D ear Old Trainer: We have two poodles, Layla, 91/2, and George, 5. Neither has swimming experience and we are moving to a home with a pool. I am not a good swimmer and if they fall in I might not be able to get them out. My husband says poodles are water dogs and will naturally swim if they fall in. We plan to put a cover and a fence around the pool, but it will take a while. Any advice?
– Sue, Merced
Dear Sue: Your husband is correct. Swimming is part of a Poodle’s DNA, so they know how to swim. Layla and George will look like Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps when they hit the water, but they still need training in pool safety, especially in how to get in and out of the pool.
The rules of training are the same in water as on dry land. Equal measure of patience, love and discipline – and make it fun for you, George and Layla.
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Always use the steps to enter or leave the pool and teach your dogs they have to do it the same way. This is the most important part of the lesson.
Work with one dog at a time. If they hesitate to enter the water, sit on the steps and pet them, and coax them to get their feet wet. Then move into the water and call them. If they don’t want to come in, just enjoy the water for a few minutes and try again later in the day.
Most water dogs immediately glide through the water using all four feet to paddle. A beginner may paddle using only the front feet. That results in the front part of the body being upright in the water while they flail with their front feet.
If either dog does that, just support the back half of their body with your hand to level them out. Leave room for their back legs to paddle. They will figure it out quickly from there.
Always stand next to the steps when you order them out of the pool. Always. They have to come on command in water just like they do on land, so work on the exit over and over to make sure they know how to find the steps.
Place a good sized landmark – umbrella, lawn chair, potted plant, something big enough your dogs can see with ease – on each side of the steps so they can locate them at a glance. They will learn to get out between the marks.
Rinse the dogs off with clean water after a swim to get chlorine and bacteria off their coats. Use a towel or hairdryer to make sure they are dry.
A fence is safe, but do not install a pool cover unless it is strong enough to support the weight of both dogs. More dogs drown by stepping onto pool covers that collapses than by falling into pools.
There are a number of devices you attach to a dog’s collar that trigger an alarm on a speaker in the house if the collar gets wet. Such a device will give you peace of mind until you get them trained.