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Dear maxine: aquaphobic in atlanta

Welcome to another installment of “Dear Maxine”, where my canine, feline (and occasional human) friends, write in for advice on immunizations, nutrition, behaviors and anything else on their minds. (Full disclosure, my human mom helps me type this.)


Our second letter comes to us from a Labradoodle in Atlanta who writes:

Dear Maxine,

My human parents own a big boat and last summer, they took me out on the lake. It was beautiful and I saw lots of fish and birds but they tried to get me to jump in. The water looked cool and refreshing, but it also looked deep and cold. I know they are going to want to try to get me to swim again this year, but I’m very nervous. My parents say I’m part lab and I am surely a good swimmer. Is this true?


Aquaphobic in Atlanta


Dear Aquaphobic,

We’ve heard the quote that “all dogs are natural-born swimmers.” So, it must be true, right? This brings up a story my human mom tells people about her mini dachshund. Riley loved the sprinkler and playing in the kiddie pool in the backyard with his lab brother and sister. And with his long nose and propeller-like tail, she was sure he was a natural! So, when she plopped him into the lake she expected him to float around the dock like a toy motor boat...instead, he sunk like a heavy rock. My dad said he never heard her scream so loud in his life. Needless to say, she learned a valuable lesson. All dogs are not natural born swimmers. While some dogs are bred to be swimmers (like Newfoundlands, Setters, Spaniels and yes, Labs) that doesn’t mean that ALL dogs of those breeds automatically love the water. Just like humans, we dogs should be looked at as individuals and gradual introductions to water are important.

Experts say there are several steps your parents can follow to introduce their best friends to H2O. First, make sure your dog can obey basic commands; if your dog won’t obey you on land, they probably won’t do it in water either. Second, make sure to check the water temperature, there are only a few breeds can tolerate very cold water. Third, teach your dog how to get in and out of the water, this will enable them to get to safety should they fall in. Your mom and dad should start in shallow water and pick a quiet place to reduce anxiety. Fourth, keep your pooch on a leash and join them in the water to build trust and provide support. After your dog masters the shallow end, you can move into deeper water. Never force your dog and never ever throw your dog into water! When your dog starts paddling with their front feet (the doggie paddle), you can show them how to float. Finally, be patient! This could take time and encouragement. You might also consider buying a safety vest for your pooch if you're going to be out on a boat on a lake or a river.

Here a few specific safety tips in regards to pools, lakes and oceans. Pools- put a fence around your pool; make sure there are steps going in and out and practice these steps with your dog so they learn the exits and how to use them. Oceans- watch out for waves, strong currents and riptides that can take your friend out to sea. Oceans/lakes -Keep your dog away from fish, both in the water and on the shore. There are sea creatures that can be dangerous to your pet and dead/decaying fish on the shore can make them ill. No matter where you swim, make sure your dog doesn’t drink the water, keep a bowl of fresh water available for thirsty canines. Keep an eye on your dog, never leave them unattended and watch for fatigue, a tired swimmer is more at danger of drowning. Make sure to rinse your dog off after a swim to prevent infections.

Summer can be a fun time for you and your human companions, don’t be scared to try out the water. As long as your parents take the time to slowly introduce you to water, and follow these tips to keep you safe, there is a greater chance you will like or maybe even love the water! Still, there are some of us dogs that may never care for swimming and water sports, and that is okay. You can still accompany your family on their outings and enjoy the day from the shore under a shady tree, with a nice bone. As for that little Doxie Riley, that sunk off the dock? Well, he survived and he DID learn to love the water and paddled around like an otter all of his 14 summers.

Thank you for writing, hopefully not for too long, Aquaphobic in Atlanta!

Happy Swimming,

Maxine (& Brenda Storms)


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