Of pooches and pools: Teaching your dog to swim
There are certain things we assume dogs know by instinct. Sniffing, for instance, sometimes in embarrassing places. Barking, too, and begging for food scraps are also downloaded onto dogs’ internal computers at the factory.
Then there’s swimming. It seems so integral to being a dog that we’ve even named a stroke after them, the dog-paddle — so you’d assume that’s another thing that every dog is born knowing how to do.
It turns out that you’d be wrong. Not every dog knows instinctively how to swim, and some can’t swim at all, Wendy Diamond, the founder and editorial director of Animal Fair magazine, told TODAY. Dogs’ aquatic abilities are so misunderstood, in fact, that she put together a list of water safety tips for dog owners.
She shared them with TODAY’s Maria Celeste on the Plaza at Rockefeller Center on Tuesday, putting a variety of dogs — some tricked out in sporty personal flotation devices — through their splashes.
Diamond confirmed that some dogs are born swimmers. It’s a good bet if the dog’s breed includes the word “water,” as in Portuguese or English water spaniel, it takes to swimming like a nursery-schooler takes to finger-painting. For owners of those breeds, the problem isn’t getting the dog into the water, but keeping it on dry land.
Dogs that don’t paddle
But other breeds aren’t as water-friendly. Some dogs have to be taught to swim, Diamond said, and others, like bulldogs, take to the water like submarines take to the Cross Bronx Expressway. For the former, there is hope. For the latter, there are those bright orange canine flotation devices.
Among the dogs that swim naturally and gladly, she said, are water spaniels, setters, retrievers, Barbets, akitas, Kerry blue terriers, poodles and Hungarian pulis.
Among those that can’t swim at all or swim only with great difficulty are basset hounds, bulldogs, dachshunds, pugs, corgis, Scottish and Boston terriers and greyhounds.
And then there are dogs like the Maltese, which are capable swimmers, but which are also susceptible to rheumatism, arthritis and chills that could be exacerbated by taking them in the pool with you.
Using wading pools set up in Rockefeller Plaza, Diamond gave a quick course on how to introduce a dog to the drink. Most of her rules were similar to those one would use with children, including never leaving a dog unattended at a pool. Even a dog that knows how to swim can jump in a pool and not be able to get out, which could lead to drowning, she said.
Diamond has a checklist for doggy swim lessons:
- Avoid excessive noise
“Take them to an area that’s not so crazy and hectic,” she advised. Like children, dogs can become frightened and confused if there’s a lot of noise and activity around them. The object is to keep them calm and focused on the swimming lesson.
- Use encouragement
As when teaching a child, keep your voice upbeat and positive, she said. “Using treats and toys to encourage your dog to enter the water also works quite well,” she said.
- Never throw them in
Just as you shouldn’t throw a child in the water and expect it to swim to safety, you shouldn’t do that with a dog, Diamond said. “Don’t force the dog. If they don’t want to do it, don’t force them to do it.” Instead, she told Celeste, “Slowly put them in the water and get their paws used to it.”
- Support their weight until they paddle
Even if the dog is wearing a life vest, Diamond said, support its midsection and hindquarters in the water until they start paddling and feel comfortable.
- Show them how to get out
Getting a dog in the pool is only half the battle. Diamond reminded pet owners that they also need to be shown where the steps are in the pool so they can easily get out.
- Keep an eye on them
Even in the water, dogs can wander off. Dogs that swim naturally and well can jump in the ocean and keep swimming until they’re lost, Diamond said. “You want to make sure, like children, that you watch where they’re going,” she said.