It was the middle of the night when my husband and I were awakened by a frantic sound of splashing mixed with helpless, panicky yelps. Being new to pool owning, it took us a moment to follow the sounds outside. Luckily it was still cool at night and our bedroom windows were open. Had they been closed, and the air conditioning blasting, we wouldn’t have been alerted to the impending danger and would have lost a member of our family forever.
When we got outside, we could barely make out the small figure of our beloved puppy, S’more, desperately clinging to the side of the pool, attempting to hoist her heavy, wet body out of the water. We pulled her to safety. She was shaking fiercely and in severe respiratory distress. Luckily, she calmed down quickly and her breathing returned to normal. Once she was out of harm’s way, I became inconsolable. What if we hadn’t been at home? What if we hadn’t heard her? What if…?
I thought dogs instinctively knew how to swim. Many do, but not all.
“Some dogs start off with no paddle at all and freeze once [they’re] in the pool,” says Lisa Maldonado, a canine pool training specialist and owner of Glendale-based Arizona Pool Dogs. “Some dogs panic real bad and do more splashing and get nowhere.”
Maldonado is a passionate dog lover with a gift for teaching dogs how to swim and be safe around water. While there are no hard statistics on dog drownings, Maldonado speculates based on estimates from vets and pool cleaning associates that thousands of dogs die each year in Arizona due to unnecessary pool drownings.
“Drowning is a horrible way for pets to die,” says Maldonado. “The biggest issue for dogs around pools is not knowing how to get out calmly and safely. Some dogs will cling to the side only two feet away from the stairs and finally let go and drown when all someone had to do was to take a little bit of time and energy to show the dog where the stairs are.”
That is exactly what happened to our dog. She inadvertently fell into the pool and was just a few feet from the sun shelf, where she easily would have been able to stand up on her own. But once panic sets in, dogs, like people, can be their own worst enemies.
“Dogs in the wild learn from their mothers to remain calm and that water feels good and there is no reason to panic,” says Maldonado. “They will swim out a little and calmly turn around and swim back.” But without that kind of maternal training, domesticated dogs may panic and simply splash around until exhaustion overtakes them and they drown.
Maldonado’s calm, easy manner around the pool replicates the kind of maternal training dogs get in the wild, so they remain relaxed and confident in the pool while she teaches them to identify where the stairs are and how to always exit the pool safely.
Once your dog is comfortable in the water, Maldonado recommends regular pool time.
“Swimming happens to be the best exercise you can give your dogs during the summer,” says Maldonado. “Just 15 minutes of swimming with your dog is the equivalent of taking a five-mile hike.”
With temperatures soaring this summer, you’ll find us in the backyard, frolicking happily and safely in the pool with both dogs, both kids, friends, neighbors and anyone else who’s looking for a refreshing reprieve from the heat.