Teaching Your Dog How to Swim & Paddle with Laura Nativo
What's the first thing we need to teach out dog to feel comfortable in the water?
First, you want to make sure to take them to a calm location, not too hectic, with low noise. Don't throw them in the water because all dogs don't jump right in and swim. You want to get them calm and start by placing them in a bath tub and having them sit there for a while so they get used to the water.
How do you teach them to get on a board and what kind of board should you get?
The best board for doggies is a foam board, so we can grip it. Costco sells Wavestorms for $99, or you can find a used foam board, like an INT on Craigslist. Smaller dogs usually get 6 foot boards and larger dogs go for 8 footers. You can use other things, such as a towel, a piece of plywood, a boogie board, a rug, a beach mat, or anything that would be representative of being "on" something. Plywood would probably work the best as you can have it cut to the approximate size of a surfboard. You would want to add carpet to it though, so the dog could grip it. One very important note: don't force your dog on the board. You want them to offer the behavior and learn to jump on by themselves. This is especially helpful for big dogs that can be very heavy to lift once you get in the ocean. Plus, if a dog is refusing to get on the board, maybe they really don't want to surf. Bring your board in the house and feed your dog their meals on it. This makes a positive association with the board. You want your dog at the back of the board, so be sure to place his/her food bowl right in front of where you want them to be. This will reinforce the correct position for the dog. Dogs love belly rubs and a board is a great place to give them! Again, you're making a positive association with the board. Doing this also helps build the human-canine bond even more! Don't leave the board out when you're not training. You want your dog to get excited when he/she sees the board.
What else do you need to do to get your dog to use the water and board?
Now would be a good time to get your dog used to a life jacket. Safety is very important when surfing and a life jacket should always be worn. If your dog has never worn one, putting it on the first time might feel funny. So, practice putting the life jacket on. Have plenty of treats to make it a positive association. First, without your surfboard. Once your dog is comfortable with the lifejacket, you can have her/him get on the board wearing the life jacket. When you first introduce the jacket to your dog, let him/her sniff it. Don't put it on yet, just acquaint your dog with it while giving treats. Make it a positive association. Make sure you use sunscreen on your dog, any type that you would use on a baby is OK for the body. Buy chapstick so you can place on its nose and be sure to have a water bottle for dogs, so they can hydrate.
Once the dog is comfortable on land and board, what should you do?
When all is great on dry land, you can move it to a swimming pool. Now, the picture has changed for the dog, so you should go back a few steps so the dog gets comfortable in the new environment. Make sure your dog wears a life jacket even in a pool. Remember, you don't want to force your dog on the board, let him/her make the decision to get on. You can start in a kiddie pool with a puppy or small dog. Larger dogs you can start in a regular pool. Hold the board steady when the dog initially gets on. You can begin by luring the dog on the first couple of times if necessary. Stop luring after the first couple of times and use praise and treats as a reward to reinforce the behavior of getting on the board. You can also use "touch" to help the dog understand what he/she should do. If they fall off the board, make it positive too. Give treats, have fun, and praise in a happy voice. Make it a happy experience. Once the dog is ready, you can begin pushing the board around the pool while you hold on to the board. Lightly rock the board and give your dogs treats and praise to help build his/her confidence. Go slow with this because it's new to your dog and you want him/her to be successful. From there, you can push the dog off, so the board goes from one end of the pool to the other. At the beginning, you may want to have a helper in the water to catch the board as it reaches the other side. They can also reinforce your dog with treats and praise. When your dog is comfortable in the pool, you can begin introducing distractions so he/she learns how to be on the board in water while other things are going on around him/her. Don't do all the exercises at once. Let your dog get used to one step before you progress to the next. Help your dog be successful. Your bond will continue to deepen!
To learn more, visit "The Fairy Dogmother Laura Nativo at lauranativo.com. Plus, you can email Zach Skow at email@example.com. For more information on rescue dogs, go to www.marleysmutts.com.