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Teaching Your Dog Pool Safety

posted Jul 23, 2012, 5:31 PM by Mark Rieves   [ updated Aug 29, 2012, 6:51 PM ]
By Mary Spencer (   

When I first moved into my historic 1926 Lakewood home back in ‘94, my first project was to add a pool.  Even though the house itself was in severe need of a major renovation, the pool came first.  Over the years, I have often worried that one of my many pets could easily fall in and drown and I consider myself blessed that horrific experience has never happened.

Having fostered several hundred puppies and dogs throughout my Lakewood era, it concerns me that a four-legged inexperienced swimmer might slip into the pool or even push one of my own canines in.  Therefore, every spring, I vow to teach my critters “the perils of the pool” which includes finding the steps and getting out safely.

Thus an article on “teaching your dog pool safety” seemed an appropriate subject for these 100+ dog days of summer.

Being somewhat unfamiliar with the “how”, I turned to my trusted groups of experts – the many blogs and informative articles from the Internet.   I credit the actual “meat” of this article to the following dog writers:  Catherine J. Crawmer and her “Canine Talk” blog and Sam Basso (pen name of Sam the Dog Trainer.) Along with informative tips from Kathleen Lindsey, I pieced together a most informative quilt of knowledge to hopefully insure your dog’s safety around any pool.

We’ve all heard the sad stories of dogs drowning in the family pool. Since this type of tragedy isn’t readily publicized, people don’t realize just how often doggy pool deaths actually do occur.  Each year, as summer approaches, there are numerous notices about the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car. If only we were as consistent with warnings about the perils of the family pool.

Catherine Crawmer notes similar remarks from pool owners, “My dog never goes near the pool. He hates the water.”  But, a dog racing around the pool can easily slip into the pool while a dog playing with another dog might get pushed in.  A dog that never has ventured even close to the water one day decides to be adventuresome and try that first swim, not realizing that once in, he can’t grasp how to get out.

Pet parents whose dog enjoys swimming often feel comfortable that their dog is in no danger; however, they actually should be more concerned. Until their water-loving dog is trained to get out of the pool safely, he can be more vulnerable to drowning than the dog that actively avoids the pool.

Training the family dog to be safe with a pool can be fun - especially if treated like a game. Most important is to use a lot of positive reinforcements / TREATS for rewards.  If you ask any four-legged student, he or she will loudly bark that treats are essential!

According to Catherine Crawmer, you must always start any training while the dog is fresh.  An ideal situation is for one person to be in the pool with him while another person is on the outside of the pool. Only the person on the outside will have the treats. Start with the dog placed very near the stairs. The person in the pool will direct the dog to the stairs and the person on the outside will encourage him by showing the treats. When the dog exits the pool, the person on the outside of the pool should praise and pet him. The dog can then be put back in the pool for more sessions. How much of this must be done is individual and should only be repeated while the dog is having fun. Be sure and stop when the dog becomes tired.

When the dog is comfortable with the stairs, he should gradually move back a short distance in the water requiring him to swim to the stairs. The lessons should not advance until the dog is swimming comfortably to the stairs from all areas of the pool. Because each animal is different, care must be taken to keep the energy level high and the lessons fun. The goal is to end every session at a high point of success!  And give lots of treats!

When the dog can swim to the stairs from all points of the pool, many people, in error, think the training is complete and that the dog is safe from pool accidents. Not so. This next phase includes the most important exercises in the program and it is critical to continue training to assure the pet’s safety if an unexpected pool fall-in should occur.

The person in the pool must now get out of the pool – but should stay nearby if the dog in the pool suddenly needs help.  The person holding the treats on the outside of the pool calls the dog just as before - but from a position several feet to the side of the location of the stairs. The goal is to get the dog to move away from the person calling him and instead go toward the stairs.

When the dog has learned to turn away from the person calling him and to go to the stairs, the person must move gradually from one location to the next, further away from the stairs and around the pool. The end goal is for the dog to actively turn his back to the person calling him and to swim away from that person but towards the pool steps.

The final part of the program is realistic prep for a pool accident. The dog is put in the pool far from the stairs. At this point, no people are around the pool for the dog to see; therefore, it is important to watch from a distance (out of the dog’s sight) and be ready to help if needed. The dog must be able to locate the stairs and exit the pool – with no encouragement or no one around. Finally, comes the ultimate test. The dog is put into the pool at the far side and opposite the stairs. Everyone has moved out of the dog’s sight and starts calling him from a distance opposite the stairs. It is critical that the dog swim away from the voices and toward the stairs

As I reread each of the articles, it all sounded like a lot of work.  But, as any journalist would do before the story, I threw on my swimsuit, headed poolside and put the training tips to test with my two dogs and a foster pup – enjoying a totally fun afternoon.   With lots of barking and splas.hing, both in and out of the water, we also shared a great bonding experience.  Mutual trust and mutual laughs!

I’m not sure if anyone actually graduated – even myself, but we’ll keep practicing - to be safe and stay cool. After all, what better way to tolerate this Texas heat!  As my mother always said, “Better safe than sorry.”

About the Author:  Mary lives in Lakewood and serves as
Dallas Animal Shelter Commission Chair, SPCA of Texas Board Member, and Texas Humane Legislation Network Advisory Board Member. She can be contacted at