My retrievers love to swim so much that one of them once attempted to squeeze herself through a cracked window to jump out of a moving car heading over the Mississippi River.
Heather was a smart dog, but the very sight of the Big River overwhelmed her common sense. She wanted to swim, and had it been possible, she would have.
Had she survived the fall, that is.
To be sure, most dogs aren't so crazy about water to leap off a tall bridge, but all dogs can be at risk when water is involved. Many dogs enjoy swimming as much as people do, and cool times in the local swimming spot or backyard pool are one of the best parts of summer.
But play it safe. The keys to water safety for dogs are prevention, preparedness and awareness.
-- Prevention: No dog should be given unsupervised access to a backyard pool or a neighborhood pond or creek. Swimming pools are best fenced off for safety. And if that's not possible, they should be equipped with alarms that sound when the surface of the water is broken by a child or pet falling in. Escape ramps are a good idea, but it's better to prevent pets from getting in unsupervised in the first place.
Prevention also includes teaching your pet what to do when he's in the pool. Dogs don't get the idea that the steps are on one side only, and they may tire and drown trying to crawl out the side. If your pet likes to swim, work with him in the pool to help him learn where the steps are so he can get out easily.
Finally, obedience training is extremely important. Your dog should come when called, even when swimming, so you can call him back before he heads into deeper water or stronger currents. Emergency shortcut: Always carry extra retrieving toys. A dog who's heading out into a dangerous area after a ball or stick can often be lured back into shore with a second item thrown closer in. It's no substitute for training, but it could save your dog's life.
-- Preparedness: Before letting your dog swim in any natural surroundings, survey the area for safety. Rivers and oceans can change frequently, and an area that was safe for swimming one visit can be treacherous the next. Consider currents, tides, underwater hazards and even the condition of the water. In the late summer, algae scum on the top of standing water can be toxic, producing substances that can kill a pet who swallows the tainted water. When in doubt, no swimming. Better safe than sorry.
One of the best things you can do is take courses in first-aid and CPR for your pets. Many local Red Cross chapters offer these classes, and some veterinarians may also teach them in your community. A dog who's pulled out near death from drowning may be saved by your prompt actions -- if you know what to do.
If your dog isn't much of a swimmer, or is older or debilitated, get him a personal floatation device. These are especially great for family boating trips because most have sturdy handles for rescue when a pet goes overboard.
Awareness: Be aware of your dog's condition as he plays. Remember that even swimming dogs can get hot, so bring fresh water and offer it constantly. When your dog is tiring, be sure to call it a day. A tired dog is a good dog, but an exhausted dog is in danger of drowning.
Be particularly careful of young and old dogs. Both can get themselves into more trouble than a healthy adult dog with lots of swimming experience. Young dogs can panic in the water, and old dogs may not realize they aren't as strong as they used to be. Keep them close to shore, and keep swimming sessions short.
Swimming is great exercise and great fun for all, and with these few simple precautions you can keep the cool times coming, with safety in mind. Heather never did get to swim in the Mississippi, but she swam in countless other rivers and lakes, and in two oceans. Best of all: Despite her desire to occasionally put herself into danger, she lived to a good, old age.
Simple dryer sheet
can help quell fear
Q: Can you suggest some ways for us to cope with our dog's fear of thunderstorms? Not only is our dog miserable, but she's driving us crazy. -- via email
A: A storm is more than just thunder: The atmospheric pressure changes, the sky lights up, static electricity builds and rain pounds on the roof. The smells in the air are so different that even we scent-challenged humans say, "Smells like rain." Imagine what an incoming storm smells like to our dogs!
One surprising tip that works in about one-third of dogs: Take an unscented dryer sheet from the laundry room and wipe your dog with it. This eliminates the static electricity that builds up in a dog's coat, and for some dogs this is all they need to cope.
For other dogs, fear of thunderstorms increases because their people mishandle the early signs of fear either by soothing the dog or by punishing her. Soothing a dog ("Poor baby! Don't be afraid. Come here and get a hug.") rewards the behavior, while punishing a dog makes a scary event even more frightening.
When puppies and young dogs show concern, one strategy is to distract them. Give them something positive to do, such as starting a training session with lots of treats, or playing a favorite game. In other words, ignore the storm, distract the dog and set the tone by acting unconcerned. With a new dog, the first time there is a storm, pretend it is an invitation to a "storm party." With every crack of thunder, respond, "Whoopee! That was a fun one, here's your storm cookie!" Couple this with happy requests for simple obedience commands.
Once a dog has developed a full-blown phobia, though, the fear of storms is quite dramatic and can be dangerous. If your dog is afraid of loud noises that you can predict -- fireworks on holidays, for example -- ask your veterinarian to prescribe generic Xanax for your pet just for those days.
For extremely fearful dogs who live in areas that get a lot of thunderstorms, your best bet is asking your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist. A veterinary behaviorist will work with you on a treatment plan that may include medications, counter-conditioning, pheromones and even anti-static jackets in an effort to help a dog to relax during storms. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Pets get tossed
in favor of 'Net
-- On an average weekday, Canadian pet owners spend nearly twice as much time surfing the Internet (48 minutes) and three times as much time watching television (79 minutes) as they do playing with/exercising their pets (25 minutes). The statistics come from Canada's "Pet Wellness Report," a research study of 1,000 Canadian dog or cat owners and 100 veterinarians conducted by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
-- An ailurophile is a cat fancier, a lover of cats. Don't like cats? Then you're an ailurophobe, defined as someone who hates or fears cats.
-- The Tony Awards bestowed a historic first -- a special excellence in theater award given to dog trainer William Berloni, who is known for finding canine stars at animal shelters and turning them into Broadway stars. Berloni trained the original Sandy from the musical "Annie," and now houses 30 Sandys, which can be deployed at any time for the numerous productions of "Annie" around the country. Other dogs he has trained for Broadway shows include the toy poodle for "Gypsy," the Chihuahua for "Legally Blonde" and Toto for "The Wizard of Oz." -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.