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Water Safety and Teaching your Whippet to Swim

Not all dogs or whippets are going to enjoy the water. However, we do feel that if introduced properly and with consideration there's a very good chance your whippet might be a swimmer!


We can't discuss swimming without mentioning a few key aspects of safety first. If you have water loving dogs like us, you should pay particular attention. First off, when dogs play in the water or retrieves balls or toggles, they often do so with their mouths open when they jump. They may ingest a fair amount of water both swimming towards the item and carrying it back to shore. If you're spending a fun day at the beach or along a riverbed, it's important to limit the amount of time your dog spends playing directly in the water. Why, you might ask? Well with all that water ingestion your dog is at risk for hyponatremia or more commonly known as water toxicity: whereby they have ingested so much free water that it reduces the electrolyte concentration in their bloodstream, particularly Na+ (sodium). The body is constantly working to maintain homeostasis, so it will work to correct this sudden change. Remember basic chemistry? Water will move from the blood stream into cells (thus moving down the concentration gradient) to achieve equilibrium. This can be fatal resulting in cerebral edema, seizures and coning. You need not fear, just limit their time in the water. For every 15-20 minutes of continuous play, give them an hour or so rest afterwards. This will also vary a great deal on your whippet's individual play style. Some of our girls will even attempt to dive under the water or look for items so they are at greater risk of ingesting more water than others.

Before you let your whippet play along the shoreline or beach, take a few moments to inspect the beach or riverbed. Are there a lot of pieces of driftwood or branches that have washed ashore that present a risk to their feet if they're running at speed? Are there a lot of sharp and jagged rocks they're likely to cut their feet on? We also have invasive zebra mussels here in Ontario lakes so don't forget to inspect the shoreline too for those.

If you have treats to reward your dog, ensure they are small and you can easily do so without crumbs falling into the water if you're using them to lure or reward you dog for swimming towards you. Yes, we've even had one of our girls slice her foot quite significantly on a large fish's dorsal fin when swimming from the shoreline to us as we were using bait to reward her and unbeknownst to us, our whippet wasn't the only one drawn to the food. It resulted in a trip to the vet for sutures. Imagine explaining that one to your vet!

One last note about safety. In certain lakes and stagnant bodies of water cyanobacteria can be found in blue-green algae blooms. The toxin released by cyanbacteria can be fatal. So ALWAYS look online for warnings about water quality reports from Public Health. If you suspect your dog has been exposed, seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY.

So let's say you've taken the above into consideration. You've found a nice area you'd like to introduce your whippet to the idea of swimming. You've also waited until the water is sufficiently warmed up from spring thaw. Be mindful that fresh water springs can be FREEZING all year round and are not going to be appreciated by your whippet nor will they like the idea of freezing in icy water. Before you attempt this, you should have mastered or at least sufficiently trained things like recall and a solid retrieve. NEVER FORCE or DRAG your whippet into the water! THIS IS A BIG NO! If you want your whippet to learn a new skill, you're far better off introducing it slowly and at whatever pace they need. Flooding your dog will FAIL. At Aureate, we introduce all our puppies to water, season permitting as it's a great opportunity for exploration and fun. So now that you and your whippet are ready begin with your dog off leash, but with a collar on. Wade into the water, perhaps just to your ankles and call them. When they come, don't grab them and force them to come deeper. Just reward them and then try a bit deeper. Once your dog decides that's deep enough, respect that and remember for next time. Give them a break. We find the best way to teach your dog to swim is tapping into their natural drive. Instead of making it about swimming we teach swimming by focusing on retrieving and chase. We've had the most success by bringing out our young dogs with a water savvy mature one and showing them a fun game of retrieve. That way the dog focuses on the competition and play and not about the fact that they have to swim to keep up!

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