Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swimming Pool Safety

A dip in the pool can be a great way for our four-legged friends to beat the heat this summer! Since we can't outfit them with water wings, it's important to teach dogs safe pool manners in order to keep everyone happy and healthy all summer long. Consider the following tips:

Step Right Up!
Teach your dog only to enter and exit the pool via the steps. This helps prevent human pool guests from unexpectedly becoming victims of a canine cannonball as the dog launches himself in from the side of the pool. More importantly, it cements the idea of the steps in the dog's head, which helps navigate him back there in order to safely exit the pool. Sadly, many dogs, even accomplished swimmers, have drowned while trying unsuccessfully to claw their way out from the edge of the pool.

Swimming Lessons Aren't Just for People!
It's true! Many dogs benefit from a swimming lesson or two. While all dogs know to instinctively paddle when submerged in water, their initial technique rarely wins them a spot on the Canine Olympic Swim Team! Inexperienced swimmers often concentrate their efforts on using the front legs, forgetting to start-up the rear end! Front-end-only swimming is ineffective and uses a tremendous amount of energy. It results in the dog being near-vertical in the water, with lots of splashing. It looks a lot like our friend, Hooper, pictured to the right. Getting in the pool with the dog and supporting his back end as he swims a short distance is often a great way to prompt him to begin doing more with his back legs. As the dog gets the hang of using his front and back ends in unison, the body evens out and the splashing disappears. The most effective swimmers can enter the pool and swim a lap without ever getting the top of their backs wet! (Note: No Hoopers were drowned in the taking of this picture! It was his first day dock jumping. He had a blast and appears to have a great natural jumping form. He's still perfecting his butterfly stroke, but he'll get it.)

Check out a story I shot in 2007 with KNBC's Jennifer Bjorklund, on this very topic. The water-crazed Golden is my dog, Quiz. The Lab, also seen above, is Jen's dog, Tommy. The Aussie is Taxi, who belongs to Janelle, a very talented Jr. Handler who trains and shows Taxi in agility and conformation. The star canine is Toby, a Shetland Sheepdog and longtime client of mine. Toby and his family recently moved to Chicago. We miss them terribly.

Specific Needs of Different Breeds
Keep in mind that heavily muscled breeds are less buoyant compared to their average build friends. Bully breeds in particular come to mind. For these breeds, consider desensitizing them to a dog life jacket to provide an extra layer of safety during their poolside adventures. Also, not all breeds will like the water. Sighthounds are notoriously known for their disdain of anything wet. You may want your dog to become the next Michael Phelps (well, minus the pot-smoking, and all...) but he may feel otherwise. Never force your dog into the water when he's showing an extreme reaction. Your dog needs to know he can trust you.

Easy Does It
Swimming is a great way for dogs to burn off excess energy, stay in shape and even shed some unwanted pounds! When swimming an overweight dog, be sure to check with the veterinarian first and be careful not to overdo it. The more overweight the dog, the quicker he will tire out. Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time your dog swims. Similarly, when dealing with dogs who lead traditionally sedentary lives, avoid the Weekend Warrior Syndrome of too much of a good thing. Dogs, like people, experience muscle soreness and stiffness, and they're counting on us to lookout for their best interests.

Pool Covers: Tragedy in the Making
Unless your pool cover is solid and strong enough to support your weight, do not leave it on when your dog is unattended near the pool. Countess dogs, even accomplished swimmers, have lost their lives following an unexpected tumble into a covered pool. Once they're in, the cover is disorienting, the dog gets stuck under it, and it's almost always impossible for a dog to find his way out.

Landmark Up Ahead!
Speaking of disorienting, it's often helpful to keep a large visual marker, such as a backyard umbrella or large potted plant near the vicinity of the pool stairs. This can help orient your dog in the proper direction, and is especially helpful for dogs who may not enjoy the water, but accidentally find themselves in the pool. Remember: All dogs who will potentially be left unsupervised near the pool should be taught to safely find the stairs, even if they don't swim recreationally.

Watch Out for Unintentional Pawticures
Canine pool enthusiasts can quickly ware their nails down to the point of bleeding as they excitedly race around the pool's exterior. Keep a watchful eye on the pads of their feet as well. Repeated launching from pool steps can tear up paw pads; especially on dogs who spend most of their time on grass.

Know When to Say When
Dedicated swimmers often forget they're dogs, not ducks! Keep a close eye on your dog and be sure to get him out of the pool for a break as soon as you see signs of physical fatigue or over-stimulation. Watch the rear. The lower the rear in an accomplished swimmer, the more tired he is.

Learn to Wait Your Turn!
It's also important to teach your dog to remain calm when others are swimming and he has too stay back at the cabana. Many dogs want to excitedly race around the exterior of the pool, barking madly while watching their favorite humans take a dip. It's hard for dogs to not be right smack in the middle of all the fun! If you don't want him racing around the pool in bark-fest mode, try not to ever let him practice. When you wish to have some dog-free pool time, consider confining your dog indoors where he can't see the pool activity, and be sure to give him something wonderful like a favorite chew bone or other consolation prize. Additionally, set up training sessions where one person works the dog (leashed, with wonderful treats in-hand) while another casually enjoys the pool. Reward generously for calm poolside behavior.

Good Enough to Drink? and Water In, Water Out!
Pool water belongs in pools, not dogs! Avoid letting your dog drink excessively from the backyard pool. The same goes for rivers, ponds, lakes and the ocean. Always keep an ample supply of fresh water on hand during outdoor activities. Keep in mind that your dog will likely unintentionally ingest larger-than-normal amounts of water while swimming. Be sure to give him lots of opportunities to relieve himself when the fun is over (and expect him to "go" more than normal) to avoid possible accidents in the house.

Post-Swim Doggie Spa Treatment
Be sure to rinse off your dog following an outdoor water adventure. Chlorine and other pool chemicals can easily dry out a dog's coat and skin, and swimming in natural environments can result in a dirty dog. Avoid letting your dog sit in a wet collar, as hot spots can develop. Be mindful of other areas that may remain damp for longer than normal: ears, groin and armpits, as they can quickly develop moisture-induced irritations or infections.

With a little pre-pool training and planning, you and your dog will share many happy summer memories. Last one in the pool is a moldy bone!

If you live in the greater Los Angeles area and would like to schedule a pool safety lesson, please call Stephanie at (818) 989-7996.

Final Note:
The other beautiful Golden pictured above, is the graceful Gracie! She's as water-crazed as my own Quiz. They're buddies. All the pictures were taken at a dock jumping competition. You can view a fun video of the dogs in action, here.

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  1. I can't wait to try these tips with Milly - she hates swimming, but loves to wade up to her belly.

    you have an award waiting for you on my blog! :)

  2. Special thanks to for running this story in their Articles section!
    You can see it here:

    Check out their site. It's full of great information!

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