So, we’re coming into summer, and you’re thinking about how great it feels to be cool by the pool! I’m thinking along those lines myself. But also thinking about a friend of mine who tried to teach his dog to swim, and failed in a huge way.
Okay, here’s how it goes.
The Tale of Al and Hannah
Remember me telling you about Al, my buddy from the dog park? The guy with the Saint Bernard named Hannah? Hannah’s old now, and she needs a bit of help getting around. But when she was just a baby, Al did a very, very stupid thing. He feels guilty to this day (as he should) and he knows that I’m blogging, but he wants me to tell you about the stupid thing he did so that you don’t do anything equally stupid. You could maybe think of this as Al’s “making amends.”
Okay, Al, this one’s for you.
Once Upon a Time Al and Hannah Went to the Pool
And Al wanted to teach Hannah how to swim. They had a pool in their back yard, and the whole family loved hanging out there during the summer, splashing in the water and soaking up the sun. The only member of the family that wasn’t too sure about the whole swimming thing was Hannah – she wasn’t all that sure if the water was such a good thing. After many attempts at getting her into the pool. Al got impatient and tossed her into the water.
Hannah panicked and nearly drowned. Al jumped in and dragged her out, and Hannah was all like “Oh, Daddy, I was drowning and you saved me!”
Yes, I know. We all hate Al right about now, don’t we?
What Al Learned
Okay, Al isn’t a total idiot. He made an error in judgement. So let’s try to cut him some slack. He knows now that tossing a dog in the water is not going to result in some sort of “swimming instinct” kicking in. He learned that lesson, and another as well.
Al’s wife, Jean, was justifiably annoyed with Al. So she bided her time, knowing that revenge is a dish best served cold. Or in cold water, so to speak. On a very chilly fall day, while doing a bit of work around the pool deck, Jean called Al over to the edge of the pool. “Al,” she said, “what’s that in the water?” When Al bent over to look, Jean pushed him in. As he surfaced, she shouted “Now you know how Hannah felt!”
Teaching a Dog to Swim the Right Way
Some dogs are just going to naturally take to the water. Others are going to need a bit of time to get used to the water. Pushing a dog in is never going to achieve anything.
First of all, treat your dog the same way you would a child. You wouldn’t dump a child in the water and assume that he’d instinctively pick up the knack of swimming, would you? Also, never, ever leave him alone in the water, not even for a minute.
If you’re teaching your dog to swim at a public area, keep him on leash – people and other animals can be distracting. You also want to keep the leash on in case he starts swimming too far out. You should not take the leash off until he is able to swim unassisted and is consistently returning to you when called back.
You should also start the lesson in a shallow area. Your dog is going to want to be comfortable walking in the water before he begins to swim. Most dogs need a bit of time to get used to the feel of the water against their tummy and shoulders. And again, make sure to leave the leash on, because of course you are going to want to be able to walk next to your dog as he adjusts to the feel of the water.
You should also start out slow. In the same way that flotation devices can be helpful when teaching children to swim, they will also work for dogs. And if you’re teaching your dog to swim in the family pool, make sure that he is able to get in and out easily. Often, if a dog has trouble getting out of the pool, he may be reluctant to go back in. Human pool ladders don’t always get the job done, so if your dog has difficulty getting in and out of the pool, you might need to consider a special ladder Paws Aboard pool steps, made especially for dogs. They’re slip-proof, very easy to install and remove, and appropriate for dogs of all sizes. Amazon has them for $144.95, which is really a small price to pay in order to help your dog feel comfortable in the pool.
The Final Word
Most dogs will want to swim. But sometimes, dogs are resistant to the idea. If that happens, then it doesn’t make sense to insist that your dog should just jump in the water and do what you expect. Dogs are not that much different from humans when it comes to developing opinions like “I’d really rather not swim.” If your dog has an objection to some sort of behavior, don’t push it. Just let it go. You can always train your dog to do something else interesting, can’t you?
Remember, too, that you can always ease into the swimming thing. You don’t have to get the job done today – it’s perfectly okay to wait until your dog is a little older, and perhaps feels a little more laid back about the swimming thing. And keep in mind, that with love and patience, you can usually teach your dog, eventually, to do just about anything you want him to. So have fun teaching your dog how to swim, and you’ll be able to enjoy the water together!