Summer and water go together like Bonnie and Clyde, Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra — but without the tragedy. Or so we hope.
Every year in America, more than 300 children drown in residential swimming pools, usually their own. Considering the great lengths most parents go to in order to keep their children safe, imagine what that number might be for dogs.
A lot of dogs love the water; some famously: Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, poodles, Newfoundlands, Irish water spaniels, Portuguese water dogs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and Cocker spaniels are among the most likely to dive right into the deep end.
But even if your dog’s breed suggests he’s desperate for a dip, make sure he’s a water lover before he’s waterlogged.
Most dogs are natural swimmers, but that doesn’t give us license to toss a pup into a pool and cross our fingers. Some dogs are scared of the water and could panic. Panic quickly creates exhaustion, which leads to drowning. Other dogs are ambivalent about water, and such a rude introduction could easily tip ambivalence toward fear.
Teaching a dog water safety is a lot like teaching a child water safety. We would never leave young children in a pool unsupervised — and that rule applies to dogs, as well. If your dog enjoys free rein of a yard that contains a swimming pool, secure access to the water.
And teach him to swim.
While some parents (and kids) might disagree, it is not a good idea to “teach” a child or dog to swim via the “sink or swim” method — in which the parent shoves the kid (or dog) into the water and encourages them to figure it out fast. This creates fear sans technique — not to mention a bitter resentment that could come back to bite you, so to speak.
When teaching a dog to swim, have a few tools at the ready: his leash, some dog floaties or a swim vest, a favorite toy or treat, and plenty of patience. We want to ease him into the idea of water as something more than what he drinks — and we want it to be fun!
Start with a child’s wading pool, and encourage him to step into it using his leash. Don’t drag him. Use your voice to encourage him — and his favorite treats if necessary. Let him enjoy being in the water in a relaxed manner for a bit, and then lead him out of the pool. Repeat the process a few times until he gets in and out of the pool without hesitation.
When he’s ready to upgrade to an actual swimming pool, employ the same gradual introduction using his leash. Sit next to him on the steps of the pool. Use the floaties if your dog shows signs of panic or unease. Swim with him in the pool, your arms around him to keep him afloat and reassured of your presence. If he takes off like a fish, great! If he’s reticent, you’re right there to help.
The most important part of teaching your dog to swim is teaching him how and where to get out of the water. If they don’t know how to exit the pool, even the best canine swimmers will tire and, if you aren’t watching (even for a minute), could drown.
To teach your dog to exit the pool, use a high-value reward: his favorite ball if he’s a fetcher, his favorite treat if he’s food motivated. Use his leash to guide him from the open water to the pool steps, and reward him when he successfully exits the water. Do this many times over several days to ensure he knows where the steps are, how to use them and that good things happen when he goes to the steps to get out.
And remember: Whenever surfing, boating, waterboarding, kayaking or canoeing, bring and use life vests for you, your kids, your passengers and your pooch.
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at http://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions email@example.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at PO Box 3300, Diamond Springs 95619
Copyright 2012 Creators Syndicate Inc.