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The Dog Blog: Swimless Summer Sadness

Kuma's inability to swim could put us both in a precarious situation this summer.

On July 8, my dog Kuma turns 1 years old. He officially moves up the canine ladder from the ranks of cute little puppy to adult dog. And I think, with that transition, come certain expectations. 

Allow me to digress. As some readers know, I very much enjoy the hiking, biking, camping, kayaking side of life and—because I've taken him with me since he was a puppy—Kuma enjoys these activites too.

But during our trips to Battle Creek Dog Park—a park that includes three or four sizeable ponds—I've made a concerning realization: Kuma can't swim.

He plays in the ponds and chases the other dogs in and around the water but once he reaches neck level, he abruptly stops. 

While he's not exactly a Lab, Retriever or Spaniel, I know several Shepherds that love swimming. In fact, the three Shepherds we owned growing up all loved the water. I guess I assumed swimming was an innate ability for most dogs. Perhaps that's naive.

Kuma's inability to swim would not really be a huge deal if dog parks and walks around the block were the extent of our adventures. But because his breed is a very active one, that type of limited exercise is an impossibility.

If we're hiking and come across a nice shallow lake, I'd like to be able to play fetch with him. More importantly, if we're canoeing or kayaking and for some reason we capsize, Kuma's inability to swim could have truly disastrous results.

So, as the summer wears on and the lakes get warmer, my plan is to run him through a series of dog swimming lessons.

Just like I would a child, I'll hold him up while he gets used to moving in the water and gradually allow him to navigate—admittedly this would have been much easier to start when he wasn't 60 pounds of flailing limbs and sharp teeth.

Does anybody have any experience teaching their dog to swim? How about any recommendations for non-crowded lakes?  

Taisha Turner June 19, 2012 at 06:24 PM
What a beautiful dog you have! Is it that Kuma cannot swim, or that he just does not want to? For the first time ever this weekend we took our 9 month old GSD up to the lake. I only saw her actually "swim" twice, both for only a few seconds. She mostly walked around in about 1 or so feet of water. She had no problem splashing around, and even attempted to catch a fish stuck under the boat lift. This coming weekend we are bringing the kids with us, and I am hoping her "herding" instincts will come out as they do on our walks and bike rides with the kids. If she sees my daughter swimming out farther than she thinks is appropriate, I am hoping she will swim after her. I did notice that the farther I would walk out in the water with her, the deeper she would venture.
Kathee June 19, 2012 at 10:07 PM
I have a Jack Russell Terrier that loves to swim. We also have a Wire Fox Terrier that wanted nothing to do with water unless it was a mud puddle. We are always around water, boats and rivers and had the same concerns as you. It took time for my Wire-fox to warm up to swimming. We tried holding him and letting him swim, but he would cling to my neck. We came to the realization he was never going to be a swimmer. He enjoys running along the edges of the lakes and rivers. He was almost 3 yrs old by the end of last summer and decided to take the plunge and swim ALL on his own. I was so excited to watch him swimming around. We take our dogs to a VERY remote public boat access area along the river, just North of Hwy 55. The road to the launch area is a minimum maintenance road. I have driven my car there, but I prefer to take my SUV. In 3 years of going there, I have never seen a boat being launched there. It's a very shallow, sandy area, my kids love going. Bring your canoe! Mapquest Link: http://mapq.st/MtKd1Q From IGH take Hwy 55 towards Hastings. Make a left onto Co. Rd. 42 (towards Spring Lake Park Reserve) and about a mile or so you should see a small public boat access sign. Make a left for the boat launch and follow the dirt road (Hilary Path) to the end. Hope to see you there sometime!
Diane Baum June 20, 2012 at 12:31 AM
try using a life preserver. I kid you not, some dogs just don't "get it." They can all swim, some are chicken and don't realize it. put the preserver on and lead him out with you. He won't resist once he can't feel the bottom, instinct will kick in and he will swim. Gradually take him farther out. soon he may get the idea.

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