There's nothing like a refreshing swim to help your dog cool off in the summer. But believe it or not, most dogs don't instinctively know how to swim!
While some breeds have bodies designed for swimming, others' builds make it a challenge.
"Some dogs don't know how to swim," explains Kelly Armstrong, a trainer who teaches doggie swimming lessons every summer at Camp Gone to the Dogs in Marlboro and Stowe, Vermont. "They will only paddle with their front legs. When this happens, their rear sinks, they become totally vertical and increasingly frantic, and can actually drown." In addition, some breeds have bodies designed for swimming, while others are built in ways that make swimming more of a challenge.
That said, almost any dog can be taught to at least tolerate the water, and often to really enjoy it. Here's how to help yours do so safely:
No sink or swim. "Definitely do not just throw your dog into the water," warns Armstrong. "Dogs can drown. Be positive and don't be frustrated if your dog doesn't seem to enjoy the water as much as you'd like him to."
Make it a group effort. Some dogs will go into a pool, pond or other water body without hesitation the very first time they see one, but many others need a little help from their friends. "For some dogs, just letting them play in a gently sloping pond or pool with steps with dogs that love to swim is all it takes," says Armstrong. "Other dogs will follow their owner into the water with encouragement, food or toys."
Float his boat. Dense-bodied, short-legged dogs such as Pugs and Bulldogs may have trouble staying afloat. For these breeds and any other dog who's floatationally challenged, a life jacket can help. "Quality canine life jackets provide greater visibility, greater buoyancy and a means to control or lift a dog out of the water in an emergency," says Deborah Lee Miller-Riley, an instructor who teaches swimming and water sports to dogs and their people in Monroe, Connecticut. Life jackets are also important if you and your dog are boating; if he goes overboard unexpectedly, the handle atop the jacket will help you hoist him out of the water.
Help him out. A dog may have a great time swimming in a pool but be unable to figure out how to leave that pool. Grab his life jacket handle or direct him to the pool steps or ramp so that he can make his exit. And no matter where he's swimming, watch for signs that he's getting tired, such as heavier breathing or increased splashing while paddling.
Hose him down. Remember how your hair and skin feel if you don't rinse chlorinated water or salt water off your hair and skin after a swim? Your dog's coat and skin may feel equally icky -- dry, gummy hair and irritated skin -- if pool or ocean water dries on them. After every dip in the pool or splash session in the ocean, rinse your dog thoroughly and towel him as dry as possible.
Ever since Susan McCullough introduced her Golden Retriever, Allie, to the joys of swimming, they both hit the water whenever they get the chance. They live in Vienna, Virginia.