let’s not forget that it’s also a great way for you and your pooch to shed some extra pounds!
But do all types of dogs know how to swim? “Swimming is not an innate skill in every dog,” says Trish Jones, the Certified Behavior and Training Specialist at Triple Crown Dog Academy. “Some dogs will do what we like to call a ‘panic swim’ when they can’t touch the ground, they flail. I don’t consider that swimming.”
Furthermore, breeds vary in swimming ability. “Labs and Golden Retrievers are the obvious good swimmers,”explains Stacey Alldredge, owner of The Dog Run, the only swim facility for dogs in Manhattan, “but Spaniels and Poodles are natural swimmers as well.”
She added that many smaller dogs love being in the water, but lack self-assurance because they were not bred to swim. The best thing to do with pocket-sized pups is to acclimate them to the water slowly, and to remember to use positive reinforcement methods to boost their confidence!
However, there are some breeds that will simply never be able to swim at all. “Pugs and Bulldogs are not swimmers,” says Alldredge. “I mean, if you look at their bodies, you can see that they’re not going to be much in the swim department–short legs, heavy body, scrunched-in face. They have trouble breathing, and their legs can’t support their bodies.” But don’t fret–these breeds can still enjoy the water: just slap a life vest on their backs, and remember to never leave them unsupervised!
Both specialists agree that, with the exception of Pugs and all types of Bulldogs, there is a way to teach dogs to swim. The Dog Run has even started swim classes for puppies! “You can teach a dog to swim by acclimating them to the water. You should go into the water with them, while holding them up above the surface and using other dogs that are better swimmers as an example,” explains Jones. You could also throw something in the water that your dog is somewhat attached to, such as a toy, but you must make sure to throw it in shallow water and not too far from an exit, so if your dog begins to flail, it can return to firm ground as quickly as possible.
If after all of these attempts, your pup still thrashes and struggles to keep its head above the surface, it is simply not a swimmer and should join the Pugs and Bulldogs in the shallow end! And no matter what, do not expose such dogs to water without a life vest! In addition, dogs with short noses should not swim on their own, and dogs that suffer from diarrhea caused by water must always remain on dry land.
Other precautions every pup parent must take before allowing his or her pooch to take the plunge include: showing your dog entrance and exits so it can find its way out when experiencing muscle fatigue, avoiding very cold water that often causes muscle spasms, rough sea that might be too strenuous for a dog, and making sure your pooch doesn’t swallow excessive amounts of salt water to avoid severe illness.
Swim sessions for your pooch are often offered at canine training facilities, and, if your dog is recovering from injury or suffers from a degenerative disease, ask your vet to put you in contact with a swim therapist. If you live in the New York area, call The Dog Run at: 212.414.2500, where your pup can swim for thirty minutes for $40.00. You could also contact the Rivergate Vet Clinic at: 212.213.9885 to get in touch with renowned New York swim therapist, Peter Kross. For those of you who live elsewhere, or if you’re planning a vacation, here’s a list of great places that provide swimming facilities and hydrotherapy for your pooch:
The Dog Run, formerly Bonnie’s Swim Center,
New York City, New York
Triple Crown Dog Academy,
Happy Tails Resort and Spa
Dog Swimming: The Canine Spa
Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center
Dog Gone Smart
Pet Inn Resort and Spa,
New England Canine Rehabilitation and Fitness Center