It’s hard to give our dogs proper exercise when it’s hot outside, but if you have access to a pool or lake, there are many ways in which you can give your pup a workout while simultaneously helping them to beat the summer heat. Here are eight water-based games that will keep your pup stimulated and cool all summer long:
“Fetch is a great pool game,” says Jill Johnson, a dog trainer in North Hollywood, California, who notes that swimming is a perfect source of cardiovascular fitness for dogs and can be especially beneficial for those with arthritis.
“To play this game, stand at the shallow end [of a pool] near the steps, throw a ball or toy to the other end and watch your canine friend leap in to retrieve it. Encourage them to bring it back. You can be in the pool or stand out of the pool and have your dog use the steps to bring it to you.”
“If your dog wants to join you in the pool but isn’t built for swimming, perhaps a ride on a raft or other suitable floating surface may be just the ticket,” Johnson says.
She recommends taking your time to get your dog accustomed to the raft, lounge or float on land before tossing it into the pool. Similar to teaching your dog to “go to bed” or “place,” Johnson recommends teaching go to “raft.”
To execute this, toss a treat onto the raft on the ground, have your dog get on it, then give him the treat and praise. “Add stay for good measure,” adds Johnson. “Once he or she happily jumps onto the ‘raft’ and preferably stays until you release, you are ready to move it to the pool.”
This game requires two people and a toy, ball, or other floating object. Stand or float at a distance from one another, keeping your dog in the middle, and toss the item from person to person, says Johnson. Let your dog swim or walk in the water between you to chase the toy and be sure to let him win from time to time to keep his interest high, Johnson says.
If you have a hoop (like a hula hoop), you can try to encourage your dog jump through it on the ground or swim through it in a pool.
Start by having your dog walk through a hula hoop on land, says Johnson. After he does this, reward your pup with lots of praise and high-value treats. To teach them to jump through the hoop, simply raise it off the ground a little and reward each time they successfully jump through it.
Every time you raise the height of the hoop, offer more dog treats and even more praise. Once the game is a favorite on land, move the fun into the pool.
Toss a ball, Frisbee, or dog toy over the water while your dog jumps into the water trying to catch the toy.
“Although your pooch doesn’t know it, the goal is for your dog to jump as far as possible,” says Dr. Meredith Stepita of Veterinary Behavior Specialists. “You can recreate this game if you have a pool deep and long enough, depending on how far he or she can jump.”
Catch Me If You Can
Johnson likes to teach her clients to play “bye bye” or “catch me” with their dogs on land, and it can be played in the pool, too.
“Simply teach your dog to chase you. Say ‘bye bye’ or ‘get me’ and swim away from your dog. He will instinctively chase after you,” she says, adding that it is always safer for your dog to chase you than the other way around. “Chasing after your dog in an emergency can lead to trouble.”
Some dogs love to dive for toys that sink to the bottom of a pool. To teach them this, start by putting your dog’s favorite toy in shallow water so that it is easy for him to retrieve it.
“When he or she picks the toy up, reward with verbal praise and a treat,” says Stepita. Once your dog learns to retrieve the toy from shallow water, increase the water depth little by little until your dog is diving for the toy.
Set Up a Baby Pool
“If your dog isn’t the swimming type, set up a baby pool for them to bob for their favorite floating treats,” says Stepita. This is also a great way for your dog to cool off on a hot summer day.
Deborah Linder, head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals, adds that a baby pool can be a great alternative for smaller pets. Whenever possible, she suggests letting your dog play in shallow water, as it involves less risk.
“A much safer way to let pets get cool and have fun in the water is to play games in shallow water of a lake or pond,” she says. “Even pets with arthritis or joint pain can get activity […] and geriatric pets can engage in play by wading in shallow water, retrieving balls from the water, or ‘searching’ for toys that can be retrieved from under the water.”
Whenever you are thinking about taking your pup into the pool or any body of water, it’s important to consider a few safety tips.
Get a dog used to the water slowly: “Introduce your dog to the water slowly. Go at their pace, praising and giving treats for getting closer to and then in the water,” says Stepita. Positive reinforcement is always the key to learning new behaviors.
Make sure your dog knows how to get out of the pool: Before teaching your dog water games, it’s important that you show him how to safely exit a pool.
“When your dog is comfortable getting into the water, stand on the side of the pool near the steps or other exit and call your dog to you. Reward your dog for coming out of the pool to you,” Stepita says. “Start by asking them to come when they are on the steps or near another exit. As they learn to come out of the pool, increase the distance they are from the exit before calling them.”
Only put a dog in the pool who is willing and able to swim: If you have a dog that doesn’t like the water, don’t force it. In addition, some breeds, like brachycephalic breeds (Pugs, Bulldogs etc.) for instance, can experience complications in the pool. “If these dogs are not strong swimmers and carefully supervised, they can easily have water go down the wrong tube and get aspiration pneumonia,” Linder says.
Provide your dog with plenty of fresh water: Since your pup may work up a thirst, make sure to have plenty of fresh, clean water available in a dog bowl nearby. “Many of the chemicals meant to balance the pH of pools can be harmful if ingested,” Linder says. “Pets should also be bathed after going in a pool due to them possibly ingesting the chemical off their fur when grooming themselves afterwards.”
Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.