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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Swimming Isn't Just for Lab-Lovers

© copyright Carrie Boyko 2009
Tanner in True Fetching Form

Lately I've spoken with a number of Retriever owners whose dogs do not enjoy the water. After a few questions, the problem becomes clear. Given that these dogs, bred to collect the hunter's kill from the water, are natural water dogs, they probably just need a little instruction. Perhaps an easy acclimation to the water will work for them, as it did for Tanner. Here's how it went for us with Tanner, with photos from Oliver's experience. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Tanner's turn. :(

At about 9 months of age, the water was an inviting temperature, and Tanner's interest in new things was peaking. Perfect timing for an introduction to swimming. After a long walk to tire him out, we enjoyed a cool-down on the pool deck. He likes being wiped down with a few splashes of water, so I used this to my advantage, and got him more wet than usual.

Then, taking my arms under his belly, we sat slowly down on the edge of the pool, danging his toes in the water. This felt good and he quickly found it pleasurable. I dropped to the first step. Now his legs were in the water and his tummy was feeling a surge of cool water. That did it. He wriggled and tried to escape, being confused by this chilly surprise. Holding him close, tightly to my body, I did not speak. I just waited for him to calm himself and acclimate.

When Tanner's breathing slowed and he loosened in my grip, I gave him a few minutes to enjoy the relaxed feeling and then dropped another step. Water rose up to his shoulders and his eyes became like marbles. He looked at me as if to say, "We're not going to keep going into this giant water bowl, are we?"

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Oliver Gets Ready
for a Swim with Alan

Again, I simply sat quietly, holding him snugly against my body. And again he calmed after realizing, from my body language, that all was okay. I lifted Tanner out of the pool and allowed him to enjoy a good tail chasing and then dried him off. He loves being massaged with a thick towel, having his ears rubbed and his chest dried with a circular motion. This pleasurable end to Swimming Lesson 101 was perfect. He left his lesson with the pure enjoyment of a good massage. My hope was that his next lesson would go more easily.

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Look What You Did to My Beautiful, Fluffy Fur!

It did. Without surprise, he awaited the move to each step. When we sat covered in the water up to his shoulders, his anticipation was palpable. Yet I waited. When he relaxed, once again, suspecting that we would go no further, I took this as my cue and stepped into the pool, continuing to hold him securely to me, as we moved around at a steady speed.

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Oliver Heads for the Shallow Step

This took him by a surprise, but didn't take long until he began to relax in my arms. I dropped my arms, giving him a little push and said "Swim, Tanner!" He turned and came right toward me, using his paws to try to reach my shoulders for a good grip. Tanner's default grip has always been more like a toddler's. Tummy to tummy, he enjoys holding on to Toni or I, with his feet on our hips. And this is where he was headed. Without clothing to protect my shoulders or hips, I did not want this to happen now. Not here in the pool.

I turned him back toward the shallow step--his goal--and once again said "Swim, Tanner!" Once again, Tanner turned and headed back for me. This was going to be a challenge. He couldn't see the solid white step under the water; he simply knew that I was right behind him. This time I caught him and took him to the step. I put him securely on it and allowed him to stand there, realizing that it was good purchase, and he did not need me to hold him there.

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Yeah, Oliver! You Did It!
I let go and backed up. He swam toward me. I cheered! Toni cheered! Alan cheered! Tanner was swimming!

It took a few more lessons before Tanner would get in alone, and a few more before he would jump into the water, and, get it.
© photo copyright Carrie Boyko 2009
Alan and Oliver Race

Now he heaves himself in after a fetch toy like there was nothing at all to worry about. He just needed a confident teacher to show him how.
© photo copyright Carrie Boyko
Tanner Leaps from Poolside to Fetch "Red"
Trying to teach your dog to swim? Most dogs can swim. Maybe Bulldogs and Bassets might have a bit more trouble. They lack the legs to propel their large bodies. Once again, I'll be willing to field questions. Click the link button at the bottom of the post and send me your question.


Anonymous said...

Really love your website! I am a dog lover as well I was thinking about getting one of those Swim Spas, as I don't have as big of a backyard for a pool for my dog to swim.

SlimDoggy said...

Great lesson in slowly working your dog into the pool. I agree, swimming isn't just for Labs - it's such a great exercise for all dogs - especially our seniors, so good post for Senior Pets Month!

DogTread said...

Great Post! I really love the pool - we go to the lake, but it is becoming less and less dog friendly. I had to teach my two labs how to swim too! Now they love it!

GizmoGeodog said...

I've been working a similar program with thing that helped was using a life jacket...the extra buoyancy seems to make him more comfortable

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Yes @GizmoGeodog, a life jacket works well for many dogs. As long as Fido doesn't absolutely hate wearing it, it's worth a shot. As you say, the extra buoyancy is a positive.

Paws and Pedals (Scooter and Kate) said...

Swimming can be such fun for dogs But I was surprised when we got Scooter that it isn't an ability that all dogs have first up. It took him a while to get his confidence up but now he loves it. Haven't mastered the 'dock-diving' yet but he'll tackle big waves just to retrieve his ball. Great fitDog activity.....

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