With summer suddenly deciding to show its face, and the weather vastly improving (a little rain notwithstanding), dog owners across the country will be looking forward to taking their pets outside to play in the sun. One of the most fun activities for dogs at this time of year is cooling down with a nice swim.
People often assume their dogs can swim instinctively. After all, this is where the name 'doggy paddle' comes from, isn't it? However, although some dogs are able to do so from birth, many others will have to be taught how to swim just like humans.
The first and most important step is to check whether or not your dog is even capable of swimming. Some breeds will take to it like a duck to water, while others will not be able to do so no matter how much you train them, and attempting to do so can even be dangerous.
Some dogs were bred specifically for hunting waterfowl, swimming out to retrieve the birds that were shot by their human companion. As such, these breeds love the water and are excellent swimmers. Examples include the Golden Retriever, the English and Irish Setter, and the Newfoundland. It is also a fairly safe bet that any breed with 'water' in its name (such as the Portuguese Water Spaniel) will be a good swimmer.
On the other hand, certain breeds should not be introduced to the water. Bulldogs, Dachshunds and other short-legged dogs will not deal well with swimming, as they simply do not have the power to keep themselves above the surface. Pugs and other short-nosed breeds will also get worn out too easily by swimming, and can drown.
Smaller dogs like Chihuahuas or Malteses generally don't deal well in the water either. They are too small and can get cold or even frightened. The key thing is to make sure your dog has reasonably long, strong legs and is generally athletic, and they should be fine in the water.
Also, each dog has a different personality, and some may simply not like the water. Does your dog like going out in the rain? If they end up cold, wet and miserable, whining whenever they walk in bad weather, they probably won't enjoy swimming either. This can be trained out of them, but why make your dog do something they don't enjoy?
If you have a dog that will be capable of swimming and has no problem with the water, then you can start training them. The main thing to remember is not to rush them. Dogs may panic if they are forced into the water too soon, and this can cause them to become fatigued quickly, which increases the risk of drowning.
Go to somewhere quiet without many distractions, and get your dog's paws used to the water first. You can use dog treats to encourage them into the water if they are a little reluctant, but again, don't force them.
Once they are happy paddling around in the water, you can take them out of their depth. Support them at first, holding them up under their belly as they paddle so they stay afloat and feel safe. Be as positive as you can, giving them lots of verbal praise in a positive tone of voice.
Often, dogs will start paddling using only their front legs, and this can seem like they are swimming well. However, you must make sure they use all four of their legs to swim, or when you let them go they might struggle to stay afloat and panic.
When you let your dog out of the water, you must make sure you show them how to do it. Being able to get out of the water is vital for a dog, as if they do not know how they will just swim until exhausted. Don't just lift them out, as this teaches them nothing. Instead, lead them to the side of the water until they understand this is how they get back to land.
Finally, be ready with praise, attention and even a treat for your dog once they get out of the water. This will reinforce the fact that swimming is a positive experience, giving them more confidence and therefore keeping them safer in the water in future.
Written by: Hannah