Having fostered several hundred puppies and dogs throughout my Lakewood era, it concerns me that a four-legged inexperienced swimmer might slip into the pool or even push one of my own canines in. Therefore, every spring, I vow to teach my critters “the perils of the pool,” which includes finding the steps and getting out safely.
Thus an article on “teaching your dog pool safety” seemed an appropriate subject for these 100-plus dog days of summer.
Being somewhat unfamiliar with the “how,” I turned to my trusted groups of experts – the many blogs and informative articles from the Internet. I credit the actual “meat” of this article to the following dog writers: Catherine J. Crawmer and her “Canine Talk” blog and Sam Basso (pen name of Sam the Dog Trainer). Along with informative tips from Kathleen Lindsey, I pieced together a most informative quilt of knowledge to hopefully insure your dog’s safety around any pool.
We’ve all heard the sad stories of dogs drowning in the family pool. Since this type of tragedy isn’t readily publicized, people don’t realize just how often doggy pool deaths actually do occur. Each year, as summer approaches, there are an abundance of reminders to keep your dogs out of hot cars. If only we were as consistent with warnings about the perils of the family pool.
Catherine Crawmer notes similar remarks from pool owners in her blog. One owner said, “My dog never goes near the pool. He hates the water.” But, a dog racing around the pool can easily slip into the pool, or one dog might accidentally be pushed in the pool while playing with another dog. A dog that never has ventured even close to the water could simply decide one day to be adventuresome and try that first swim, not realizing that once in, he can’t grasp how to get out.
Pet parents whose dog enjoys swimming often feel comfortable that their dog is in no danger; however, they actually should be more concerned. Water-loving dogs can actually fall victim more easily than dogs who avoid the pool – unless they are properly trained to get out of the pool safely.
Training the family dog to be safe with a pool can be fun – especially if treated like a game. Most important is to use a lot of positive reinforcements (a.k.a treats!) for rewards. If you ask any four-legged student, he or she will loudly bark that treats are essential!
According to Catherine Crawmer, you must always start any training while the dog is fresh. An ideal training scenario is for one person to be in the pool with the dog, while another person stands outside of the pool (this person will have the treats). Being with the dog very close to the stairs. The person in the pool will train the dog to climb up the stairs, and the person on the outside will encourage him by revealing the treats. When the dog exits the pool, the person on the outside of the pool should praise the dog. He can then do several more sessions. However, every dog is different. If your dog is showing signs of slowing down, stop for the day, and do it again another day.
Once your dog is comfortable climbing the stairs, he should gradually move back a short distance in the water, requiring him to swim to the stairs. Don’t skip any steps, though. Wait until your dog can safely and confidently swim to the stairs from all areas of your pool. Because each animal is different, care must be taken to keep the energy level high and the lessons fun. “The goal is to end every session at a high point of success!” Crawmer says. And give lots of treats!
When the dog can swim to the stairs from all points of the pool, many pet owners assume the training is complete and that the dog is safe from pool accidents, but this is often not so. “This next phase includes the most important exercises in the program,” Crawmer says. It is critical to continue training to assure the pet is safe if an unexpected pool fall-in should occur.
The person in the pool must now get out of the pool – but should stay nearby if the dog in the pool suddenly needs help. The person holding the treats on the outside of the pool calls the dog just as before – but from a position several feet to the side of the location of the stairs. “The goal is to get the dog to move away from the person calling him and instead go toward the stairs,” Crawmer points out.
When your dog has learned to do this, the person in the pool must move gradually from one location to the next, further away from the stairs.
The dog should be able to swim in the opposite direction of the person calling him and to swim toward the pool steps instead.
Now that you’ve mastered these steps, it’s time to implement the final step should your dog face an actual pool disaster. Put your dog in the pool very far from the stairs. Make sure no other people are in the dog’s sight, but be sure you can watch him from a safe distance and be ready to help if needed. The dog must be able to locate the stairs and exit the pool without any form of encouragement. If your dog can do this, there’s one last test. Move your dog to the far side of the pool, opposite the stairs. Have everyone who is out of the dog’s sight begin calling him from a distance on the other side of the stairs. Make sure your dog swims toward the stairs – not toward those calling him. If your dog can successfully do this over and over, he should be ready to brave the pool.
As I reread each of the articles, it all sounds like a lot of work. But, as any journalist would do before a story, I threw on my swimsuit, headed poolside and put the training tips to test with my two dogs and a foster pup – enjoying a totally fun afternoon. With lots of barking and splashing, both in and out of the water, we also shared a great bonding experience. Mutual trust and mutual laughs!
I’m not sure if anyone actually graduated – even myself, but we’ll keep practicing to be safe and stay cool. After all, what better way to tolerate this Texas heat! As my mother always said, “Better safe than sorry.”