Teach Your Dog to Swim

Dock diving -- jumping off a dock into a body of water -- is something you might think a water-loving dog would do at a lake on a hot summer day, but it’s actually a certified canine sport. Tournaments have even been broadcast on ESPN, with champion dog divers breaking world records for the canine with the longest leap from a dock into a pool or other body of water.

Your dog doesn’t have to be the next swimming superstar to splash in on the fun, however. A quiet afternoon doggie paddle can be just as enjoyable and rewarding. "Water is an excellent means of exercising your dog," says Deborah Lee Miller-Riley, founder and director of Connecticut-based Canine Water Sports, which teaches dogs to swim and hosts water-based competitions, including such feats as retrieving submerged articles and towing a swimmer on a life ring.

Natural Olympians, or Not
A lot of dogs are naturally great swimmers. Some breeds come by that skill due to centuries of training. Retrievers have been bred to retrieve birds from water for hunters. Portuguese water dogs used to carry messages between boats in the days before cellular and satellite communications. But not all dogs instinctually take to the water. Some excellent paddlers, as with humans, have actually had to hone those skills with swimming lessons. Keep the following in mind, therefore, before unleashing your dog into the water.

The Importance of Water Safety
In addition to exercise, teaching your dog to swim is an important safety precaution. Scores of pets drown each year in water-related accidents. If your backyard has a pool, or if you take your dog out on your boat, get your pup to feel comfortable around water. You can teach it to swim -- and to get out of the water. "A dog is not going to know how to exit on its own," says Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.

Dogs can be trained to swim around the perimeter of a pool to find the exit, says Fred Hassen, CEO of Sit Means Sit, a dog-training business with 64 locations in the U.S. and Canada. "A lot of people teach dogs to come to you," Hassen says. "The problem is if you put the dog in the deep end and you stand there, the dog would keep swimming in the deep end trying to get to you." Hassen's method involves training a dog to swim around the pool looking for stairs or a ladder to get out -- no matter where its owner is.

To teach your dog to climb a ladder -- be it in a pool or off the side of a boat --place your dog’s front paws on the ladder and then help it up with its hind paws. Entice your pet to climb with a treat. "It's important to make it a confidence-building experience so the dog is not stressed or traumatized," he says.

How to Teach Your Dog to Swim
Just like a child who takes swimming lessons, a canine needs to gain confidence before it can swim comfortably on its own, experts say. Here are five steps to getting your dog’s paws wet:

  1. Start with water exposure Get your pup used to water with a spray bottle, a hose or a shallow plastic pool, Hassen says. This ensures that it gets accustomed to the feeling of water.
  1. Start at a pool or lake with a gradual slope Your first lessons should take place in a body of water in which your pet can gradually walk in the water with you, Peterson advises. You can promote a positive attitude by bringing toys, such as a ball, and encouraging your dog to retrieve.
  1. Move into deeper water with your support As you move into deeper water, support your dog's backside or belly to help it learn that it can float as it paddles with its paws. Hassen says it's important that the dog learns to "level out" its torso to actually swim in the water.
  1. Help your pup find the exit Once your dog is in the water, make sure it follows your commands to find the exit -- be it from a swimming pool or into a boat. Hassen suggests leading the dog gently on a leash.
  1. Don't overdo it Dogs that have not swum a lot before don't necessarily have the muscle conditioning for a strenuous swim. "If your dog never swam for more than five minutes before, don't ask it to swim out a mile to a raft where you're going," Peterson says. "The dog may be too tired to swim back in."

Safe Places for Your Pet to Swim
If you're taking your dog out on a boat, fit your pup with a life vest, experts say. You never know when the boat may hit a bump and the dog may end up overboard. Also, keep in mind that swimming is exercise, and on hot days in particular, you need to keep your pet hydrated with fresh water.

Given the right precautions, there is a wide variety of safe places for your pet to do the doggie paddle -- or something more befitting of a canine athlete. For dock diving, organizations such as Dock Dogs and Splash Dogs hold competitions around the United States. A number of canine spas and private trainers will also help introduce your pup to the water and get it accustomed to going for a swim. Dog clubs additionally offer options to help you and your pet learn the joys of taking a dip in the water -- or competing to be top dog.

"It's a nice opportunity for dogs to have a pleasurable event," says Miller-Riley, of Canine Water Sports, "and to exercise without as much damage to their joints as they might get on land.” Since you can enjoy these benefits, too, your dog will likely turn out to be your best exercise and sports buddy this summer.

Take Your Dog to Work, Improve Productivity

June 24 is Take Your Dog to Work Day, which is designed to draw attention to the bond we have with our dogs and to the many dogs available for adoption. More than this, dogs, their owners and employers may all find that having a pet at work makes for a happier workplace and an increase in productivity. Here’s how everyone can benefit.

Take Your Dog to Work Day
Take Your Dog to Work Day showcases the benefits of having a dog around the office. A 2006 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) found that nearly 1 in 5 companies allows pets in the workplace. Participants said pets make for a more creative work environment, improve employee attendance and productivity, and help employees relate better to each other.

“Having a dog -- or any pet -- around has a soothing and mood-lifting effect on people,” explains Lori Meyer, a pet sitter and dog walker in the Los Angeles area. “When people are happy and calm, they are more productive. Allowing people the opportunity to meet and interact with their co-workers’ pets increases the bond and camaraderie between co-workers, leading to a cohesive team atmosphere and a positive work environment.”

Several dog owners were happy to share their tales about working with their best pals by their side.

Raising Luna in the Store
Luna began coming to work when she was just an 8-week-old puppy, says Robin Banchik, owner of Crystalarium, a store that sells crystals and related items in West Hollywood, Calif. “She loves being at the store, and everyone seems to enjoy her as well,” says Banchik. “She’s now an 8-pound, 5-year-old fluffball who dives into her bag to come to work every morning. As soon as she gets to the store, she jumps out and says good morning to each of her friends. She’s one of the gang.”

The Chief Morale Officers
Golden retrievers Maddie, Zoe and Gracie are considered Chief Morale Officers at BroadReach Public Relations in Portland, Maine, says Kate Bachman. They help the BroadReach staff stay healthy, relaxed and productive.

“Most days of the week, the dogs are in the office,” she says. “Having them around reduces stress in the office. How can you be frazzled when petting a loveable golden retriever? It gets the staff outside periodically for walks, which adds to our healthy atmosphere and even encourages our social media efforts since the dogs have their own Facebook profiles, ‘author’ blogs and provide amusing photo content for our company’s social media outlets.”

Dogs as Icebreakers
The assortment of dogs that show up at Phoenix-based advertising agency Moses Anshell offer real appeal for the firm’s clients, says Chris Fiscus, director of public relations. “They definitely are a great icebreaker, either for potential clients or for clients,” says Fiscus. “On most days, numerous dogs are here. The clients love them, and some even swing by to chat about something that could have been handled by email.

The dogs are one of the secret weapons to the agency being named one of the top 20 creative shops in the country by Creativity magazine. “They’re a huge part of the culture,” says Fiscus.

Sharing Puppy Love
Every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day at Yost Engineering in Portsmouth, Ohio, says marketing manager Amy Shropshire. “We have 18 employees and sometimes up to six dogs with us,” she explains. “It’s really nice to be able to take a break from your day and play with them.”

In fact, the dog-friendly atmosphere helped sway Shropshire when she took the job -- even though she doesn’t own a dog. “I don’t have a dog myself, but I love them,” she says. “This way, I get to have six dogs, even though I don’t have room in my studio apartment for one!”

Top 6 New Year’s Resolutions for Dog Owners

While dogs aren’t capable of resolving anything, December 31 is a good time to take stock of ways to help your dog become healthier and happier. Below, Dr. Trisha Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists offers suggestions for pet-centric resolutions.

Resolution No. 1: I will take my dog on regular walks.
“It’s a well-being issue in terms of both physical and mental health,” says Joyce. “The biggest health problem dogs have is weight-related, which is helped with exercise. When dogs are acting up, which we could think of as being related to mental health, the first line of advice behaviorists give is to make sure they get lots of exercise. If you think about it, your dog lives the life of a shut-in. It needs the stimulation of daily walks to feel content.”

Resolution No. 2: I will not feed my dog table food.
Commercial dog food is formulated to give dogs all the nutrients they require. Table scraps, however, can cause serious health problems in your pet. “Table food is the No. 1 thing contributing to weight gain in most dogs, and a lot of health issues are associated with it -- from diarrhea to pancreatitis,” explains Joyce.

Resolution No. 3: I will brush my dog’s teeth.
Inflamed and receding gums can occur if teeth are not brushed, causing your pet pain and leading to expensive medical procedures. “Dental health in dogs is generally really poor,” says Joyce. A bit of fluoride just once a week helps stave off teeth extractions or difficult cleaning procedures that require anesthesia -- which can be risky, especially for older dogs.

Resolution No. 4: I will play with my dog.
“Everybody’s so busy, but your pets still need time that’s devoted solely to them. Resolve to play five or 10 minutes a day -- tossing a ball, tugging a rope. The attention makes them feel important and loved,” says Joyce. “Making that effort benefits the owner too: You’re reminded that you have this creature that loves and depends on you.”

Resolution No. 5: I will put an end to my dog’s behavior problems.
Nothing prevents an owner from enjoying his dog like persistent behavior problems. Identify any issues -- from urinating in the house to begging for table food -- that keep you from fully appreciating your pet. Consult with a dog trainer or a training manual on how to eliminate the behavior. “It doesn’t take long to train your dog if you do it consistently. In a couple of weeks, you can train out behaviors you don’t appreciate,” says Joyce.

Resolution No. 6: I will help myself while helping my pet.
While you’re making resolutions that will benefit your dog, why not think about yourself too?

  • Guarantee your pet-related financial health by starting a pet savings fund. Stock away a little money each month in case of a pet emergency.
  • Get organized. Clean out old, dirty toys that neither you nor your dog enjoy.
  • Make sure your dog has adequate ID, either on its collar or in the form of a microchip. If your pup is regularly on the run, this will help reduce your stress levels.
  • Do a good deed: Consider taking in a foster dog. Inquire at a local shelter about good matches for your current pet.

National Dog Week Celebrations

Held the last week of September, National Dog Week dates back to the late 1920s or early 1930s, although it is unclear exactly when and where it began. One account attributes National Dog Week to a group of dog fanciers who wanted to promote better care of the animals.

The focus this year is on recognizing the value of good ol’ mutts as pets, says Mark Lynn, executive producer of Red Scooter Dog, a marketing consultancy and public relations firm that is sponsoring the week. “We’re really into dogs here, and we want people to know that mixed-breed dogs make great pets,” says Lynn. “That’s the big message. I call mine a ‘muttigree.’”

Make National Dog Week Special
There’s much you can do to celebrate with your dog and make it feel super special. Here are our top seven favorite ideas.

1. Turn the routine into ritual.
“A dog’s life really revolves around ritual: the morning walk, mealtime, when their human companion comes home,” says Dorry Bless , who helps her clients craft personalized rituals and ceremonies. “Celebrating your rituals brings great richness to both dog and human alike.”

2. Tell your dog’s story.
Share your dog’s history or some special action or accomplishment with friends and family via email, letter or Facebook. Create a family dog tree, documenting your family’s canines through the generations, including names, dates and doggie tall tales, suggests Bless.

3. Give your dog the spa treatment.
Do you put off that messy but much-needed dog bath? Set time aside during National Dog Week for a thorough cleaning, advises Martha Ciske, owner of 8-year-old basset hound Glory and a regular volunteer for dog organizations in Orlando, Fla. “Bath time is a great way to bond with a good sudsy massage, while checking your dog for any bumps, lumps and those nasty bugs like ticks or fleas,” she says. Splurge on special shampoo, and look for a shop in your area with a dog-washing facility if you want to avoid the mess at home and save your back.

4. Make a doggy date.
Treat your dog to a fancy new collar and plan a date to a local restaurant that welcomes pets. Check EddieEatsOut.com for restaurants that make a special effort for dogs. The site includes eateries in New York City, California, Maine, Delaware and Florida.

5. Help dogs help others.
Gabriel’s Angels in Phoenix offers pet therapy for abused, neglected and at-risk children, nurturing their ability to love and trust by having them work with animals. “When celebrating or honoring our beloved dogs, we also must celebrate the affect they have on humans -- especially children,” says Leslie Sonnenklar, a Gabriel’s Angels board member. Consider volunteering with an organization like Gabriel’s Angels. You can also purchase Angel Wings certificates through the group to honor others and support the charity.

6. Help other dog owners.
Because of the economy, many dog owners may be struggling to either keep their pet or to provide adequate care and medical attention, says Amy D. Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant and the author of more than 20 dog and cat care books. Consider holding a dog walk to raise funds for a local veterinary clinic’s Good Samaritan fund, intended to assist needy dog owners in paying for medical care, suggests Shojai. Or collect dog food for local pantries, since their clients often have pets as well.

7. Add to your family.
Consider adopting another dog or convincing a friend to adopt a dog from a shelter, says Lynn. “Dogs like friends. If you get one, why not get two?” If you can’t adopt, consider making a donation to your local shelter, whether it’s cash, bags of food or even old towels and sheets.

 

Most of all, remember that your dog is a treasured family member that deserves to be celebrated, says Lynn. Whether you do something special for your dog or for other dogs, you’ll be honoring that relationship.

National Dog Day Do’s and Don’ts

National Dog Day on August 26 offers the opportunity to celebrate not only your pooch, but also dogs everywhere.

While National Dog Day founder Colleen Paige worked as a paramedic in Los Angeles, she saw many dogs requiring better care. Paige, now an animal behaviorist and author, created National Dog Day to highlight what we can do to help support, rescue and protect dogs in need.

“It’s a day to be grateful for all the wonderful things dogs bring into our lives … the unconditional love, the companionship,” says Paige.

How You Can Celebrate National Dog Day
Paige and other experts offer these suggestions:

  • Plan an outing. Host a barbecue or picnic that includes other “dog friends.” Your dog will enjoy your undivided attention. Feeling ambitious? Try a getaway to a dog-friendly hotel or resort.
  • Shop for toys. Dogs can be rough on their toys, and tattered toys pose a risk to your dog’s health, says Paige. Make a habit of tossing the old toys and replacing with a new batch of intriguing toys each National Dog Day.
  • Prepare for emergencies. Show your love by taking a pet first-aid course, advises Melanie Monteiro, author of The Safe Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out. Also, spend five minutes updating your cell phone contact list to include the numbers for your veterinarian, an after-hours veterinarian and poison control center. Plug your dog’s microchip number into your cell.
  • Volunteer. Rescue groups and shelters need your help, even if you can’t make a long-term commitment of time or money. “Think locally,” says Sherry Woodard, resident animal behavior consultant for Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. “Find a way to help your local shelter or rescue group. There are struggling individual rescue groups across the country.”
  • Donate. Honor National Dog Day by giving $5 to your local shelter. Many shelters and rescue groups also list needed items, such as blankets and toys, on their websites.

What You Shouldn’t Do
National Dog Day also offers an opportunity to review activities that are detrimental to the well-being of dogs, says Paige. Here’s a checklist:

  • Don’t support puppy mills. “We want to shut down puppy mills because they overbreed and neglect the animals,” says Paige. Instead of purchasing a dog from a pet store, which is supplied by a puppy mill, consider adopting on National Dog Day.
  • Don’t endorse breed-specific legislation. “It is people who make dogs go bad,” says Paige. “We say no to breed bans.” She points out that a few years ago, the National Dog Day canine recognized for heroism was a pit bull.
  • Don’t put off spaying or neutering your dog. “A lot of people think, ‘If my dog had one litter, it will be OK,’” says Woodard. Don’t contribute to the overpopulation problem, which leaves so many dogs in need of a home.
  • Don’t leave your dog in your car. Many dog owners underestimate just how quickly a car can heat up in the summer. “I passed out at the grocery store and was taken to the emergency room,” says Suzi Carragher, blogger at RedDogInn.com. “Had my dogs been in my car, they would have been in trouble.”
  • Don’t drive with your dog unsecured. Too many dog owners still travel with dogs roaming free in the back of pickup trucks. It’s also not a good idea to travel with a dog loose inside your car. If you stop suddenly, your dog may get hurt or interfere with your driving.