For many years the animal medical profession have recognised the benefits that hydrotherapy (i.e. calm, controlled swimming) can have for dogs, particularly those recovering from injuries, or those suffering from hip dysplasia, arthritis, or loss of mobility. They also agree that swimming* helps to improve dogs general fitness levels, muscle tone, and increase their stamina without causing stresses to the dog's bone structure when the dog is walking or running on the ground (see link for futher details of the benefits of calm, monitored swimming).


* This type of swimming does not include dogs running madly in and out of ponds, lakes, rivers, or the sea, chasing sticks, toys etc. Their adrenealine levels are so high that they do not feel the aches and sprains caused by slipping and sliding in and out the water. Instead of swimming calmly and steadily they do short sharp burst of swimming - the dogs may be enjoying themselves splashing around in the sea etc, but it is not what hydrotherapy is all about! It is rather like a chid going to play with his friends in a swimming pool and not getting very fit, compared to a child who swims up and down the pool building up muscle tone, stamina etc.

Because the benefits of hydrotherapy are now widely recognised, there has been an enormous increase in demand for hydrotherapy establishments in the last five years or so. This has resulted in a boom in the hydrotherapy industry, particularly as there is a great deal of money to be made because pet insurance companies are now agreeing to pay for the costs of the treatment. There are now a wide range of canine pool manufacturers and budding entrepreneurs with a background in dogs opening up various canine hydrotherapy pools not only in the UK but worldwide.

I wish to make it clear that I am sure these hydrotherapy establishments were set up with the best of intentions (with many offering very high standards of equipment, health and safety procedures, etc). However, I do have some strong reservations about how the dogs are exercised in many of these pools. I would like to outline my reasons for doing so -

  • Entry and Exit - It is extremly important for the dog to be able to walk in and out of the pool, usually via a ramp. Dogs need the option of an Escape Route to prevent them feeling trapped. If a dog is anxious, nervous and feels threatened it sill become stressed and
  • Jet pools - Some hydrotherpay pools are tanks which have strong currents which the dog has to swim against. This
  • Treadmills -
  • Swimming in a straight line -
  • Electrical dryers -
  • Loss of the dog's dignity and the desperation of the dogs owners -






"Teaching a dog to swim: To start a dog swimming the best idea is to go out in a pool or lake where you can enter the water with your dog. Many dogs will be more confident if you are standing with them if they are nervous about venturing out on their own. So by walking out, you can build their confidence before letting them go on their own. Bring a favorite toy with you and encourage them out further by tossing the toy short distances and swimming over to it. Some tips: Bring another dog who knows how to swim along to help encourage your pet to try. Some dogs can be helped by wearing a life vest (dog swimming life jackets) which you can purchase at YourActivePet.com These usually have handles that you can hold onto easily which help in lifting your dog out of the swimming pool or lake. Buy Now! Water Freaking Here is a common problem. Your pup goes off and won't come back. You have two choices, swim out and get them, or wait until they get tired and come back. Never let them off leash and away from you until you know for a fact they will return or start in shallow water where you can go get them should you need to. I use a two toy approach to retrieving and swimming. I always keep one close by so I can toss it near me. Try to make a lot of noise to get their attention and toss it into the shallow water. Tennis balls are not the best choice as they can get lodged in the throat blocking the airway. I really like kong retrieving toys or retrieving bumpers. Afterwords, make sure you RINSE your dog with fresh water to get out any bacteria or chemicals. You can also rinse your dog before hand to help the water not absorb into the coat hair. If you follow these general ideas to get your dog swimming, it'll happen in no time."


owner near by or not?



In any action sport, whether it involves humans or animals, it is a well-known fact that the fitter the participants are the less likely it is for injuries to occur. Since our canine friends are unable to tell us how well they are feeling, it is beholden on us to monitor them carefully and keep them fit and trim. However, due to the foot and mouth crisis, many agility dogs are losing their fitness from lack of off-lead running, regular training and competitions. This will result in both dogs and humans sustaining pulled muscles and other injuries when we can finally return to training/competing. With this in mind, Sally Hopkins recommends a dip in the pool. Each fortnight for the past three years - and now twice a week since the onset of FMD - I have kept our dogs fit by taking our dogs to the local equine pool for a session of controlled swimming in conjunction with walks on the Malvern Hills, street walks and training. Good exercise All four of our Border Collies have benefited from this excellent exercise. It invigorates and tones muscles (some of which are not used when walking/running) without putting a strain on their bone structure, stimulating their nervous system and has enabled them to develop their muscle strength and stamina so that they don’t sustain injuries when training or competing. Both my vet and our local animal chiropractor strongly approve of this form of exercise, especially for dogs who regularly exert themselves in such sports as agility; for dogs recovering their fitness after operations and injuries; and for many other medical conditions - e.g. dogs suffering with hip dysplasia, where swimming strengthens the muscles around the hip joint painlessly because the joint does not having to bear the dog’s weight. Controlled swimming This kind of swimming is very different to that of a dog swimming in a pond, lake or river where it swims in short sharp bursts chasing after a ball and then pulls itself out of the water to return the toy to its master. Instead, the dog is fitted with a body harness with a long line attached to it and is led down a long sloping ramp into the water where it can swim to the center of the pool. The equine pool that I use is housed in an out-building of the horseracing yard. It is circular with a small island in the center, with a removable plank for the owner and handler to cross to the island before the dog swims first in one direction, then the other. The pool itself is 12 foot deep, is unheated (as all natural water sources are that dogs come into contact with) which dogs find invigorating, and has chlorine in it to stop cross-infection and germs – unlike lakes, ponds etc. Jim Wilson, the owner of the yard and pool, has over twenty years experience of swimming horses and dogs. He is a great believer in starting a dog off on just a few circuits each way, asking the owner to monitor the dog’s tiredness both later in the day and the following day too. One of his favorite sayings is “It is better to do less and do more later than to do too much and do harm” which gives you a good indication of how much importance he puts on the dog’s well-being. Over a period of weeks, as the dog becomes fitter, Jim increases the time the dog swims to eight to ten minutes, depending on whether the dog swims calmly and steadily (which is best) or whether the dog swims faster. One of the benefits of controlled swimming is that we are able to monitor how the dog swims as he swims in first a clockwise and then anticlockwise direction – is he favoring one side to the other and could this be due to injury? This situation occurred to my two-year-old Jet some time ago – he struggled as he swam in a clockwise direction around the pool and kept trying to swim the other way. Jim Wilson, who has great empathy, vast experience and knowledge of the animals he swims, suggested I get Jet checked over by an animal chiropractor. She verified that Jet had painful areas on the right side of his neck, which was causing him pain as he swam with his head turning to the right. This also explained why he consistently turned left on agility courses rather than right, and why he did not look at me when doing heelwork on my left hand side – it hurt to turn his neck to the right. Over the years Jim’s keen observational skills have diagnosed many problems when dogs have suddenly started to swim differently, which have been verified and treated by vets and chiropractors before the problem has gone too far. Some dogs take to this type of swimming straight away while others try different strategies to find out if they can get out of the situation, only to be foiled by the control we have due to the long line attached to its body. In these circumstances it is recommended that you trust Jim’s advice and you will soon see an improvement in the dog’s attitude to swimming – another of his sayings is 'There is more than one way to skin a cat' i.e. he sometimes has to try different ways of swimming the dog to find one that suits it. All but our youngest dog now swims without a line and happily run into the pool whatever the weather. They enjoy the calm quiet exercise which relaxes them, steadily burning off excess energy, and seem to have a great sense of achievement when they leave the pool. Bobby, who is seven and a half, is a real exhibitionist and swims all over the pool with sheer enjoyment – what better recommendation of a dog enjoying its exercise! Once the dog has finished its quota of laps Jim undoes the line so that the dog can swim out of the pool and walk out via the ramp. Remember to stand well back as the dog gives himself a good shake! Once the harness has been removed I play a game of ball with our dogs on Jim’s nearby lawn, to encourage them to shake off more of the water before I towel them down and put them in the car. Jim has swum all types and sizes of dogs over the years – from St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, Dalmatians and Collies to Jack Russell Terriers, reinforcing the fact that almost all dogs benefit from this form of exercise. He charges a standard fee of £5 for a single dog (discount for multi-dog households) irrespective of how long the dog swims for. This is good value for money compared to some specialised dog pools that charge as much as £12 each, where dogs swim in a tank against a strong current. So why not ring round and find an equine pool near you, or give Jim a ring if you live nearby. Some of his customers have come as far away as Wales! Afterwards why not go for a swim yourself at your local swimming pool so that you can keep up with your super fit dog when training restarts!

if you live in the Gloucestershire area, you can contact Jim Wilson at:- Equine & Canine Therapy Glenfall Stables Charlton Kings Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL52 6NH Tel. 01242-244713


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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