Life Preserver = Fun Preserver

by Holly Nash, DVM, MS on July 8, 2011

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What do you do with a Labrador retriever mix who is afraid of the water? We live on a lake in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our dear dog Kirby, whom we got as an adult from a local shelter, was afraid to go into the lake when we first got him. At first, all we could do was get his feet wet. So we took it real slow and just threw sticks right at the shore line so he could get the feel of the water as he was enjoying chasing after the sticks.

Dog-Life-Jacket

Over several weeks he became comfortable enough to get in a little deeper, so it was time for the next step. We put a doggie life jacket on him and started throwing the sticks out to where he had to wade in, but didn’t need to take his feet off of the ground. We continued this until he was comfortable getting his belly wet.

Then we started throwing out the sticks so he had to swim just a short distance. At first he just thrashed in the water when his feet came off of the ground. My husband and I got used to getting pretty wet ourselves as we waded in to fetch the sticks that went out beyond Kirby’s comfort zone.

But, soon he became more confident, and would swim out two feet to get his sticks and then quickly turn around and come back in. Finally after several more weeks, he was comfortably swimming out to get the sticks. We still kept his life jacket on him, since he tended to flounder without it.

Dog-in-water

This all happened last year. This year we were able to start where we had left off. Happily, he has moved past having to wear the life jacket to simply swim several feet off of shore. This past weekend, he graduated fully! He started swimming out past the end of the dock, apparently just for the joy of it. How happy we were to see him having so much fun.

We still use his life jacket on him when he is going out on the boat with us. It’s good to know he’d be safe if he fell (or jumped) overboard. We especially like the fact it has a strong handle on it, so we can pull him in if he does go in the lake.

Dog-in-water-2

Kirby is not the first retriever I have met who was afraid of the water. I can say all of the owners who tried it found that starting them out in a life jacket made a world of difference, and though they may not be Olympic swimmers, they are now happy swimmers. And that’s what counts.

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About the author: Dr. Holly Nash received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, and a Master's Degree in epidemiology (the study of the transmission, distribution, and control of disease) from the University of Wisconsin. She has worked in a primarily dairy practice, as a veterinary epidemiologist, and as a companion animal veterinarian. Dr. Nash has been with Drs. Foster and Smith since 1998. She has always been interested in the human-animal bond and the education of animal owners, and finds being Editor of PetEducation.com a perfect match. She enjoys and has had experience working with many species of animals, and is a member of the American and Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Associations. See more articles by Dr. Holly Nash.

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Dog life jacket | Lokotan
July 11, 2011 at 4:45 am

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Rosemary July 8, 2011 at 10:15 am

My old Doberman mix, Gin, hated water so much, she would walk around a puddle, rather than through it. We did get her in water up to her belly in the Gulf for about 30 seconds before she pulled us out. The beach was okay, that great big bathtub? Forget it.

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