Does Your Dog-Paddle?

Over the July Fourth weekend my wife and I were visiting friends in Wilmington, NC. They took us out boating and we were amazed at...

Horst Hoefinger  |  Jul 22nd 2008


Over the July Fourth weekend my wife and I were visiting friends in Wilmington, NC. They took us out boating and we were amazed at the number of boaters who had dogs with them. A large percentage of them had doggie lifejackets, but not all. Which leads me to the point, not all dogs are swimmers.

There are certain things we assume dogs know by instinct. 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.

To keep your best friend safe this summer you may need to sign up for Swimming 101.

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.

Is there anything cuter then a dog in a bright orange life-jacket?

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.

When you teach a dog to swim you use a lot of the same rules as you would when teaching a child. You never want to leave a dog unattended, even one that can swim. Dogs that can swim may jump in a pool and not be able to get out, resulting in drowning. Here is a checklist from Wendy Diamond, founder and editorial director of Animal Fair magazine, of things to do to get ready for Swimming 101:

* 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.