Dogs are one of the few animals that will actually swim just for the pure pleasure of it. Dogs, like all animals, have the natural ability to swim but generally have to learn water confidence before a specific swimming program can be developed.
Dogs swim at the Center for both conditioning and rehabilitation. Just as swimming is applied to humans, the same principals can be applied to dogs.
A training pool provides the initial swimming introduction and allows the dog to gain their water confidence. The main pool allows the dog to swim in 50 yard laps or to swim freely to retrieve, train or just swim for the fun of it.
Swim Center staff perform the initial swimming of the dog, but owners are encouraged to take over once the dog has graduated from the training class. Dogs wear a chest harness for support and are walked down a gentle sloping ramp into the water. For dogs with paralysis or inability to walk, they are gently lifted and placed into the water and supported by the harness, or in some cases a flotation device may be used, while they develop their swimming stroke.
For safety reasons owners are not permitted in the pool with their dog.
Most dogs adapt to the swimming after two or three sessions, and even "non-water" dogs look forward to their aquatic workout. The amount of swimming is gradually increased over time depending on the medical condition or fitness of the dog. In some instances, swimming in place (treading water) is used to stimulate greater limb activity.
For dogs that are overweight, need conditioning, or have disabilities that make normal exercise either painful or inappropriate, swimming can provide an excellent alternative or supplement to ground-based programs.
Water training and conditioning of hunting, retrieving, sport or show breeds can be better undertaken in the controlled environment that a pool can offer.
The First Session
The dog is fitted with a chest harness to which a lead line is attached. The harness provides support and allows control of the dog without putting a strain on the neck or head that a traditional collar does. The training pool is a long water-filled trough about four feet deep and forty feet long with a gradual sloping floor at each end. Side walls stop the dog from climbing out of the pool and keep him oriented to swimming straight ahead. With the owner at the far end of the pool providing verbal and visual encouragement, the Center staff work with the dog to walk down the sloping entry, into the pool. For dogs with paralysis or a disability that makes entry difficult, Center staff will support the dog into the water and if necessary work with the dog in the water to aid in swimming. Flotation devices may be used in some cases.
For most dogs that have not been exposed to water or swimming, this first lap is the most difficult as they test their swimming ability and overcome their fears. But, with lots of praise and encouragement, the second lap becomes a little easier. At the end of the pool the dog exits and walks back and re-enters for a second lap. This cycle is repeated until the dog is comfortable walking into the water and has gained confidence in its swimming ability.
The Swimming Session
Once the dog is comfortable with the swimming process, he graduates from the training pool to the main pool where he can swim in fifty yard laps. Each time the dog comes to swim, the swimming time and distance is increased to where he may be swimming from 10 to 30 or more total laps. The amount of swimming depends on whether the dog is swimming for conditioning or rehabilitation. Each session can last up to 30 minutes. Additional time can be taken, if required, for an additional fee.
Just as in the initial session, the dog swims with a harness and is led around the pool by Center staff or the dog's owner for the assigned number of laps. Owners are encouraged to participate in the process and take over the swimming of the dog from Center staff to receive discounted swim rates. Center staff are always on hand to assist or provide guidance in the swimming program. Rest periods are taken periodically throughout the session to allow recuperation and stabilization.
For dogs that like to retrieve, part, or all, of the session can be used for the dog to retrieve balls, bumpers, or their favorite floating object. For these activities the harness is removed and the dog allowed to swim unrestrained. Although the dogs love this opportunity to "play," it is the owner who sometimes gets the biggest enjoyment out of this part of the session.
Dogs receive a fresh water shower at the completion of the session. Owners may shampoo their dogs if they desire and towel dry prior to their trip home.
The Swimming Program
The swimming program is structured specifically for each dog depending on whether the dog is swimming for rehabilitation or conditioning, and the fitness, type of injury, and medical or physical condition of the dog. Rehabilitation programs can require anywhere from 5 to 50 swimming sessions, with the average being about 15. For optimal results swimming three to four times a week is recommended but may depend on the owners schedule and distance they have to travel.
Still have questions? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.) page for answers.
The Center is open to 8 pm on weekdays to allow for working schedules. Appointments are required and can be made up to 8 weeks in advance.
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