Are you worried how to keep your dog in shape despite the high temperatures? Here are a few tips how to incorporate high-intensity swimming training into the training routine of your dog athlete!
How about swimming?
Temperatures well over 30° make it hard to be active with your dogs. You need to reduce your training to a minimum, whether you train agility, canicross, frisbee or even obedience. Staying inside and avoid any physical activity is also not the best solution if you have an active dog athlete.
To help you stay active even during these hot summer days we’ve put together a short list of information about how to make swimming with your dog a useful training unit.
We are not talking about playing fetch in and out of the water, where your dog has enough time to catch his breath on shore. His heart rate will drop, but for effective training, you need to keep it at higher levels over a longer period of time.
Swimming is a friendly activity for your dogs joints and muscles. It is suitable for hot summer days, when other types of training are not possible due to heat. Swimming is also known for reducing stress and most dogs love it since it brings as a nice change to your training routine.
How to teach your dog to swim
- Find a place where you have nice access to water where your dog can easily walk and feel the ground beneath.
- Prepare a water toy or some small tasty treats depending on what motivates your dog the best.
- Put the life jacket on your dog right from the beginning to let him get used to if right from the start!
- Never force your dog to go into the water! If your dog is hesitant to go into the water don’t force him to. Patience is key – one paw at a time 😉
- Make it fun! Some dogs love water right from the start – others take longer to get used to it. Reward every progress and show your dog how much fun swimming can be.
Two types of swimmers
Some dogs are natural born swimmers who love water and swimming. If this is your case, consider yourself lucky. You dog will probably follow you into the water straight ahead, ready for the swimming training!
If your dog doesn’t like water or even is afraid, you need to build some confidence first. Start near the shore where the water is shallow. Play with your dog or use treats to move him around, make sure the dog can still feel ground beneath. Take short breaks at the shore and then repeat. Some dogs gain confidence really fast, as they notice the life jacket still keeps them floating on the water even if they do not touch a ground for a short time. Some dogs will need more units like this to get used to it.
If you notice your dog is ok with playing in the shallow water, where they can still feel the ground, move to the next level. Position yourself on the border of shallow water and the place where your dog cannot feel the ground anymore and has to start swimming. With treats or with toy lure your dog from shallow water to deeper and straight back where they can stand again and feel the ground. Repeat this several times, several seconds in deep water and back again to the shallow part. Observe your dog, see how they react, you will know when the time is right for you to start swimming! Be patient, these types of dogs need time to get used to water, do not start swimming long distances straight ahead! With the handle of the life jacket you can always support your dog and give him more security. However, dogs who are “afraid” of water usually don’t like this, so first try this in shallow water and see how your dog reacts.
Swimming as part of your training routine
Now that your dog is a swimmer, you are ready to start to incorporate the swimming into the training routing of your dog athlete.
- You can either swim in the water with the dog beside you, which is the easiest way.
- If you are not a good swimmer or cannot swim for longer distances, you can use a boat or SUP – paddle board. You can let your dog swim along with you and take him on board for short periods of rest if needed.
- Best way of swimming to build stamina is to let the dog pull – let them swim with extra resistance.
You can either grab the handle of the life jacket and let your dog pull you when swimming. Also you can use a leash with your running belt or holding the leash in your hand if you are on the boat or SUP. In this case, make sure you have a life jacket with appropriate rings to connect the leash to the dog and be careful not to get tangled in the leash.
Of course, dogs who are not taught to pull on the ground when running, might not pull in the water either. To keep their focus forward you can use a floating toy.
Should I use a life jacket for my dog?
If you are spending short time at a lake, playing in the water and your main aim is to let your dog cool down in hot weather, of course, you don’t need a life jacket. If you want to use swimming as a training unit, always use a life jacket, regardless how good a swimmer your doggie is.
- It helps your dog swim longer distances.
- It improves their swimming technique – it keeps your dog in a straight line on water level, helps him keep his front paws in the water instead of splashing around with bottom part deep under water and “swimming” in an incorrect angle.
- Safety – dogs can get cramps the same way as humans. You never know when it happens, and life jackets help to keep them safe.
- Muscle growth – life jackets give your dog extra resistance in the water, i.e. they need to generate more power to swim forward in comparison to swimming without life jacket. This is also one of the reasons why life jackets are a perfect training tool.
How to create a swimming training unit
- Start with 1 to 2 minutes of continuous swimming without a break.
- Prolong the duration with each session.
- Introduce swimming with resistance only when your dog has already built up his fitness level.
It is important that you keep your dog in the water during a session. Your aim is to keep your dogs heart rate high for a longer period of time. You don’t want your dog to swim to the shore to take breaks every 20 seconds because his heart rate will drop.
When giving resistance, don’t pull in the other direction.
If your dog is struggling with pulling, give him a target by throwing a toy. That should help to keep his focus forward. Hold on to the handle of the life jacket, slow him down a bit, but keep swimming if needed. If your dog doesn’t like to be touched in the water you can use a leash attached to the life jacket, but be careful that you or your dog don’t get tangled up.
Dog athletes with great fitness level can swim around 30 minutes without a break, professional canicross athletes can even cover distances of up to 4 km!
Please note, that this type of training is a high intensity training! Optimal training routine should include 2 (active) rest days per week, so adjust the frequency of swimming trainings accordingly.
Choosing the right equipment
Now you know how a swimming training should look like, but you need a life jacket for your dog and have no idea how to choose the one that fits best for your doggie? In our shop, we have 2 types of life jackets:
- one swimming life jacket (Float Coat from Ruffwear) and
- one safety life jacket (Life jacket from Non-stop Dogwear).
If you are a water person, this is something similar like comparing the slim fitting life jackets for humans (used for wakeboarding or wakesurfing) with the thicker versions of life jackets that have more foam panels.
We offer these particular types of life jackets for dogs, because throughout the years, these two proven to fit most of our customers dogs and the quality of these products is outstanding.
Both life jackets offer your dog perfect floating performance, without being too bulky or heavy. When wet, the floating panels get softer and adjust to the body of the dog. They do not restrict the full range of motion of your dog in shoulder or hips. Additionally, you can use the provided loops to attach the leash and let your dog pull in the water.
Ruffwear Float Coat
- Suitable for good swimmers to give them additional support in water
- Fits most breeds, however might not be the best fit for dogs with deep chest and slim body, like sighthounds, good choice for dogs with shorter backs
- Easy to put on with no extensive straps flattering around
- You can use the loop for light to occasionally attach the leash
- Available even for the smallest sizes of dogs
- Good choice if you want to train when your dog is swimming beside you or alongside the boat or SUP, for swimming with pulling we recommend the Non-stop Dogwear life jacket, however you can still use this also for pulling training by holding on the handle and let your dog swim.
Non-stop dogwear Life Jacket
- Perfect choice for good swimmers and beginners who still need to build self-confidence in the water
- Fits most breeds, however might not be the best fit for dogs with shorter back, great choice for dogs with deep chest.
- Might be a challenge to put on dogs with long hair – extensive straps tend to flatter around in the water, sometimes get tangled in the hair. We recommend you adjust it to fit your dog and cut off the extensive part of webbing and seal with a lighter.
- Great if you need more contact with your dog to teach the right swimming style
- Thanks to many rings it is ideal to train swimming with resistance
- If you have a really small dog, Float coat from Ruffwear would be a better option for you.
My bordercollie Keen is a natural born water freak. He has a good swimming style even without a life jacket he keeps his front legs under the water. Both life jackets are suitable in terms of fitting but for him I prefer the Float Coat from Ruffwear because it is easier to put on for a dog with long hair. You simply close the 2 buckles under belly and you are ready to go. You can easily fix the extensive parts of webbing with a Velcro, so it doesn’t get tangled in the fur. Also, as he is a good swimmer, I do not need too much contact with him in water. When we train swimming with pulling, I can easily grab the handle on the coat to let him pull. I can also attach the leash to the loop (which is originally designed for a safety light).
Casper, the whippet, is a different story. Originally not a swimmer at all. He is not afraid of water, but his swimming technique without a life jacket is a disaster. The bottom part of his body is deep, he is splashing around in the water with his front legs and looks like he is fighting for his life.
Float Coat from Ruffwear would not be the best choice for him. First of all, it is not optimal from fitting form for his deep chest and being shorter and less bulky than the Life jacket from Non-stop Dogwear, it does not give him the extra secure feeling in water he needs to go for a swim and have fun. For him the Life Jacket from Non-stop Dogwear is definitely the best choice. It is longer, fits better for his deep chest and offers more floating support in the water. Also when swimming, I sometimes need to fix his swimming technique and you can easily do this with this jacket by holding the back part a bit up, to remind him to keep his front legs in the water.
I hope this information is helpful for you to enjoy your summer trainings with dog. Please, keep in mind that each dog is unique, and you need to adjust your training to their needs.
If we made you curious about swimming with your canine athlete, get out there and give it a try! If you still have some questions, do not hesitate to contact us on social media or use [email protected].
If you want to show us how you and your dog are doing, use hashtag #havohravosummer on your social media, looking forward to your posts!