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Friday, April 15, 2011

Drown-Proofing Your Dog
on Blog the Change Day

by Carrie Boyko, CEB
Can You Swim?
This past week I had a canine visitor. An adorable, calm, friendly, albeit big and stocky, Pit Bull, wandered up while I was outside with Tanner and Oliver. He wore a beautiful leather collar that spoke volumes of the fact that he had a home. But there was no tag to indicate where that home might be. Little did we know that he was about to become the topic of our Blog the Change post today.

Blog the Change

Our new friend hung out on our cul-de-sac throughout the day, wandering in and out of my screened porch while the door was propped open for easy in and outs to do yard work and such. Tanner and Oliver greeted him nicely and they had a non-eventful afternoon... until....

Later, while Tanner was on the porch enjoying some fresh air after dinner, he came running inside with great anxiety evident in his body language. He seemed to want to show me something. It was a Lassie moment. You know:
 "What's that girl? The barn's on fire?"

I followed Tanner to the porch only to find our earlier visitor struggling in the pool. He clearly was not a swimmer, even though he apparently lives nearby in this densely waterway-rich area of Central Florida that we call home. I managed to salvage his roughly 60 pound brawn by grabbing that beautiful leather collar and guiding him to the steps where I lifted him, with the help of the water, to the first step. Whew!

At this point the poor fella was spent. I don't know how long he was in the pool, but the evidence of his slip and fall was found at the screen door, which he pushed his way through in order to visit Tanner again--apparently. The fall had to be traumatic, as a chair and a flower pot went into the drink with him.

It took him a while to rest up under my Elm tree before he decided he was ready to head for home, wherever that is. I wanted to attach a note to his collar: 

Needless to say, I would have felt horrible if I had found a drowned dog in my pool, despite the fact that he plunged through my screen door. I hope his owners would have too. 

All dogs need some basic swimming experiences; most do actually. Having some water stamina and the understanding to look for steps in a pool seems critical to those that have water nearby in any form. Even our sea-walls along the lake prevent exit unless you can find a ladder or steps to the surface. This is definitely a learned skill.

My Papillon, Oliver, is no Olympian. He'd probably prefer NOT to swim at all. But with a pool and a lake in his back yard, I have not given him a chance to get his way. As soon as he was old enough and it was warm, we taught him to swim, and to know where the steps were in the pool. 

With some regularity, I place him in the pool at different locations along the edge and tell him to swim to the steps. He always knows which way to go, and can even do a 180 degree turn to head in the right direction. Yay Oliver! At 10 lbs., he could easily be knocked into the pool when he and Tanner play on the pool deck, so drown proofing Oliver seemed a necessity. 

I've linked to my post on teaching Oliver to swim, as well as one about helping him learn to find the steps. These outline my easy-does-it approach for anxious dogs who are not eager to be amphibious. Yet you could take this approach with a young lab as well. Who doesn't like to be taught a scary skill with patience and gentleness? 

This drown-proofing cause is near and dear to my heart here in Central Florida, where lakes are everywhere and swimming pools...ditto. Whether your area has lakes, rivers, retention ponds, or the ocean, your dog should have some basic swimming skills, and be exercised enough to maintain treading water for several minutes until he is able to find a shallow area, steps, or another way out of the wet stuff. Please don't wait till it's too late!

Before I close, let me mention that even Oliver had some thoughts on this topic. He's shared them at "Water Safety for Us Pups" at 5 Minutes for Fido. There's a video there of a dog saving another dog from a swimming pool. Lucky dog. Hopefully it won't be yours.
© Carrie Boyko
Oliver Struts his Stuff!


Unknown said...

Wow Carrie - drown-proofing your dog is something I've never thought about! I guess I always assumed that dogs are natural born swimmers, but without having any experience, how would they know what to do if they fell in a lake or pool? Thanks for sharing!

Shauna (Fido and Wino) said...

Oh my goodness! Thankfully you were there and thankfully your dog alerted you! That is shocking... such great tips!

Thank you!

chandra said...

What a scary experience! Although it sounds like you handled it with the perfect amount of calm but assertive and swift response. I bet you didn't think you were going to save a dog's life that day!

Thanks for sharing the story and the tips - incredibly important advice.

-Chandra at Daley's Dog Years

KimT said...

Such an important consideration! Thanks for all the advice/tips - it's so very helpful. And can truly make a difference in the life of a dog!

Pat Wahler said...

Great suggestions! Hope the pup found his way home.


Kristine said...

Wow, what a crazy story. I am so glad it ended well! Yikes.

My dog has a massive fear of water. Swimming is the last thing she ever wants to do. We are working on encouraging this, bit by bit, as we live in an area with many lakes, and a giant ocean not to far away. But it's not easy and takes a lot of time. Fortunately, I do at least know she is capable of swimming if necessary. There is nothing she won't do to get back on land!

Thanks for talking about something so important that most people aren't even aware of.

Kim Clune said...

Teaching a dog to swim for the sake of safety is such a terrific suggestion. When I was a child, my Doberman fell into the swift flowing creek, curled up into a frightened ball and let the current take her away until my father jumped in after her. And my present rescued Newfoundland, the water dog? He had no idea how to swim until we took him in at the age of 3!

Thanks for Blogging the Change!
Kim from

Peggy Frezon said...

I'm glad he was wearing a collar that helped you pull him out. I hope his family got the message. Keeping your dog safe in such a situation is a wonderful message to share. Thanks!
Peggy Frezon

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

The keys here are (1) having some swimming stamina to get them to safety, and (2) knowing that they need to look for steps or shallow areas. This last one is what they need to LEARN with our help--critical. It just does not come naturally to them.

Elizabeth said...

WOW What an experience!!!! I can't even believe that. I agree, though, all dogs should know how to swim and if you have a pool, they should know where the steps are.

Amy said...

Wow - that was a close call and a great reminder! Thanks so much for sharing it. You may have saved a few more lives today!

Thanks for blogging the change!
Amy from and

niki said...

I had read that a Dobi had fallen into the bay in the keys and oly reason why he servived was a dolphin kept hi afloat for 14 hrs until the owners found him... its scarey... DUKE was very heavey and sank, he tryed to get in the pool with me but soon found out he couldnt float, so we put a kids life jacket on him when the pool was up.. the other dogs woulod just sit on sideline and watch.. glad you found him, hopefully the owners saw your note.. I know Bull dogs and bassets cant swim they sink..
loads of hugs you you all and again Im glad you have a great alert system :) and you got to the poor dog ..

Vicky said...

Having a pool, this is something that all pet owners should be aware of. My dog had to learn to swim and where to go to get to the steps, no matter where he was when he entered the pool. Great reminder for everyone.

Richa said...

A great post and a great ending. My grandma used to say that dogs naturally know how to swim.. But my mom's pomeranian didnt.. though she could stay afloat with all the paddling.. but she would be very scared.. My adopted pom would most likely freeze up.. But his tub baths have been helping him get over the fear of water.. time for his swimming lessons!
Thanks for the post!
Richa Find me a Happy Pet

FiveSibesMom said...

Wonderful blog post, Carrie. That dog was so lucky you were there to help him. What an important message to send home, especially in warmer climates, and in areas where spring is turning into summer which means pools are being uncovered. Great suggestion to teach dogs to swim...what a great preventative measure. Thank you for sharing...and Oliver, you look marvelous swimming in your pool!

AJ of PupLove said...

You saved a dog! That's awesome!

I hope he makes his way home, and I hope that owner reads the note you attached to his collar and actually DOES something about it.

Donna and the Dogs said...

So glad you were able to save this guy from drowning! I do hope he found his way home.

We had a pittie visitor show up here once without tags, and I turned him over to our local shelter. We put up signs, but his owners never resurfaced. The good news is, the shelter told me he was adopted - and hopefully his new owners keep him in their yard - with tags!

Pup Fan said...

Thank goodness you were there! Great post and message - I think a lot of people just assume dogs can swim!

Greyhounds CAN Sit said...

I'm glad your story had a happy ending, it could have been tragic!

All summer I've been getting Beryl, my Greyhound, used to being in the river. Unfortunately this time of year it isn't deep enough for her to have to swim but I at least wanted her to not panic should she accidentally get in too deep. A couple of weeks ago at the beach I threw the tennis ball into the sea at a spot where I didn't realise the bottom sloped down extremely quickly! She raced in after her ball, got out of her depth, didn't panic (although she wasn't happy!) and swam back to shore:) I was SO pleased with her and relieved that I'd spent the time earlier familiarising her with the river. We don't have a pool or access to one so at least I don't have to worry about that.

Great post about something I doubt a lot of dog owners think about:)

Nicole, pomeranian lover said...

What if your dog has not swim all his life? Will he be able to swim when you throw the dog in the pool? Will basic survival instinct work?

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Nicole: I do not recommend just throwing a dog into water. Try the techniques here:

Screen Doors said...

Wonderful blog! I saw it at Google and I must say that entries are well thought of. I will be coming back to see more posts soon.

Anonymous said...

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