Photo credit: Seth Casteel – Little Friends Photo
Well, here we are… Another summer almost behind us. Before you pull out the fall sweaters, tailgate equipment and pumpkin carving knives, there’s one left thing to do. Yep, that’s right… Close the pool!
What? You don’t have a pool? (Congratulations, you’ve just saved years off of your life in checking Ph levels.) That’s okay, because many of the municipalities around town do have public pools, and many of them offer end of season doggy swim parties before closing down for the season.
But this sort of event can be a little tricky, especially for a first-timer dog – or person for that matter… You must be really willing to trust perfect strangers with the capability to protect not only their dog, but your dog, from harm and injury. Nevertheless, end of season public dog swims do exist and can have their place in the doggy social repertoire. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan on attending an end of season doggy swim:
You must first ask yourself if you truly believe that your dog a) wants to swim at all and b) wants swim with other dogs. If your dog can’t swim, is too old to swim comfortably, has orthopedic problems, fear issues or just flat out does not get along with other dogs… please, please, please do not take him to the doggy swim. You may think that exposure to other dogs will help him get over his social anxiety, but overwhelming your dog with too much stimulus at one time could potentially cause more harm than good. You risk too much by experimenting with your dog’s health and safety. Contact a professional dog trainer or board certified behaviorist to help with these issues instead.
Be sure that the host of the event is checking for vaccinations of all dogs prior to the swim. One of the most contagious diseases among dogs is Bordetella, or kennel cough. Much like a cold in humans, the particles can be transmitted through the air, direct contact, or by touching something that is infected – like bowls, leashes and toys. Although a “cold” doesn’t sound that severe, Bordetella can provide an avenue for uglier things to creep into your dog’s body and cause more damage. It’s better to be safe than sorry and stay away from any event that does not verify the Bordetella vaccination and other important inoculations, like Rabies.
Much like with dog parks, it’s typically not a good idea to keep a dog on leash inside an off-leash area. Dogs who are restrained in an otherwise unrestrained situation might feel like a target within their environment. Should they be approached by an over-exuberant dog, a dog with an incompatible play style or a dog with a bullying mannerism, your dog might feel inadequate to escape the situation. When paired with owner tension on the leash, this could lead to an uncomfortable and dangerous fight situation. If you feel you must keep your dog on a leash in this type of situation, be sure to honestly question the reasons why and, again, address them accordingly with a qualified trainer or behaviorist – and maybe your therapist, too… Ugh, those control issues! 🙂
Does your dog have a favorite toy that he just cherishes and can’t live without? Great! Don’t bring it to the doggy swim. If he can’t bear the idea of having other dogs play with his prized bone, or risk the chance of losing it altogether, it’s a good idea to forego it and bring ranking toys #2 or #3. With the stimulation of all the other dogs around, it’s very likely your dog might not be interested in playing with toys at all anyway (= less to carry!).
Canine Body Language
Familiarize yourself with doggy body language. These great illustrations from Lili Chin will help you to identify what your dog – and what other dogs – might be trying to communicate about their emotional state.
Lastly, but most importantly, stay relaxed when in a doggy swim environment. This isn’t to say pull up a lounge chair, close your eyes and roast in the afternoon sun. What it does mean is to reduce any sort of tension or stress you may be carrying prior to coming to the swim. If you are tense, your dog might pick up on it and become tense or anxious himself. If you find that you are nervous, maybe it’s best to go for a nice walk in the park as an alternative, where both you and your dog might enjoy yourselves more.