The One Where Dart Went Swimming

It’s finally happened. My dog discovered there is a large body of water in our back yard. After weeks of ignoring our hot tub, and being especially afraid of the cover (it’s big and noisy), Dart realized he just HAD to go for a swim. Does anyone else’s dog have trouble turning off that doggie-paddling instinct?

I really shouldn’t be surprised; after all, Dart’s always been a water dog. When my parents had a pool at their house, we had to work so hard to set up barriers and supervise Dart so he didn’t just go launching into their pool. He’s a good swimmer, but couldn’t quite get out on his own. He also wasn’t smart enough to not jump on top of the solar cover! I sure didn’t need one drowned wiener dog. Here we are in the summer of 2010.

I kind of love that Dart is able to swim again. It wasn’t what I had in mind when we decided to get a hot tub, but I’ll consider dog exercise a bonus feature. He is WORN OUT after a day of swimming, which is great because I don’t get to walk my reactive dog super often.

As an occupational therapist, I love to joke that this is hydrotherapy for my dog. If you know much about dachshunds, you’ve heard they can really have some serious back issues. In the winter of 2014, Dart mysteriously injured his back and his little back legs stopped working one morning. We’d stand him up, and his booty would slump right back down to the ground. Because he’s my dog, Dart chose to do this on the day of a terrible snow storm, when it was so cold out that salt wouldn’t even melt the ice on the roads, and we *technically* weren’t allowed to drive anywhere. Thankfully, we had Purdue University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital just one town over and we were able to drive Dart in ASAP for emergency medical attention. Six weeks of cage rest later, and we had one active, mobile dog again. Big sigh of relief! But let’s not have a repeat of that, ok Dart? I mean, now my spoiled boy actually has a chiropractor to help maintain his spine and neuromuscular health, so fingers are crossed that we can avoid back surgeries for many more years to come.

As far as hydrotherapy goes, we’re using the hot tub to give Dart some aquatic exercise. It’s beneficial for a few reasons. First, Dart experiences some buoyancy while he’s in the water, so there’s a lot of pressure taken off of his joints. His body might be very appreciative of a little break from gravity, since he’s no young pup anymore at twelve years old. Second, if you’ve ever tried to move your arm or leg quickly through the water, you’ve noticed a good deal of resistance. It’s the same experience for a swimming dog, he’s required to work his muscles a little bit harder to push through that water. Both his strength and cardiovascular endurance are put to the test, and he should come out stronger and more physically fit if he keeps up with his new exercise program.

If you’re ready to try swimming with your dog, there are a few things to consider. First, realize from all these photos, there are two adults in the water ready to assist Dart at any time.

These are extremely short and stubby dog legs, Dart would probably never be able to climb out of the water on his own, so we’re working to teach him where he can go to stand on a step and catch his breath. Honestly, he’s too excited for his own good right now and probably wouldn’t take a break when he needs it! We keep grabbing him as he cruises past, and we hold onto him for a minute to make him rest. Make sure if your dog can’t touch the bottom or get himself out of the water, you’re always there to assist.

Next, you can consider getting your pup a life jacket. There are some really cute ones out there! I have some reservations about trying to find one that would fit my awkwardly big-chested little dog, but perhaps you’d have more luck than me. A life jacket would be a great way to give you peace of mind and lessen the effort that your dog needs to put into staying afloat.

I’ve alluded to this earlier, but make sure you have a safety plan in place to keep your dog out of the water until you’re both ready. Until a few days ago, my Dart insisted he was not able to climb up onto our deck. Low and behold, he remembered how fun swimming is and can jump out of my grasp, onto the deck, and into the water in under a second. Be careful! The cover on our hot tub is quite solid and clasps shut, so I’m counting on it to keep him safe and out of the water when we’re not watching. You might have to be much more careful with flimsy pool covers. At this point, it’d be a struggle to keep Dart from leaping off a boat if we ever took him on our lake vacation. Preparation and safety come first.

Finally, let me disclose that even though I keep writing about our “hot” tub, it is nowhere near as hot as you might find in a spa or gym. We set our hot tub to 100℉, but in reality it stays in the 90’s once we open it to the winter air. Please, don’t irritate or burn your doggo’s skin, and remember that dogs can’t sweat quite like we do. Dogs are only able to cool themselves off by sweating through their foot pads and panting. Keep monitoring your pup for overheating, distress, fatigue, and be aware of how hard it might be for them to swim in jets or currents.

Have I sufficiently scared you from doing anything enjoyable in the water?? Swimming can still be loads of fun! Dart is getting more regular exercise, it’s not super hard on his joints, and he gets a fun sensory experience of cruising through and playing in the water. You can do it too! I can almost guarantee one content, fatigued, well-behaved dog after a solid swim session. Just plan ahead for safety, and happy swimming ❤

P.S. apologies to any future guests that find dog hair in my hot tub…

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