I was in Atlanta last week with a Home Dog Training client and Boomer, a cute and energetic Golden Retriever.  Boomer is a puppy and this was our second visit.  Everything was going very well.  The potty mistakes inside the house had stopped and Boomer was paying attention and obeying my client.  We had finished up our obedience training for the day and I began to write up Boomer’s homework assignments.  Although he didn’t want to work on in that day, my client asked if I could give him some quick tips on getting Boomer ready for the pool.  Our Georgia temperatures are starting to remain “warm” and he and his family were starting to spend more and more time in the pool.  He knew that Boomer would follow them right in and he was concerned about his overall safety.

I explained to my client that the one thing that he must teach Boomer is how to be safe while in or near the water.  This isn’t about swimming.  Most dogs know how to do the “dog paddle” and can just splash themselves all around the pool.

The most important thing that my client can do for Boomer’s pool safety training is to show him how to get out.  Besides getting in the water (normally involving some sort of jumping), getting out of the water is the only constant in the entire process.  If Boomer loves the water, he might swim around.  If he wants to cool off, he may stand on the steps.  If he is thirsty, he may just take a drink.  If my client is in the pool, he may swim to my client and annoy him.  If he is afraid of the water and fell in by mistake, he may just want to leave the water.

All or some of these activities can occur while Boomer is in the pool.  The one thing that we are sure of is that he will always want to exit the pool.  Here is where the issue arrives.

Dogs naturally believe that all bodies of water have sloping boundaries and all they have to do is to approach the edge and they can easily walk out.  This is not the case for most pools.  When dogs approach the sides of most pools, they run into a wall.  They can get right up to the edge, but that is as far as they can proceed.  They normally will become confused and swim off in a random direction testing some other perimeter of the pool.  If they get lucky, they might find the stairs.  If they aren’t so lucky, they will run into the walls until they become too tired to continue swimming.  In that instance, they will drown.  This is not a good thing.

As our dog’s protector, leader, and teacher; we must teach them about the perimeter of the pool and where the exit is located.  As with all our other exercises, this is done through a clear process of socialization and consistency.

I instructed my client to perform the following exercise:

  • Put a leash on Boomer and walk him around the edge of the pool. After a few rounds, stop at the shallow end at the steps.
  • He steps into the water and proceeds down two or three steps. He gets down low and sits on the steps to change his posture from dominant to guiding.
  • Next, he guides Boomer (by slightly tugging on the leash) to put a paw or two into the water on the highest step. If Boomer pulls back, he can offer a treat to entice him onto the highest step.  If this still isn’t working (since Boomer is still a puppy and not that big), he can pick him up and sit with him in the water on the step.
  • They sit there together and just bond. Allow Boomer to feel comfortable with him and the sensation of the water.
  • After Boomer is calm on the first step, I suggest that my client guide him down to the next step (but never at a point where the water level is higher than the middle of his chest). They can then just hang out there until Boomer feels comfortable.
  • Now, we are ready for a little swim. My client should hold Boomer and guide him around the pool just like he would a small baby for the first time in the pool.  Hold him firmly, but not “super tight”.
  • I told my client to repeat the above process for several days until Boomer is comfortable with getting in the pool from the stairs and being guided around the pool.
  • Now, while they are out in the pool, he will slowly release Boomer while holding on to the leash. Start with having Boomer two feet away on the leash.  Slowly increase the distance.
  • Always guide Boomer back to the shallow end and the steps. Repeat this process for several days.
  • Now, take Boomer out into the pool on the leash and then release him, letting go of the leash. My client now moves back towards the shallow end and the steps on his own, encouraging Boomer to follow.  If Boomer becomes confused, he grabs the leash and tugs him towards the steps.
  • My client should continue this until Boomer naturally swims back towards the steps without encouragement.

A very important fact that I emphasized with my client was to take it slow.  Making sure that Boomer felt safe with each step was tantamount.  If he felt that Boomer was becoming scared, he should slow the process down and possibly end the exercise for that day.  Getting Boomer to understand where the pool exit is located is a process and not a race.

Most dogs can swim and do the “dog paddle”.  The problem is that we need to help them understand what to do when they no longer want to swim and get on dry land.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over fourteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.