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Taking your dog swimming: what you need to know

Isn’t it strange that your dog is quite happy to dunk their head into the muddiest puddle they can find, and yet acts as if having a bath is the most awful thing you could ever do to them?

Whilst we may never solve the mystery of why dogs seem to hate bath time, we can shed some light on why some dogs love to swim and how you can help bring out their inner water puppy in a safe way.

When it comes to exercising our dogs we immediately think of walking, running or playing with them, but swimming is a fantastic option when it comes to doggy exercise, and here’s why we think your pup should give it a go.

It’s a fantastic cardio workout. Just like adding some cardio into our exercise routines is good for us humans, it has similar benefits for your dog too. It helps to burn fat and strengthen their heart and lungs, all very important for keeping your pup healthy.

It’s low impact. Swimming is non-weight bearing, which means your dog can enjoy strengthening their muscles without putting stress on their joints and tendons, making it a great option for older dogs or those who are needing to take things a little easier. It also gets your dog moving in a different way than they would on solid ground, helping to improve their range of motion too.

It helps relieve stress. You may not realise it but dogs can get stressed too, and swimming is a wonderful way to help them release any pent up energy. It’s particularly good for dogs that would normally be exercised on a lead, as they have more freedom to move without feeling held back.

It’s a stimulating activity. Physical exercise is not the only thing our dogs need, they also need mental stimulation as well, which swimming will definitely help to provide. By giving your dog variety when it comes to their exercise you’re getting their minds working, and if they happen to make some friends while they’re splashing around, they’ll be getting social enrichment too.

It’s great for overweight dogs. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how best to get overweight dogs moving, as the amount of exercise needed can put too much stress on their joints. Swimming however is joint friendly and can get them burning calories and increasing their metabolic rate without the risk of injury.

Which dogs can swim?

Some dogs are literally built to swim. These include Labrador Retrievers and Portuguese Water Dogs, amongst others. They often sport handy adaptions like oily, water-resistant coats to keep them warm, and webbed feet to help them propel through the water. For these dogs, swimming is not only a great exercise but also incredibly fun! 

Which dogs can’t swim?

Some dog breeds simply aren’t cut out for anything more than a paddle in a shallow stream. This is because their bodies are not designed for swimming, whether due to having short muzzles, thick, heavy fur, or disproportionately large heads. These breeds, which include Bulldogs, Pugs, and Basset Hounds, are usually best kept away from deep bodies of water.

Boxer dog lying on the beach

How to introduce your dog to swimming

When you first take your dog for a swim, you want to ensure it is a pawsitive experience for them. These are our top tips for introducing them to swimming.

  1. Find shallow, clean, slow moving water. A natural stream or slow river works well, whilst a doggy pool will have everything you need. Avoid the sea for your first swim as the tides and currents can be intimidating to a first-time swimmer.
  2. Before letting your dog enter the water make sure there are obvious exit points such as a ramp or slope, so they can easily get out as and when they need to.
  3. Be prepared to get your feet wet! Sometimes the best way to encourage your pooch is to have them follow you in.
  4. Take a fun toy that floats so you can throw it into the water to encourage them to retrieve it.
  5. Take it slowly and don’t force your dog into the water if they aren’t keen. Start off by letting them get their feet wet and get steadily deeper.
  6. Consider getting a doggy life vest. It will help them stay buoyant and provide a handhold if you need to lift them out of the water suddenly.

And remember, swimming is a high-intensity activity for dogs so they can easily become overtired, so make sure they have plenty of breaks and there is always some food and water nearby.

Where to take your dog swimming

There are plenty of places that you can take your dog swimming, but there are a few things you should be aware of, especially if swimming outside.

Doggy swimming pools

The best place to take your dog swimming are doggy swimming pools. They are a safe environment for your pooch, with entry and exit ramps, professionals on hand to help and excellent facilities and equipment. However, they do come at a cost and are usually frequented by dogs needing hydrotherapy or who are on weight management programs. You will usually need to book a slot in advance by calling your local centre.

Inland water sources like rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes

Wet Springer Spaniel

Natural water sources can be excellent places to exercise your dog. When choosing a river or stream for your dog to swim in, make sure you consider the following:

  • That the depth of the water and speed of the current is appropriate for your dog’s experience level.
  • That you would be able to carry out a rescue yourself if needed.
  • That dogs are permitted in and around the water (look out for signage and boundary fences).
  • That there aren’t any nesting birds or other wildlife on or around the water sources that your dog might disturb.
  • That there is an easy entrance and exit point for your dog that won’t damage the sides of the water source.
  • That the river, stream or lake is visibly clean and free from sharp objects (such as glass) and litter.
  • That the water has been tested recently for types of algae, bacteria or parasites that could be dangerous for your dog (local dog walking groups often have useful information about this).

Coastal waters

Swimming at the seaside presents a slightly different challenge to freshwater sources. It’s really only for the more confident pooches as the tides, strong currents and deep water can present a higher risk. Before taking your dog to the beach for a swim, consider the following:

  • If dogs are allowed on the beach, whether they are allowed in the water and whether they are allowed off lead. 
  • The general weather conditions (avoiding bad weather and low visibility).
  • The strength of the currents and tides, especially the presence of any riptides.
  • The presence of others enjoying the beach that your dog might disturb, such as sunbathers, surfers, and children.
  • The cleanliness of the water and the beach.

Swimming is a fantastic exercise for many dogs. Even better, since PitPat is waterproof, you can rest assured knowing even swimming is being tracked towards your pooches daily activity levels. 

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