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Dog Swimming in Pool
Sat, June 27, 2015
Doin' the Doggy Paddle
This common term, the doggy paddle, has led many to think dogs are natural swimmers. Technically they are. They do, however, need to develop this skill. Just like humans their first experience needs to be gentle and safe. The 'ol' toss the dog in the lake he can swim trick' is dangerous to say the least. Be it a pool or open water a dog's first experience needs to be measured for comfort and safety. An improper intoduction to swimming for a dog of any age can lead to unnecessary fears, discomforts, or worst case scenario, drowning.

I still remember my first swimming lessons - exciting and empowering to learn movement in a completely different medium. Dogs gain confidence and feel joy if they are swimmers. Note their happy and smiling faces with relaxed body language when they exit and shake it all off. Swimming with my dogs has always been fun play. Whether we started in natural waters or pools, the first time was always the same.  My dogs enter the water supported in my arms with love and care.  This allows them to feel safe and thereby enjoy the experience.

First and foremost; make sure your dog has a proofed recall if taking them swimming off leash. Dogs can become exhausted swimming and drown just as people can. You may want to purchase a life jacket designed for dogs. Make sure it has the proper fit, it should not be able to slip over the dog's head or obstruct leg movement. Give your dog plenty of chances to experience swimming. Never force them to swim. Some dogs need several introductions for exploration and learning. Maybe the water is a bit cold for comfort at first. A life jacket only assists in flotation. Dogs should never be left to swim without supervision be it a pool or open water. If your dog is leashed in the water make sure you are at the other end so the leash doesn't become entangled below water.

With open water the swimming introduction is a bit easier as they can enter with owner/trainer encouragement to the depth of their choice for that day. It is important to scope out the swimming area just as one would for our own swimming. Dangers can lurk underwater such as trash, sharp rocks, fishing line and hooks.  The water depths can vary so be wary. Would you be able to rescue your dog if he were trapped in deep water somehow?

There is a small lake that is part of the watershed in a park near my home. One of the dogs who was allowed to swim there was slashed open by a metal object that had been discarded in the lake. Luckily he was carried out, received first aid and then treated at the vet. Yes, make sure you have a first aid kit with you! Blue green algae blooms are another danger in open waters. This is toxic, ingesting this water can be deathly to a dog (and humans.) (1)

Most back yard pools are deeper than the dog's height and many do not have cascading stair entries. A dog needs to know how to get out of the pool. Often pools have vertical stairs that most dogs cannot navigate. There are now some nifty floating ramps that attach to the side of a pool for assisting canines in their exit. Spend time teaching your dog how to exit the pool or help him out safely.

This leads us to pool access in general.  Pools should always be enclosed in a way that dogs and children cannot enter without adult supervision. Slips and falls into pools can leave either unconscious when they hit the water. There is no running for dogs at the pool either! Does the pool have a solar cover? Dogs (and kids) can get in on top of these and become trapped with a dire ending. This extends to winter covers also. I have heard of too many tragic endings this way.

Pool water quality is also important. Bromine is less iritating to the skin than chlorine. Improper water pH and treatment can be harmful. Never leave water treatment chemicals exposed where dogs or children may step in them or accidentally spill them or ingest them. Serious burns can ensue.

Safety can translate to the owner in pools also. When I plan to swim with a dog I wear covering over the bathing suit. Jean shirts and pants (or a wetsuit) will protect the skin from nails attached to doggy paddling legs underwater.  

First time in the water for your dog? Have a plan. Stay calm, in control and enjoy this time. Remember your first swimming lessons, they were in stages. The instructor never has the initiate swimming pool lengths in the first lesson. Keep the lessons short! Twenty minutes is plenty for a dog's first time swimming. In fact 10 minutes may be more than enough if the dog is very young or a senior. A dog should never be left to his own devices when swimming. They can become exhausted and unable to continue needing rescue.

I have had the pleasure of being an open water lifeguard on our historic Belle Isle and water safety instructor at city pools. Being a stationary engineer I had responsibility for water treatment and filtration of a University Olympic pool. I also swam for my first college women's team. Training around water activities builds our confidence and leads to safe days in and on the water.

Summer is just fresh. Plenty of time to find the Red Cross on line and take the Home Pool Essentials course to make your summer pool time more enjoyable through safety. (2)   

July and August are perfect months for dog days at the beach as the water temps have warmed enough for a comfortable swim. Provide shade and fresh water for your dog if staying all day.

No pool? No beach access?  Dont worry, be happy it's summer! Playing with our dogs in the back yard in a sprinkler, slip and slide, or wading pool with plenty of waterproof dog toys can be just as much fun as the beach on a hot summer day! 

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Fou Fonoti is the newest San Francisco 49er and a former MSU OL.
Jake Hatch is a sports radio producer for 97.5 FM & 1280 AM The Zone in Salt Lake City, UT.

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