Comparing Lake and Pool swimming...from the dog's perspective
“If my dogs already love to swim in the lake and river will they immediately love to swim in a pool?”
If you have ever asked this question, congratulations to you!!…you are already on the path to understanding your dog because you have appreciated there is a difference between the two. The answer is, “it depends on the dog, but for most dogs the pool is not an immediate love relationship.”
We can’t assume that breed genetic love for water, our dog’s love to chase hose spray, or extreme dislike of baths equates to either love or dislike of pool swimming. To the dog, they experience more than just the act of swimming. All of their senses are taking in the world around them paralleling the experience of swimming.
1) Nose: A pool smells infinitely different than natural open water. So they are there flipping through their rolodex of experiences and have nothing to pair with it…no sticks/balls/birds. They will have to learn new associations with this environment in order to know they should love it like the lake.
2) Eyes: Have you ever gone from swimming in a pool to swimming in a lake…where you actually put your head down in the water to swim? Unless you are scuba-ing in Bora Bora, most of the time its dark, you can’t see through and it is kind of eerie and claustrophobic compared to the pool. On the flip side the dog is dealing with water that is see-through and they cannot stand on top of it. We do not know exactly what they are thinking but we can see it is a bit of an enigma to them.
3) Ears: If the pool is inside, the echoing of sound off the water and walls is very different from the outdoor sounds of nature, waves, or river currents. Some dogs are more noise sensitive and echoing sounds may be overstimulating or intimidating.
4) Paws: Pools and decks are made of a variety of surfaces, one is fiberglass and slippery fiberglass edges and stairs are different from sand or rock entry. Dogs will also want to explore the surface of the water with their paws to figure out what they can stand on. You can see their understanding and relaxation once they know their paws touch the stairs.
So, how do we help our dogs love pool swimming if it does not come naturally? Two things are very helpful for a smooth swimming introduction…Trust and Motivation. First, If the dog has a strong motivator this expedites the process. Motivators can be toys they like, people they trust, food rewards, and for some lucky dogs it truly is the act of swimming that is the motivator - or becomes the motivator. Second, building trust relationships come with positive time spent together. When your dog experiences unknown situations with you(A) - tries something new(B) - and finds the experience to be rewarding(C), then, A+B+C=confidence boost for the dog. More of these equals more “trust” money in your dogs bank account and you may be able to ask something hard of your dog easier than if the account was empty. That said, it is also important to make sure we understand where our dog is on the confidence spectrum as each dog is wired differently and has had different life experiences. We want to help them keep taking steps up the confidence/learning ladder and some dogs may need to back up before they go forward to get to the end result of swimming. In the end, the goal is to keep them learning at a healthy state of challenge. If they are starting to feel too stressed about the choice we’ve given them we do not keep them at that level waiting for it to improve, nor do we push them past it to “just get in”. What we do instead is back up to the step where they can be successful or take a break, go for a walk, or play outside the pool to get the “carefree brain” back. Dogs have varying degrees of mental fatigue and we need to be aware of stopping before we have fully emptied their tank.
Many dogs have learned to swim and your dog can learn too whether in a pool, river, lake, or ocean. Find their motivators, continuously build a trust/fun relationship, and remember to watch their behavior and adjust their learning for the appropriate level of difficulty. Happy swimming!!!!
p.s. Thank you Munch for giving us authorization to use your picture. Check out Munch on his Instagram @MunchAndK