Thursday, March 9, 2017

How teaching my dog to swim helped her recover from surgery

Raise a virtual paw if your dog won't swim.

If you have a beagle, the answer is most likely yes.

I'm not sure why beagles seem to distrust water, but in my completely unscientific, anecdotal research, I've found most beagle owners can't even get their beagle to stand in a kiddie pool, let alone go for a swim.

But after Lulu's cruciate ligament tear and surgery, I decided I had to do something to help her recover faster. So despite my misgivings (I flat out told them I didn't think it would work!), I took Lulu for a swim.

A beagle can swim! How it helped her recover from surgery.

Rocky's Retreat is a day care and fitness center in Orange County. They also have the only indoor warm water pool in Central Florida.

Rocky's Retreat has an indoor warm water pool for hydrotherapy.

So it was a natural choice for me when looking for a place for hydrotherapy.

All the benefits of swimming for humans are true for dogs, especially those in recovery.

  1. Low impact on joints
  2. Increase cardiac fitness
  3. Tone muscles
  4. Ease pain
It's great if you have injuries or arthritis and need to keep up a fitness routine. And if you are recovering from a surgery for, say, a ligament tear, it's a great way to get the leg moving. For Lulu, kicking out the back leg is all she needs. 

But forget the old wives' tale that all dogs are born to swim. Some dogs aren't. And just because a dog can splash about a pool doesn't mean they are actually swimming.

In Lulu's case, she doesn't swim. She panics. And she climbs. See...

Lulu isn't even trying to kick out her back legs here. She is just flailing. And kicking out her back legs is necessary as we try to build up her strength in her injured leg and make sure she realizes it's OK to use it again.

When I showed these pics to Sherri, the Rocky's Retreat owner, she said there were several things my brother was doing wrong. Not least of which was making sure her heart and stress levels weren't way up.

Brad, the senior hydrotherapist, handled things much differently.

Now when I first visited Rocky's Retreat, Sherri did say it once took two months to get a beagle to a point where they would learn to swim (TWO MONTHS?!). And when Brad asked what my expectations were, I said I didn't think she would make it through her first session.

But take a look at the short video I made:

Lulu and Brad blew my mind! And here she is below during the second session:

A beagle can swim, with patience!

This is not to say that Lulu loves swimming now. On the contrary. But she is willing to do it.

And it's helping. She's walking a lot more. She's a little stiff in the morning and she still needs to build strength in her leg, but she is doing so much better. In just two weeks!

What did Brad do?
  1. He sat with Lulu until she came to him on her own. He gained her trust. 
  2. He carried her into the pool. 
  3. He never forced her to go into the water.
  4. He only brought her into the water in brief spurts.
  5. If she wanted out, he held her up as high as she wanted to go.
  6. He constantly checked to see if she showed signs of stress.
  7. He stayed as close to her as she wanted.
And it worked. She's not quite swimming on her own, but she is swimming, not splashing, and she is swimming the length of the pool. 

So don't force your dog to swim, but if you think they need exercise that is low impact but good for them, give it a shot. But do not force the issue.

CAN YOUR DOG SWIM? Did you teach them, or did they do it naturally? Tell us about it below in the comments.


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