British Columbia

Canine swimming lessons help dogs get over their fear of water

Veterinarians say most dogs are natural swimmers, but lessons can help them be more confident in the water. Instructors in Vancouver say some owners are keen to give their pets a leg up with their dog paddle.

Veterinarian says most dogs are natural swimmers, but lessons can help them be more confident in the water

A 13-year-old chocolate lab named Babygirl comes to Dog Swim Vancouver once a week for a swimming session (CBC News)

Your dog probably knows how to doggy paddle, but that doesn't mean they are confident and capable in the water.

Several Vancouver companies hope to improve the swimming ability of local dogs and now offer lessons.

Ed Light, owner of Dog Swim Vancouver, said there are a number of reasons why owners would enrol their dogs in swimming lessons, including weight loss, mobility improvement, and getting over a fear of water.

In 2018, Light had the idea to open an indoor pool after his own dog — a chocolate lab named JJ who has arthritis — wasn't able to swim in the water off Vancouver's beaches because they were closed due to E. coli bacteria.

"It was breaking our heart to see our pup limp so we opened Dog Swim Vancouver for young and old pups whose parents want the best for their dog, " he wrote on his website.

One-year-old chihuahua Alfie poses in his lifejacket (Ellen Ho)

Ellen Ho brought her young chihuahua, Alfie, to lessons at Dog Swim Vancouver. Ho decided to enroll Alfie in lessons so he could safely join her on her paddle board. 

"The classes were for fun, exercise, and getting him used to the water." 

Although the lessons were challenging at the beginning, Ho said after four sessions Alfie was able to swim in the ocean alongside her paddle board. 

"He still doesn't like water that much, but he swims really really well." 

Babygirl gets fitted in a life jacket before her lesson (CBC News)

According to Light, a lesson starts with the instructor coaxing the dog down a ramp into the pool, usually with treats or toys. For dogs that are afraid of water, the owner is present during the lesson for reassurance.

Once the dog is comfortable, they will gradually get them to swim around on their own. 

Dog paddlers

Dr. Lauren Adelman, Veterinarian at Canada West Veterinary Specialists, said that while most dogs are generally natural swimmers, not all dogs are happy and calm in the water. 

"I think the biggest use for swimming lessons for dogs is not necessarily to learn how to swim, it's more to learn how to be in the water and how to be comfortable swimming." 

Although uncommon, Adelman said that drowning can happen. She noted that brachycephalic or "squishy-faced" breeds such as french bulldogs and pugs are more prone to drowning, as they often suffer from breathing difficulties. 

"You could end up with a sticky situation if they inhale water."

Babygirl has arthritic hips and comes to one-on-one swim lessons for exercise. (CBC News)

Devon Teimoori is a dog swim instructor and Manager at Aquapaws in Vancouver. 

"People just assume dogs know how to swim and they find out quickly that that is not the case," said Teimoori. 

Teimoori said a lot of her customers are people who own pools or a boat and want to ensure that their dog can remain calm if they fall in the water.

Teimoori recalled a time where an owner called her after a lesson to let her know that their water-afraid dog had fallen in their pool when nobody was around, and was able to calmly swim to the stairs and get out.  

"We can teach your dog to swim, it doesn't mean that your dog is gonna love to swim…but we can make sure the dog knows how to swim," said Teimoori.