Taking the plunge with dogs and kids: Part 2

Part 2: Dogs

dog-diving-into-ocean

People often automatically assume that just because many dogs love water and love swimming that all dogs love it and can swim instinctively.  This is not necessarily the case and when it comes to dogs and swimming, there are actually three distinct groups.

Group 1: Those that inherently know how to swim

Examples in this category are Labrador retrievers, who typically love water and once they are in it’s often pretty difficult to get them back out.

swimming-dog-2

Group 2: Those that can be taught

If your dog is a breed that could swim and could enjoy swimming you can encourage him by beginning in shallow, calm water.  If he responds well to that and likes to chase tennis balls or floating toys, you could try tempting him with the toys.

Group 3: Those that need to stay away from pools or other bodies of water at all costs

Dogs that fall into this category are typically those with large heavy chests relative to their hindquarters, short legs, and short muzzles. Examples of this are English bulldogs, pugs, French bulldogs, corgis and basset hounds.  Some of these breeds have very low body fat too, making them far more susceptible to hypothermia in colder waters. If you own a dog with these physical characteristics it would definitely be advisable to keep him or her away from bodies of water or be equipped with a life vest if you cannot avoid this.

swimming-dog

Teaching your dog to swim

Start off slowly by introducing your dog to shallow water.  It is often advisable to put a life vest on the dog and/or a leash.  If your dog responds well to this, gradually move to deeper water so that he needs to do some paddling. Support your dog underneath the belly area to encourage him to use all 4 legs to swim.  Just as with teaching children to swim, it is advisable to keep swim sessions with your dog fairly short, but done regularly.

dog-in-the-water-on-a-leash

It is important to keep in mind that many dogs just simply don’t enjoy swimming. Even breeds that were bred for swimming (such as Labrador retrievers) don’t always enjoy it.  Some may be able to swim but are actually scared of the water.  Fear can increase fatigue, so always monitor whether your dog is showing signs of being fearful.

Never let your dog swim in areas where the water is too cold or where there are currents.  Don’t let your dog get overly tired while swimming. This is particularly important if you have a puppy or a senior dog. Do bear in mind that dogs can get disoriented when swimming, so keep a close eye on your dog’s location in the water.

There are lots of different options available for life vests.  These should be used when your dog goes on a boat, or if he is included in activities such as river floats or paddle boarding.

dog-wearing-life-jacket-2

After all the fun of the water, do remember to give your dog a shower or bath to rinse any residual chlorine or salts from his coat. Cleanse ears with an appropriate product and ensure that they are gently but thoroughly dried to prevent ear infections. Provide fresh water for drinking after swimming.

Is your dog a natural swimmer or afraid of the water?  What tips worked best for you?

 

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Taking the plunge with dogs and kids: Part 1

Many families like to vacation near beaches, rivers or lakes and all of these have one thing in common – water!  When there are large bodies of water present, we should always think of the safety of our children and our dogs.  This two-part series looks at how to keep dogs and kids safe so that everyone can have a fun and safe time on vacation or on weekend trips.

family-in-pool-on-vacation

Part 1: Kids

Ideally, swimming is an activity that should be introduced when children are still infants.  Many pools and community programs offer instructor-led “Mommy and Me” swim sessions that allow the babies to get used to being in the water and are great for Moms and babies to bond further.

mom-with-baby-swimming-2

It is preferable to then progress to swimming lessons with a trained swimming instructor who can show your child the correct techniques from the beginning – it is a lot more difficult to unlearn bad habits and techniques.  This type of swimming instruction is usually available on a group or an individual basis.  Group sessions tend to be less expensive, but as there are more children involved there tends to be less actual swimming time.  If your budget won’t stretch to professional lessons, you may want to consider teaching them to swim yourself. This does not always work, as learning to swim can be a frustrating process and sometimes kids will take instruction better from a swimming instructor than from a parent. It is also problematic if you have multiple children. If you are keen to give it a go and will be working with just one child, here are some ideas to make parent-child swimming instruction successful.

Make it a regular date

In order for parent-child swimming instruction to work, kids need to swim regularly and preferably once a week.  Make a point of assigning this time in your calendar once a week and sticking to it, except when your child is sick.

child-learning-to-swim

Keep it short and keep it varied

Swimming is a very tiring activity and as much as we want our kids to sleep well at night, having prolonged swimming sessions when they are learning to swim can be counterproductive.  It’s far better to keep it short (15 – 20 minutes for very young and new swimmers) and to keep lesson activities varied.

Make it fun

Making the swimming lessons fun with games and other activities is crucial to keeping children engaged and in building their confidence in the water.  For very young kids, use games involving nursery rhymes and plastic toys.  As they get older, continue to use those techniques, but also introduce games such as “red light, green light,” (where children kick like crazy on green, slow down on amber, and stop on red) to help improve specific swimming techniques. As they get slightly older, drop the nursery rhymes and include the use of more games, varying the games from session to session.

Kids of all ages will learn better if there is variety in the lesson.  If they get to use kickboards, pool noodles, and other flotation devices once in a while this will be beneficial.  Using these items helps to improve stroke technique, keeps them interested, and will leave them wanting to come back for more.  Not all community pools will allow their use, so check on that before taking yours along.

boy-swimming-with-kick-board

 

Make swimming enjoyable

Building up confidence in the water is vital so that kids are not afraid of the water and want to swim. As your little swimmer progresses in ability and confidence, you may want to think about enrolling in swimming clubs where a range of swimming and social opportunities will be offered.

Set rules

Make sure that your children know how to stay safe near a swimming pool.  They must always ask for permission to go in a pool and must have adult supervision during this time.  Rules such as not running by a pool are really important to follow. Use life vests or floaties for young kids when they are not actually practicing their swimming strokes, but do not rely on the floaties for safety. For young kids and those who are not strong swimmers, life vests should be worn for activities such as river floating or when in lake water.  If swimming in the ocean, be conscious of the tide and possible currents.  Where possible try to swim in a lifeguard supervised zone.

river-float-with-kid

 

Even when your child has become a good swimmer, it is possible to get into difficulties in the water.  Always ensure that children are supervised to minimize risk and ensure that you are all able to enjoy a fun and safe vacation.

Learning to swim is not a luxury, it is a necessity! Being able to swim is such an important skill to have.  Swimming provides fantastic exercise for able-bodied children and those with physical challenges and is an activity that can be continued throughout their lives.

Some of my happiest and most memorable times have taken place around water with my children. What experiences have you had? We’d love to hear about them.

 

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Manners Matter: Etiquette at Pet-Friendly Hotels

Dreaming of your next vacation?  When you start making firmer plans, why not include your dog?  Only 10 years ago, if you wanted to stay in a hotel, it was a little difficult to take your dog with you on vacation, but things have definitely changed for the better for dog owners. With far more hotels accommodating pets, people are increasingly welcoming the opportunity to take their canine friends with them on their adventures.

Regardless of whether you are going to be staying in a 5-star resort, or a basic motel room, it is important that the way you (and your pet) behave will ensure that pets will always be welcome at these hotels.  So, what is the best way of achieving your dream vacation and ensuring you will be able to return for future visits if desired?

kid-and-dog-in-hotel-room

Before you go

When you make your reservation, ensure that the hotel is aware that you will be bringing a dog or multiple dogs.  This is important as pet-friendly hotels also welcome those without pets, so you may get a more dog-friendly room location if you can let the hotel know about your dogs ahead of time. Be aware that although some hotels allow dogs to stay free, others have additional charges and these fees can vary greatly from one hotel to another. Make sure you know exactly what the fees are ahead of your visit and whether the charge is per room or per dog. Ask how many dogs are permitted in your room. There may be a one-dog or two-dog limit per room, so do check on that if you want to have multiple animals with you.

At certain hotels, although dogs are welcome, they may not be permitted to remain in the hotel room unattended.  If that is the case for the hotel you are interested in, ask about local pet sitting services for days when you cannot take your dog with you on excursions.

Some hotels, particularly the larger chains, may offer a pet welcome package with items such as dog bowls, pet food mats, and dog treats, but not all do. It is preferable to bring your own pet food, and bedding as this allows the dog to feel at home right away with familiar tastes and scents to provide comfort and reduce her stress levels.  If your dog sleeps in a crate at home, try to bring it with you. Don’t forget to add waste collection bags to your packing list too!

 Checking-in

FlLovesDogs

If you arrive at the hotel by car, make sure your dog has traveled there securely at the rear of the vehicle. It can be a shock for the valet to open the car door and have an unrestrained pet leap out.

Inform the hotel staff at check-in that you have your dog with you. This is a good time to find out where they prefer guests to take their dogs to go potty. Also find out if there are areas of the hotel that are no-go zones for dogs. The concierge is a mine of information, so take the opportunity to ask about dog-friendly restaurants, beaches, or other attractions in the surrounding area.

During the stay

dog-in-hotel-room

Check your room for any hazards and put these out of reach of your pet. If your dog has a penchant for drinking from the toilet, try to keep him away from the one in the hotel room as the chemicals used could be toxic.

Follow all the rules and regulations set by the hotel.  They have been set for a reason, so please respect them. Just because the hotel is pet-friendly doesn’t mean that there will be access to all areas. Don’t take your dog to areas of the hotel that are off-limits. If pets are allowed in the dining areas, do not allow your dog to eat from the plates.

You may be a dog lover, but not all people are. Chances are that in a pet-friendly hotel the staff are likely to be comfortable with animals and happy to be around them, but the same may not be true of the other hotel guests. Be respectful of other guests by keeping your dog at a distance, unless they are keen to introduce themselves to your dog. For everyone’s benefit, try to ensure that your dog does not bark incessantly in your hotel room or in common areas of the hotel.

Plan to take your pet out on excursions with you where possible, but there may be some days where that is not possible.  On those days, and if the hotel permits dogs being left in rooms, the following tips may help to ensure your pooch is content during your absence.

  • Leave the lights on, so your pet is not alone in the dark.
  • Leave the TV on during the day, to keep your dog relaxed and distract him from noise in the hallway.
  • Ensure that your pet is left with plenty of fresh water.
  • Make sure your dog is not bored when you are out.  Items such as chew toys and treat puzzle balls can help distract a dog from your absence and ensure that he chews on them and not the furniture in the room.
  • Keep your pet leashed or crated when you are out of the room

treat-puzzle-ball

On vacation, your daily routine may be dramatically different from usual, but don’t neglect to walk your dog in the way you would at home.  If your dog normally requires two long walks every day, then do the same while on vacation.  It’ll be good for you too!

Checking-out

At check-in, you will probably have been required to leave credit card details to which a security deposit may have been added.  Be honest and if your pet has caused any damage, report it and be prepared to pay for repairs.

It might also be helpful to leave a tip for the housekeeping staff, who may have had extra work to do in your room.

dog-on-bell-boy-cart

Stop dreaming about your next vacation and make it a reality. Wherever your travels take you, may your vacation be wonderful and memorable with your favorite pooch alongside. Keep the above tips in mind and keep America’s pet-friendly hotels pet friendly.

What experiences have you had when staying at hotels with your dog? We’d love to hear about them and see vacation pictures!

Why Getting Active With Your Dog Will Change Your Life

If you and your pet have been active all year, there should be no reason to become sloth-like during the winter.  Admittedly, it can be tempting to hunker down inside when temperatures plummet, but getting active and staying active with your dog will actually change your life. No exaggeration.

With a bit of creativity and planning, it’s possible to enjoy every season with your pet and get more benefits than you might realize at the same time. Here are a few activity suggestions that could help keep you both healthier during the colder months.

Skijoring

Skijoring is a unique combination of cross-country skiing combined with dog power.  This sport began hundreds of years ago in Norway and was called skikjøring (or ski driving). Horses and reindeer were used in Norway, but when the concept spread to Alaska, dogs were used instead.  The dog wears a skijoring harness and is attached to the skier with a belt and a towline.  This sport only works well with larger dogs, but you don’t need to own a Husky. Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, or Border Collies, for example, can all enjoy the sport. If your dog weighs at least 35 lbs, is healthy, and has a lot of energy and stamina, it could be a good option. Both owner and dog get a fantastic workout (with owners able to burn between 700 and 900 calories per hour) and take advantage of the snowy conditions at the same time.  If this sounds like the sport for you, it is advisable to get a health check for you and your dog. If you’re both good to go, start out slowly, building up the length of sessions as you get more familiar with the activity. Look online for Skijor clubs in your local area, which could offer some group sessions and may give you tips specific to your location. SkijorUSA might be a good place to start. Some states that typically get winter snow have designated trail areas, so check out what might be available in your state.

skijoring

Snowshoeing

This is becoming increasingly popular in the snowier regions of the country as you can burn between 420 – 1,000 calories in an hour depending on speed. Some dog owners like to carry poles, so prefer to snowshoe with their dog on a waist leash.  This activity offers cardio training, strength building, agility, and balance – a serious workout for owner and dog.

Become a mushing team

When we think of mushing, we often think of a sled pulled by multiple dogs, but actually, the term refers to any form of transport that is powered by dogs. Traditional mushing with a sled in the snow is extremely popular in Alaska but is also growing in popularity in the lower 48. Dog mushing has become a popular activity for those wanting to explore the backcountry. There is quite a bit of equipment and training required for this version. If you find the thought of traditional mushing a bit daunting, there are other options, although most of these are better suited to conditions without ice or snow.  There is a wide range of products on the market, so why not check out the different options and see if there is something that appeals to you.

Hiking

Hiking is a very popular activity and shouldn’t be reserved for the warmer months. When there is snow on the ground, it certainly adds to the intensity of a hike.  This activity can be achieved without needing to purchase or rent additional equipment, but do take plenty of water, snacks and a first aid kit with you. Ensure that both you and your dog are adequately protected against the elements with appropriate clothing and footwear. With any outdoor activity during the winter, make sure your pet’s paws are washed clean of salt after being outside.  If you are likely to be going out into harsh weather conditions regularly, you may want to consider investing in hiking boots for your dog, to protect paws from injury.  Not all dogs will wear them so paw wax may be a good alternative to protect the paws from ice and snow.

man-walking-his-dog-on-a-path-in-the-snow

Practice nose work

Not everyone wants to or is able to participate in intense forms of exercise with their pet, but in addition to regular walking, there are other more moderate activities that you can introduce during the winter months.  Practicing nose work is a fun search activity for your dog,  based on the scent training that police and rescue dogs undergo.  This activity provides great physical exercise but is fantastic for mental stimulation too.  Dogs learn to search for a specific odor and find the source of that odor. The nice thing is that it can be done almost anywhere. The wind, rain, and snow can affect scent flow, so practicing in the winter can be a different experience from other seasons.  If you would like to develop your skills,  K9 Nose Work can help you find an instructor in your area.

Make an indoor agility course

If the weather is just too severe to venture outside, you can set up an agility course in your own living room. It is possible to purchase objects like tunnels, hoops, and hurdles for your pet, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to those, simply look around your home and everyday objects can achieve a similar result. Set up obstacles with items like brooms or rolled up blankets and encourage your pet to jump over these obstacles. You may have to jump too initially but aim to progress to verbal cues. Put items like newspaper or aluminum foil on the ground, so your dog gets used to different textures and sounds under his paws. Add a collapsed tunnel adventure by using a chair draped in a blanket – sit one side and encourage your pet to go through.

living-room-agility-course

Go to an indoor dog park

Designed for year-round use, but particularly helpful in extremes of weather, indoor dog parks are a great option.  Many indoor dog parks have opened throughout the United States, so check online to find one in your area.  At some, you can sign up for an agility class, a swimming lesson, or even have a go at doga (yep,  yoga with your dog!).

indoor-dog-park-dallas

How can these activities change your life?

The benefits of getting active with your dog are many, but the following are just a selection of ways in which your life will be changed for the better by exercising with your pet during the winter months:

  • Any activity or exercise during the winter (whether inside or out) is great for improving cardiovascular health and overall muscle tone for you and your dog.
  • Exercise has been proven to be helpful in improving mental health, as endorphins released during exercise reduce depression and anxiety.
  • Being exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible helps in overcoming SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that can affect many people during the winter months.
  • Although you are never truly lonely with a dog in your life, engaging in activities that promote greater social interaction (such as going to an indoor dog park or signing up for a class) can be so helpful for anyone struggling with isolation and loneliness at this time of year – again improving mental health.
  • Embarking on any activity allows you to develop stronger, closer bonds with your pet, which is good for the soul in general.  

With countless benefits, whatever you do this winter, pick an activity that you and your pet can enjoy and will do regularly.  Get active and maximize your time with your best friend!

What do you and your pet love to do at this time of year? We’d love to hear about it!

Tricks and Treats

They can't read, so they need other ways to keep busy
They can’t read, so they need other ways to keep busy

To keep our dogs busy and healthy, we don’t only have to make sure they get enough physical activities like a stimulating walk or swim. Like the body, the mind has needs too and needs to be used. Preventing boredom is of the essence. Most of you will probably have some (funny) anecdote showing that boredom leads to trouble, in dogs and humans alike.

One way to keep a dog’s mind occupied is to teach him of her tricks. Most people know about the basic tricks and commands such as sit, heel, down. These are things every dog should know to operate and be safe in our society. However, dogs are capable of learning much more than that. They might even pick up a few tricks on their own, whether you want them to or not.

To teach your dogs new tricks, you don’t need much: a list of tricks, patience, perseverance and lots of treats. However, if you don’t really know where to start and the internet is no help, you don’t have to do this on your own. There are dog schools and trainers who will gladly help you and that offer more advanced classes that go beyond basic obedience. Though, make sure you transport your pooch safely in the car, with a crate or pet barrier, when you go to these classes.

dog treats
Lots and lots of treats

You can find a lot of dog tricks online. Here’s a list of some tricks I liked:

Fun ones:

  • walking backwards
  • barking on command
  • slalom
  • jumping
  • crawling
  • a classic: play dead

Useful ones:

  • difference between left and right
  • opening and closing doors
  • picking up toys
  • switching the light on and off
  • Leave it, for refusing strange food and other non-edible things
  • baring their teeth, useful for brushing those pearly whites
  • find my keys

Does your dog know any fun or unusual tricks? Is there a something you would like him to know? Let me know in the comments!

Things to do with your dog

Mutual love
Mutual love

The love between dogs and humans is a mutual thing and we love nothing more than spending time with each other. However, at times we have to leave are beloved furry family members alone for a while and they can get bored. When we get back, we want nothing better than to make up for it and to give our dogs a chance to be active and release some energy. But at times, we get tired of playing the same games and going for the same walk all over again. That’s why in the next couple of articles I hope to give you some new ideas on things to do with your dogs to keep them active and happy.

In today’s article I’ll start off with a tip that is easily manageable: instead of going for that same old walk in the same old neighborhood, why not go somewhere new. This can still be close-by, in your own area, but just a different street or park than usual. Even deviating from your normal route or routes just by a bit well make the walk more exciting.

Or when you have some more time, in the weekends or on a day off, you could go for a drive and explore a whole new area, like a nearby forest. Your dog will love exploring new places with different sights and smells. You might even find some hidden gem which will become your new favorite place!

Off to explore!
Off to explore!

You don’t have to go to a new place every day, but it will be nice for both the two-legs and the four-legs to mix things up a bit occasionally. This will stimulate your minds and bodies. So give it a try and I’ll guarantee you’ll get a happier dog. Have fun!