Summer time equals water time for many dogs. But what does swimming really mean for your dog? And what is the difference between a walk in the sea and a walk in the dog swimming pool? We have had a talk with behavior specialist and training instructor, Annette Høyer Bendtsen, about dog swimming as a training activity.
Let’s reveal it right away: Swimming training your dog has many benefits. Swimming is gentle training of the musculoskeletal system, with minimal strain on the skeleton and joints. It maintains and increases / strengthens the dog’s muscles, increases blood circulation and makes the dog’s body more flexible. This makes swimming particularly suitable for dogs that need to be rehabilitated after an injury and for older dogs who lose some of their musculature with old age and possibly suffer from arthritis.
When the activity takes place as a definite training and not just a little water fun by the North Sea, it has several other functions.
– If you take your dog to the swimming pool, you will first and foremost teach your dog something new. Here it gains new experience, and it becomes aware of using its hind legs actively – how many dogs typically only focus on using the front legs, while the hind legs just follow. It all helps to strengthen the dog’s self-confidence, says Annette Høyer Bendtsen.
The collaboration between dog and dog handler
Organized swimming training also requires some of the cooperation between dog and dog handler. Unlike water splashing at the beach edge, the swimming pool sets a precise framework for how the dog gets into the water, and not least how long it must stay in the water. It requires both commands and lots of praise for the dog.
– Your dog will get the optimal effect from the training if you manage to keep it in the water for a long time and make it move across the pool with twists that can strengthen the very small muscles around the spine. The length of time in the water must of course be kept up against the dog’s condition, injury, etc. In general, however, you should always keep an eye on whether the dog is swimming as it should – or as it usually does. It is especially important to always keep an eye on whether the dog uses its hind legs when swimming. If it does not, there may be locks in the back that require treatment.
For specific issues, such as rehabilitation after an injury, Annette recommends swimming 1-2 times a week, most often a rehabilitation takes place with the vet or other therapist on the “sideline”. Should the dog lose weight, it will also be 1-2 times a week. If you want to use swimming as prevention, maintenance or a supplement to your training, you can just swim approx. every 10 days. Especially hunting dogs and dogs that are used for sports competitions can have a very good benefit from swimming training, however, dog swimming is to that extent also for the ordinary family dog.
– A seasoned swimmer you can keep swimming in the water for up to 20 minutes. Then the dog gets built well with muscles on, and it gets improved its condition – and if you want to provide additional physical challenge, you can take the life jacket off the dog, so it has to work harder to keep the buoyancy in the water. But always pay attention to whether the dog is ready to get the vest off.
Can all dogs swim?
Dogs are very different both in size and physique and this presents some challenges for some breeds. Basically, all dogs can swim, but some dogs are mentally more comfortable than others.
– It is clear that we see the most labradors here in the pool. This may be due to the fact that there are most of these dogs in terms of numbers – but also because they are very water-loving by nature. Physically, the heavy dog breeds such as fighting dogs can be challenged in terms of swimming. They have difficulty maintaining buoyancy when in the water, especially the weight in front.
How to get started with dog swimming
Some dogs may panic when they feel the sudden weightlessness in the water for the first time. To help the dog keep the buoyancy in the water, wear a life jacket. With the vest on, the dog lies stably in the water surface and thus has the optimal starting point for a correct swimming position.
At Doxx Hundecenter, it is mandatory to have a test swim with an instructor when you start in the swimming pool. Practical information is given about the use of the pool, and it is the instructor who helps the dog in the pool for the first time.
– If it is a large dog, and there is a lot of energy behind it, then it can be difficult to swim with the dog for the first time. That role our instructor would like to take on. Then the owner can focus on praising and guiding the dog verbally. In addition, we have a professional eye for how your dog swims, and we look for other things than you as a dog owner typically do yourself.
– Our experience is that it usually takes 3-5 times before the dog gets the right feeling with swimming and e.g. even walks / jumps in. However, there are dogs that never get happy swimming. I myself have three dogs, one of which would definitely rather be on land than in water, but all my dogs swim equally. Swimming is just as healthy for the two of mine who like to swim as for the dog who can not. But overall, it’s important to ask yourself what you want with dog swimming before you start. The reason I swim with my dogs is to keep the dogs’ musculoskeletal system in place throughout the dog’s life. I look at dog swimming as dressing the dogs for old age in a good and gentle way, Annette concludes.
All dogs are welcome in the swimming pool, puppies can only start from the age of 12 weeks.
Annette Høyer Bendtsen owns Doxx Hundecenter near Jordrup, northwest of Kolding. In 2005 she trained as a training instructor and behavioral consultant for dogs and in 2013 completed a training as an osteopath.
Annette has had a dog boarding house and swimming pool since 2009. Look more at www.doxxhundecenter.dk