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Shih Tzus are dogs with very short snouts. This means they can very easily take in large volumes of water and aspirate it. It is estimated up to 40,000 household pets sadly lose their lives every year due to drowning in household pools.
It is very important to watch your pet closely, like a child, when they are in large bodies of water. Be prepared to step in if they look like they need your help.
Despite this, on warm summer days, it can be nice to allow your pet to splash around in some water to cool off. Swimming is a great overall exercise for canine fitness and is particularly useful in terms of rehabilitation work.
Generally speaking, most Shih Tzus will have an innate ability to swim, but not the necessary energy reserves to keep swimming for a prolonged period.
Shih Tzus are a breed of dog that is known as brachycephalic. This is a term used to describe flat-faced and short-nosed. This is characterized by a longer lower jaw that appears to be jutting out past the end of the upper jaw.
Brachycephalic breeds have narrowed nostrils and often at least a partially obstructed airway. This means they are much more susceptible to breathing problems which can cause problems while swimming.
They must hyper-extend their necks to ensure the tip of their nuzzle remains above the water. This will prevent them from aspirating water but makes their already reduced breathing even worse.
Shih Tzus have long hair, and as any human with long hair knows, this quickly becomes heavy as water saturates the strands.
If you have allowed your puppy’s hair to grow long the weight can pull your dog under the surface of the water.
How to teach your Shih Tzu to swim
We recommend kitting your dog out with a small life jacket designed for dogs. This will help to keep them safe, even if their instinct to paddle does not kick in. It may also provide a sense of comfort and security to reassure your dog during their first foray into the water.
We suggest having a calm environment around your Shih Tzu when they are trying to swim for the first time. Try to find a quiet body of water, such as a tranquil lake or a home pool to ease them in gently.
We do not suggest taking them to an ocean as the currents can be quite overwhelming. No matter how confident you are in your swimming abilities, your little dog can easily be carried away or pulled under the surface by a strong current.
You should allow your dog plenty of time to get used to the sensation of water on their fur. Allow them to stand in some shallow areas, to begin with.
This will allow them to acclimatize to the sensation of wet paws. Sit beside them while they are doing this and provide regular reassurance.
When your dog is comfortable with this stage, begin to venture deeper into the water. Stop when it reaches the underside of their stomach and allow them to get used to this too.
Walk back and forth between this location and the shallow water. This will allow your dog to realize moving in the water is okay.
Carrying your dog in your arms, walk out until the water’s surface reaches your waist. Gently holding your dog under their stomach, lower them into the water beside you. Take great care not to get their face wet as this will inhibit their breathing.
Hopefully, by this point, their instinct will begin to kick in and your dog should begin to paddle their paws. Do not let go of their weight until you are confident enough that their paddling will keep them above the water.
Gently and slowly release your hold on the dog until they are swimming independently. If they seem to panic or struggle, hold them once more.
It is vital when introducing your dog to water that you show them how to get out of the water too. If you have a backyard pool you are using to teach your dog in, they may eventually reach the point where they jump in independently.
Shih Tzus will tire quickly in the water and they must know how to safely leave the pool or else they could drown.
As you are walking towards the pool’s steps, call your dog’s name to encourage them to follow you. Similarly, if you are teaching your dog by the shore, call their name as you walk towards the sand.
We suggest keeping your dog within arm’s reach at all times to ensure their safety.
If the steps on your pool are too steep for your dog, there are many devices you can purchase for their safety. These include things such as the Skamper Ramp which provides a safe escape from the pool.
There is a real possibility your dog will experience anxiety and fatigue while you are teaching them to swim. You must have a lot of patience and should not expect them to be a natural swimmer.
Use treats and praise generously to enforce positive associations in your dog’s mind. Never force them to do something they are not comfortable with and only ever move at their pace.
If you have a backyard pool, we recommend installing a barrier or gate around the edge. This will not only prevent your dog from falling in but is also a good safety feature for anyone who has had one too many!
Do not allow your dog to roam freely around your pool if you have a cover installed. These will trap them underneath if your dog falls in accidentally and is likely to cause them to drown.
Do not let your dog drink from pools either. The water contains many chemicals that are likely to cause harm. For the same reason, you should rinse your dog with fresh water after a dip in the pool.