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Swimming with Dogs

An important part of good health is preventative medicine, which includes exercise, a balanced diet, and fun.

Water has ten times the resistance of air so exercising in water helps build strength and increase stamina. Water-based exercise can be used for cross training, to improve range of motion, and to manage pain and stiffness. It is also a great workout for young healthy dogs.

We all know that young dogs have high energy, which requires a great deal of stimulation and exertion to work off. It can be challenging for pup parents to meet their dogs’ energy needs while being careful they don’t over-use their joints or otherwise harm their bodies. Water-based exercise is a safe way to wear out high-energy pups, as swimming requires the use of all major muscle groups, including the shoulders, legs, back, tail, and core.

Fortunately, there are many places to swim your dog in the Bay Area. But before you do so, it is important to determine if she will take to swimming. Some breeds are not designed for swimming and do not have buoyancy; other dogs may need to overcome their fear of the water.

I work at The Rex Center (TRC) in Pacifica, which offers swimming assessments and lessons in its indoor pool. We help people decide whether or not to include swimming in their dogs’ recreation regimes.

Palmer, a 1½-year-old Newfoundland, weighs in at 160 pounds. Newfoundlands are sometimes called “gentle giants” as they are famous for their loyalty and sweet dispositions. Historically these powerful working dogs have performed such labors as pulling in fishing nets, hauling wood in carts, and powering a blacksmith’s bellows. They are mellow by nature yet really need their daily exercise.

Palmer and doggy dad Austin started doing Open Swims (swimming without the assistance of a Coach) at The Rex Center in June. Palmer is extremely toy motivated, which helped him take to the water quickly. Palmer is still a young and healthy dog able to exercise outdoors, yet Austin wanted him to have a safer and more vigorous workout that would not exacerbate the Newfoundland predisposition for hip and elbow dysplasia in old age. Non-weight bearing water exercise seemed like a great option.

Austin tosses Palmer’s toy to the far end of the pool. They sit together at the steps for a moment just looking at the toy, then with one stepping leap Palmer is half way across the pool. Austin explains that Palmer sometimes cheats, “He is so big he can touch the bottom of the pool, and when he gets tired of swimming he just puts his feet down and walks.”

Rooti-Tooti is a two-year-old, 16-pound miniature Australian Cobberdog/ Labradoodle. Her pup mom Barbara and pup dad Lee started coming to TRC years ago. Back then they were looking to improve the quality of life for their very old hospice dog. They were so impressed with TRC’s swimming program that when they were ready to add a new puppy (Rooti-Tooti ) to their family they wanted her to start swimming right away.

Miniature breads spend a lot of time jumping up and jumping down in their daily lives since everything is so much bigger than they are. All that jumping can lead to joint injuries. Another concern for miniatures is that people have a tendency to pick them up and carry them for expediency’s sake, which can lead to lowered stamina and decreased mobility. Consequently, when tiny dogs do jump or run they are more apt to hurt themselves.

Barbara and Lee want Rooti-Tooti to get the right amount of exercise from the start. “Don’t let her exterior fool you, she’s a fluffy powerhouse!” says Lee, adding, “And it is a lot of work to wear her out.” Little dogs like Rooti-Tooti have high energy and are extremely clever, so it can be difficult to meet their energy needs without wearing out their bodies. Swimming is often the perfect strategy.

Rooti-Tooti is what TRC calls a one-way swimmer. “One-way swimmers” need the swim Coach to take them to the far end of the pool and then provide support physically or emotionally as they swim back to the steps. This process is repeated and interspersed with resting, massage, and treats.

Swimming is great exercise once you know that your canine companion is willing and able to do it. You might consider consulting your veterinarian to assess the dog’s state of health and get a green light.
Happy summer swimming!

Celeste “Joy” Greer-Walker is Pup Mom to a six-year-old epileptic Bichon Frise named Thoth. She holds an MA from California Institute of Integral Studies and is a Rosen Method Practitioner. She has been swimming with dogs since February 2013 and says working at The Rex Center is the most rewording job she has ever had.

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Main article photo by: C & M Photography,