Thursday, July 4, 2013

Teaching a Not So Old Dog a New Trick

I previously wrote about our dogs' first swimming lesson.  As I had mentioned, our younger dog is very timid and for the first lesson it was all we could do to get him to walk down the pool ramp far enough to get his paws wet.  We had been thinking about this issue. One of the problems with the "public dog pool" is that it is for employees and dogs only. We couldn't be in the pool to help coax him in. Another problem is that we couldn't bring treats into the pool area so that wouldn't be any help (not that he was as food motivated as our other dog anyway).  We figured at the apparent rate of progress, his learning to swim may cost us a fortune.

Well, while at a local discount store, we found an 8 foot round by 30 inch deep Easy Set pool (a.k.a. big blue blob) on sale for $35.  Hmmm...the cost of getting one of these and filling it would be about the same cost as a single half hour swimming lesson.  That might be worth giving a try to reduce the time and cost of introducing our timid dog to the water.  It's not really enough to swim laps in, even for a 40 lb. dog, but it should at least allow us to introduce him to the water and swimming at his own pace.  So, while I would prefer to be getting rid of things at this stage, we bought one.

Dog Training Pool - A.K.A. The Big Blue Blob

Since the dogs will need life jackets on the boat, we picked up those as well.  An internet/sailing/blogging friend on s/v Smitty recommended the Outward Hound jacket. The design appears to have changed from the one pictured, and we found the newer style was exactly the same as the one sold at our local Petsmart so we picked them up there (and they were even on sale, yay).

We set the pool up on a tarp on our patio as it was the only reasonably flat space that wouldn't kill grass. The blue blob is, as the name suggests, easy to set up.  You lay it out, blow up the inflatable ring around the top, and fill with water.  The result is a pool big enough to float a medium sized dog.  We then put the vest on our older dog and used it to lift her into the pool with one of us outside the pool and one in the pool.  The new dual handle design of the vest is handy for lifting a 40 lb. least into a pool.  When our older dog touches the water, she immediately begins trying to swim.  I don't think she likes water...or at least the pool...but she definitely can swim.  We wanted her to go first so our more timid dog would see and maybe think it isn't that scary...yeah, trying to play psychological games with our dogs.

We then put the vest on our timid dog and brought him over to the pool.  We slowly put him in the water with my wife in the pool. Lots of praise, but he just floats there as we hold on to the handle of the jacket.  And when he starts to tremble a bit, we take him out.  That's enough for the first day.  In the following days our timid dog and the pool meet several more times and each time he becomes more comfortable with the life jacket and the pool.  The last time he was in the pool my wife was able to take him to one side and I would call him and he would swim the 6 or so feet over to me unassisted.  He doesn't really seem much more comfortable than our other dog, but is definitely making good progress.  Thus far the pool seems to be to be a success.
Our older dog in her lifejacket
Our younger, timid dog

One thing we have noticed is that the life vests don't provide as much buoyancy as I thought they might.  Specifically, they don't seem to hold the dogs head as high as I would have thought they would with the extra flap of foam up front.  They do seem to keep them afloat and maybe we're just being nervous parents. The pool is fresh water, and salt water is more buoyant, so I'm sure they will work out just fine.

The other thing to note about this experiment is that even these small pools require constant maintenance if you intend to keep them filled for more than a day or two. The pool holds 640 gallons of water, so we don't want to keep refilling this thing.  And this pool doesn't have a pump, much less chemical systems to help out. We only intend to have it filled for two or three weeks, so we buy the less accurate test strips to test the basic chemical balance.  For chemicals, instead of buying pool specific chemicals, you can use a few household chemicals such as bottled bleach and borax.  To figure out what you need to do, there is a handy online pool calculator where you enter in your test info and it will tell you how much of what chemicals to add to keep your pool safe.

Thus far, the pool is working out well.  We will likely empty the pool this upcoming weekend and take the dogs back to the public pool for more of a real swim. Based on all the information I've been able to find, the treated water should be fine for the lawn, so it will serve one last purpose watering our lawn. Hopefully our dogs, and particularly our timid one, will find the pool a more comfortable experience on their next visit. Who knows, maybe soon our dogs will be as comfortable in the water as some dogs another internet friend has mentioned in their recent post.

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