July 2006

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Thatís Right, Swimming Lessons For Dogs

By Jane Lemon Mott

So you donít have a dog who needs swimming lessons? Enjoy this article anyway. You never know when you, your family, or a friend may need advice on a water-shy dog!

After 43 years, I can still see that little six-month-old yellow cocker spaniel puppy, Peaches, leaping from our boat while we were 50 yards from shore.

My panic was that of an 11- year-old who believed that because we had not taught that little girl to swim that she would surely drown before making it to dry land.

Well if Peaches didnít know what she was doing, she learned in a hurry. Bobbing and paddling for all she was worth, she cut a beeline to shore and amazed us all with her speed and endurance.

Peaches was a natural swimmer, but that is not true of all dogs ó even many who, by breed, are thought to be able and willing to swim. Some dogs may need to have a little help getting a good start in the water.

Giving a dog swimming lessons may sound a bit odd to some, but I believe that it is part of any good training program ó especially if you intend to take your K9 friend with you on water excursions.

There are a lot of good instructional Web sites about water training your dog, but there are elements that remain constant through all the sites that I have searched.

They are as follow:

  • If itís possible, start when your dog is young, especially if you own a larger breed that will be hard to handle later.
  • Donít think that because you have a breed known to be water lovers that your dog will neatly follow all the traits of the breed.
  • Keep in mind that there are fear stages in puppy development that can cause a bad experience to hamper successful training. In other words, donít do anything that will scare your dog like dropping him/her into the water to "sink or swim."
  • Choose a safe training area where the water is not too cold, and there is a gradual slope to the bottom.
  • And last, but not least, is #5. This is something that I have witnessed twice and have been amazed by both times. If possible, take an older, more experienced dog with you to lead the way.

I have witnessed my yellow Labrador retriever mentor a black lab puppy who would not get into the water. After 20 minutes, that puppy was swimming out beside my dog to retrieve sticks that they would bring back together.

The puppyís owners were delighted as they had been thinking that their water dog was a water dud.

The second time that I witnessed this old dog/new dog mentoring is a little different and goes back to expectations of breeds. After the loss of our Labrador, we bought a golden retriever puppy(Ginger).

She was a great retriever on land at an early age but surprised us by not wanting to go into the water ó even to go after her favorite toy. Finally, after watching our frustrating water training efforts with our new friend, our eight-year-old terrier mix (Crunchy, who hates the water) began the mentoring process and had that puppy swimming like the water dog (we thought) she born to be.

To this day, when the float toy is thrown into the water, the terrier and the golden race to the shore together, but the terrier stops before her tummy hits the cold water.

What if you cannot find an older dog to assist in training? What are cross-species friends for but to help each other. Thatís right, you can take on the role of mentor.

Use the tips Iíve given plus an abundance of common sense and you may succeed as well as that old dog in teaching new tricks!

And, important too are dog-swimming-lesson safety tips for humans: Wear clothing that will protect your skin from accidental dog scratches and stay in shallow water as a panicked dog can drown a human.

Train in quiet water away from river currents. If you water train in a swimming pool ( yes, some people do), be sure your pet knows the way to get out.

 

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