Why should pet parents consider trying aquatic exercise for their dog?
Swimming is beneficial for just about everyone. It provides non-weight bearing exercise that improves fitness at every level. Swimming promotes blood and lymph circulation and reduces pain globally.
What if a dog doesn’t know how to swim, or they have a fear of the water?
Though most dogs have an instinctive swimming response, we assume that they need to develop some swimming skills and we go through a series of small steps to promote confidence and competent swimming. Many dogs are afraid of a body of water with no bottom if they don’t have any experience – this fear can be a life-saver for the dog. If you are not a competent swimmer, going beyond where you can touch the bottom could result in drowning. Even dogs bred for the water need a supervised beginning. We start them off teaching some “here is the bottom” exercises, with supported swimming one direction toward the owner,
and build on that.
Very few dogs stay afraid of the water as long as their swim experience is carefully nurtured. That's what we do best. For a few elderly dogs, a floatation vest provides buoyancy and safety for those who can’t swim fast enough to stay high in the water. For the overstimulated, a life vest can provide security and calming.
Our Puppy Swim Lessons are designed to allow puppies a fun, safe way to develop confidence and learn to swim in 4 short 15 minutes sessions. The shortened session is based on their limited attention span. Puppies learn in more frequent, shorter time frames. Most puppies are swimming well at the end of those 4 sessions.
How does swimming help dogs with issues such as arthritis and joint pain?
The inflammation involved in arthritis and accompanying joint pain is relieved by warm water and by movement. The health of the joint improves as the muscles start to do their job more effectively, and the joints are able to produce joint fluid because they are moving better. Muscles and tendons and ligaments are stronger, and pain is reduced.
Because swimming is non-weight bearing, it allows compromised joints to move more normally. Thus, the quantity and quality of information from all systems, directed to the nervous system, are improved. For dogs who have any joint issues, this aspect can be the key to improved health and function.
What are some of the exercises and movements done in the water with the dog?
Most of our swimmers swim a variation of laps in the water. For those who like toys we customize retrieving activities, and incorporate any limitations or goals into their sessions. For dogs who aren’t interested in toys we teach them to swim along with us as we guide them in a version of “synchronized swimming". Rest periods are incorporated, and these get shorter as dogs get fitter. For the very old, we often float them out to the end of the pool and they swim a 1/2 lap back to their people at the edge of the pool. Balance is achieved by making sure that dogs are using both sides of their bodies equally in terms of making turns and the direction of laps.
At The Puddle, swimming is very much a family activity and everyone is encouraged to cheer and help the process along (though only swim coaches are in the water). Dogs do much better when their people are involved.
On average, how long can or should a dog swim? (i.e. the length of a session, or how many days/weeks).
Swim sessions at The Puddle are 30 minutes. Depending on the condition of the dog, actual swimming time per session may be almost all of the 30 minutes or less than 15 minutes, with lots of floating and resting. We start dogs off on the low end if they are pre-surgical or post-surgical, if they have injuries they are recovering from, if they are obese or unfit in any way. We monitor heart rate to determine when to rest. With regular swimming, dogs improve amazingly fast.
For those who have had orthopedic surgery, adherence to home care rules and exercises is a major influence on how well dogs do in our swim program. We consider 6 weeks pre- and post-surgical to be an ideal start. More swims post-surgical are beneficial in most cases. A dog that is in better condition heals faster and it is far easier for them to become acquainted with the pool before surgery.
For the elderly and aging, swimming for life is our recommendation. Our experience is that swimming can add years to the happy, productive life of older dogs.
Swimming on a regular basis is excellent recreation for almost any dog. A high percentage of dogs that are “unmanageable” and surrendered to shelters often times fail to thrive due to the stress. Through our “Share the Care” community program we raise funds and provide services for local shelter and rescue groups pre-adoption. Some of those dogs have been transformed by weekly swimming from nervous, fearful, unstable individuals into confident, “let me at it!” swimmers with their former fears of people and new situations a thing of the past.
Are there any risks involved, for instance is the chlorine bad for them?
The quality of any pool water is extremely important. At the Puddle, our pool is equipped with a UV sanitation system. The UV sanitation is a continuous, reliable, proactive method of disinfection. In addition, we use a minimal amount of chlorine (1-2ppm) to help keep the water clear. The small amount is safe for dogs. The temperature, water quality and filtration are continually monitored.
There are indeed risks. We encourage anyone looking for a swim facility to observe carefully the quality of the pool water, the way in which the dogs are handled and the skill and training level of the staff. In our opinion, staff need to be extremely attentive to your dog at all times. There needs to be an immediate “oneness” established between the swim coach and your dog in order for your dog to trust them and feel safe. The coach should be trained in how to handle the dog while in the water under all circumstances. This is not an easy task with a frightened dog in the pool for the first time. Dog owners need to be paying very close attention as well, they know their dog better than anyone. Very close observation is needed to ensure that
your dog is safe. Do not compromise or make excuses – facilities should be clean, well managed and