Monday, May 02, 2011

Pools and dogs...

Every year about this time of spring (angel voices - sprrrrrrring!), I get a bunch of questions from blog readers who have seen our pool and pool shots and want to know more about the setup and procedures. I'm happy to answer questions, but I thought I'd put together a bit of a FAQ:

Why did you start letting your dogs swim in the pool?
A few reasons - primarily because of Kasei who had a repaired crutiate and needed some rehab following surgery. I already had a pool that was relatively under-utilized. What's better rehab than swimming? Secondly, I'm more and more concerned about the cleanliness of lakes, streams and reservoirs. We've had a significant algae issue on Lake Champlain with dogs dying after inadvertently ingesting algae. Not for me thanks - I don't want to worry about whether or not my dogs are going to die because I let them swim in the lake. Thirdly, I'm an insanely busy person - which is worse in the summer. I work 50-60 hour weeks, I'm on-call a lot, I teach dog classes, I train my own dogs, I board dogs, I'm involved with several clubs and I've got a house and property to maintain - I wanted my dogs to get swimming as exercise in the summer, but found it really inconvenient to drive 30 minutes (or more) to get to the local reservoir (or lake) to swim them for half an hour only to turn around and drive another 30 minutes home. It wasn't a good use of my time or of gas. And lastly I was getting to these places and finding more and more irresponsible dog owners and/or aggressive-in my face dogs. The last time I  brought Murphy to the local reservoir he was nearly attacked (the 'nearly' bit was because I put myself (and a cooler) in between Murphy and the aggressive dog intent on getting a piece of Murphy. All the while the dog's owner (500' away) insisted his pit bull was "friendly" and "just wanted to say hi". It kind of blows the relaxation effect of playing in the lake if I need to ultimately defend myself for defending my dog. P.S. - if you're dog was under your voice control he wouldn't have been close enough to me (teeth bared and charging Murphy) for me to have to smack him in the head with a portable cooler. P.P.S - Young wanna-be macho men: stop rockin' the pit bull stereotype and train your damn dog, I know lots of lovely pit bulls and lots of scary aggressive goldens. If it'd been a golden charging me with teeth bared I'd have made the same decision to defend my dog. Anyhow...that's why we swim at home.

Won't my dog tear my pool liner?
Here's my stock response to that. If your dog knows how to swim, likes to swim and knows where he or she can get in and out of the pool you will never have a problem with your dog ripping your liner. Obviously that is not a guarantee that I'll replace your liner if your dog tears it - but it's a statement that I've proven out over and over and over again. IF you have a dog that doesn't want to be in the pool or doesn't know how to get out (panic mode) then you will have problems with your liner resulting from toenails and such. Go in the pool with your dog the first few times and make sure he knows how to swim and make sure he can get in and out of the pool safely by himself. My dogs often (like every retrieve) actually push off (swimmer turn) the side of the pool - and knock on wood -  we haven't had any problems.Guest dogs have to be accompanied by their people in the pool - always.

Won't all that hair ruin my pool filter and pump?
It can be a lot of hair - especially with the goldens. I brush my dogs a couple of times a week and we still have a lot of hair floating on the pool service the first few weeks of pool season. It is what it is. I have to be prepared to be there to empty the skimmer basket 15 minutes after they finish and again an hour or so later. I do skim the surface with a net to get some of the hair out. I have to change and clean my filter cartridge more often than other people probably do....

OK, but seriously what about sharp toenails?
Teller (L) and Murphy
I dremel toenails and I dremel often - every 5-7 days or so... Nothing drives me crazy more than getting carved up by toenails from exhuberant dogs - but yeah - sharp toenails aren't going to help the liner situation. I've heard of people who put boots on their dogs for swims - but I can't imagine trying to get boots on and off dogs 2-4 times a day - even if I wanted to.

Your dogs seem to swim a lot, do you have any problems with hot spots?
They do swim a lot. On a typical summer day both boys will swim/retrieve for 45 minutes before breakfast, again at lunch-time for another 45 minutes or so and typically again before dinner - more on this in a minute. On weekends it's not unusual for the boys to spend 4-5 hours swimming, wading, retrieving and playing in the pool. That's a lot of swimming. As far as hot spots go, (knocking on wood), we don't typically have a problem. IF we swim in the lake, stream or a pond  we are likely to have some itchies - usually don't progress into hot spots, but now I'm very proactive. If we (they) swim in a natural body of water I'll either spray them with a listerine mixture (1:5 listerine to water) and rub it down to the skin - or I'll get them home and either put them into my pool or I'll hose them down with fresh (municipal) water. If the weather is very humid I do take some extra time making sure that both dogs are dry before bed.

Speaking of chlorine...isn't it bad for dogs' coats?
I think it can be - but I don't think it HAS to be. I'm careful about my pool chemicals, I pay very close attention to my pH, I only treat the pool at night (12 hours before the dogs swim again), I watch the forecast and shock the pool when I expect rain - or when I'm going away for a weekend. I do not use the floating chem-tabs (unless I'm going away for the weekend). I use liquid chlorine shock until the water is above 70, then I switch to the powdered shock (which has built-in chlorine stabilizers).

What about tangles and mats? Other coat maintenance?
Ah, praise to Chris Christensen for a little miracle called "Ice on Ice". Teller has an amazing coat and never mats. Murph however - well his fringe and his pants tend to mat easily - especially with hours in the pool every day he can tangle. I thin his pants out about once a month and dress them both with ice on ice about every other day. I also bathe them once a week or so. In humid weather Murphy especially can go days without ever really drying out completely. A good bath with a quality shampoo (designed for frequent baths) goes a long way to keeping the coat and skin healthy under any circumstances - but probably more so on dogs that spend so much time being wet.

What about ears?
Good question. When we've had problems it's been ears. I used to use a product designed for drying up ears - labeled as post swimming. Which seemed to work well - until Teller had an allergic reaction to the drops - hives, red itchy ear a bit of a fever - out of the blue. At that point I decided I wasn't going to use eat products if I could help it. So...I've just added an ear procedure to our daily swimming routine. After every swim I use a towel to wipe the outer portion of the ear - very quick, but very deliberate. Before bed on nights that they've had swims I'll swab out their ears with a q-tip.

What should I do if I get a hot spot?
Murphy with Stick
Obviously one of the advantage to this much coat and skin maintenance is that you have your hands on your dogs daily. My dogs will actually tell me (find me, get my attention) if they have an irritation (or in some cases - a tick) - there's a very clear "she'll fix it" understanding around here. Other times the boys have alerted me to  problems on each other. I think both boys had one small (quarter) spot last year. Teller's was a result of shampoo that didn't get rinsed properly, Murphy's was probably a failure to dry properly (on his inner thigh). Both were resolved with my hot spot method and they were back in the pool within 3-4 days.

How big is your pool?
My pool is 56" deep and 20' in diameter. For those interested it's an "Elite" pool. When I replaced the pool a few years ago I almost went with a bigger pool - I don't regret staying with the smaller size. I don't have a huge yard and I really don't need MORE pool to maintain.

What kind of liner do you have?
It's nothing special. It's a standard off the rack 25 mil liner. I wanted something that was relatively tasteful - knowing I'd be looking at the liner every day for the next 10 years. I picked a dark liner because I didn't want to see every bit of dirt on the pool floor. My light pool liner showed every speck of sand, silt, pine needle, etc - I was in a situation where I vacuumed it every day or I was annoyed at the specks on the bottom. I vacuumed. The dark liner also has the advantage of getting the pool temps up sooner in the spring keeping the pool warmer for longer in the fall  (and as a downside warmer during the peak heat of VT as well).  Warmer water does use more chemicals though so that is another factor to consider.

How do your dogs get in and out of the pool?
Our pool steps
My deck has two levels - one that is even with the top rim of the pool, and one that is even with my back door. A set of stairs connect the two. This gives me the ability to "close" the pool by sliding a baby gate. From the deck the boys can either JUMP into the pool or use the stairs. I have what are called "Wedding Cake Stairs". They are screwed into the deck and weighted inside with some bricks (originally they were weighted with bags of filter sand  -which inevitably broke down and decayed - releasing sand into the pool - which was a really big pain to get out. Use bricks, use cinder blocks...but don't try to use pool sand :-) When I first installed the stairs my pool floor wasn't level. So the stairs weren't ever quite right - we fixed that with the new pool though. It's also important to get a bath gel mat to place under the stairs. The stairs move a bit when they're used - less when the dogs use them and more when humans use them. You don't want your liner taking the friction of moving stairs.

Do you let your dogs swim unattended?
Never. I'm always outside with them when they're in the pool. I'm not always an active part of their swimming though. Teller has learned where to place his bumper in the pool so that it gets caught in the current and reset for another retrieve. Murphy doesn't really like to hang out in the pool and won't really swim just to swim. In a role reversal of sorts, Murphy will however retrieve in the pool for HOURS if I keep throwing the toy. Teller will swim laps just to swim laps - sometimes with the current, sometimes against the current. It's all good.

How much swimming is too much?
You've GOT to have a good handle on your dog's conditioning and how much is too much for each dog - and then factor in the weather. When we start the season my two (who are pretty fit from runs and romps 5-6 days a week) start with sessions that last about 20-30 minutes. More than that and they get tired. They might have two 20 minute sessions over the span of an afternoon - but I want them to get out, rest and nap in between - especially early in the season. Later in the season I'm not as worried about them over-doing it in the pool and will go by how they're swimming. If they're getting lazy or swimming lower in the water I'll quit before they get further depleted. I also have to factor the weather into the equation. On the rare Vermont days when the pool water is 85+ degrees and the air temperature is 90+ degrees with high humidity I might not swim the dogs at all - they're likely happier hanging out in the AC with some frozen yogurt.

Along the lines of "too much swimming"?
My dogs take in a lot of water when they swim - I think that's pretty normal. They output as much. I supplement with electrolytes on heavy swim days. I've used GlycoCharge and CPN Power Boost - and liked both. I'm experimenting a bit with 'electrolyte water' and coconut water now too.

What about bathroom breaks?
Murphy and Teller
This wasn't anything I had to teach - but my dogs will get out of the pool, climb down the deck and go potty when they need to. They're taking in a lot of water and they will take potty breaks every 10 minutes or so. We've never had a pee in the pool - even as puppies. It's just not a factor. They do the same when they're in lakes or streams too - it seems to be a generalization.

What about swimming on an empty (or full stomach)?
Teller surveys his pool-dom.
My dogs do not swim any sooner than 60-90 minutes after a meal. Bloat is a real concern with dogs and while I don't subscribe to the "must wait an hour before swimming" wives' tale for people - I do not let dogs swim with food in their tummies (honestly I don't let my dogs play retrieve or work agility/obedience/tracking with food in their bellies either). I also like them to wait about 30 minutes after swimming before I feed them. Partially because they're still amp'ed up when they come out of the pool - but if they've been swimming a lot they might be hot, they might be panting and I know they have a belly full of water. For my two, summer swimmies means that they swim before breakfast and they swim before dinner - with dinner coming at 8-9pm most nights. Mostly Teller (but Murphy too) tends to drop weight quickly in the summer. My raw fed boys will need to move to a third meal - and I add some whole grain pasta to Teller's rations for keeping weight on....Watch your dogs closely - Teller in particular can go from looking like he's a good weight to looking like "starvin' Marvin" in the span of two days....

Chlorine and the thyroid?
There is some indication that in already hypothyroid dogs, chlorine can disrupt the adsorption of thyroid supplements. Be aware of this - I don't know that there's any good reason to not swim a thyroid dog because of the research - but boost supplementation holistically. There are several foods that are thought to support the hypothyroid dog (and person) - I add coconut oil to the dogs' food in the summer. It helps maintain weight, but it also aids with the adsorption of solxine.

What are the boys' favorite pool toys?
Basket of pool toys
All things being equal Teller prefers the chuck-it bumpers and Murphy prefers his Ruff Dawg fish and Ruff Dawg stick. The chuck boomerang and the chuck-it disk were not huge hits. Here are our pool toy reviews from last season:.

How do you deal with wet dogs/wet dog smell in your house?
Teller wuz here....
Doggie odor or wet dog odor just hasn't been an issue for us. My dogs are fed raw or dehydrated raw year-round - no preservatives, no dyes, no additives - just meat, bone and veggies. Simple. They do not ever smell like dog (unless they roll in something gross). Of all the dogs I've met and boarded that smell bad or "doggie" they've all been kibble-fed - typically not a good kibble. Garbage in, garbage out. Wet dogs in the house - that's something I do live with in the summer. I encourage the dogs to romp around a bit after they swim and then I towel dry them. That gets them to the 'damp' stage of post swim. If it's truly important to me that they are totally dry I'll blow dry them. Otherwise I accept that they are going to come into the house and leave damp-prints on the floor.

What can't you live without?
Teller making an entrance
Towels - lots of towels. My Air-Force Commander blow dryer. Frozen yogurt cups for the dogs after they swim. Sunscreen is good too...Oh and Bug Spray!!!

Would you change anything about your pool setup?
The pool (well not THIS pool) came with the house. The original pool was a doughboy, with a DE filter. I'll NEVER (NEVER) do another DE pool filter ever. It's messy, it's a pain to clean, when the filter fingers break it's a nightmare. NEVER (and I mean NEVER) again. I like the cartridge filter - even if they are more maintenance and more expensive. It's worth it to not have a bag of DE break in the back seat of your 30 day old Saab. Ditto to some extent with sand filters. What are you going to do with leftover mounds of dirty sand?
I've got a two level deck  - the top being the pool level - it's larger than I need it to be - but I liked the size when I was running the hot tub. My pool is smack in the center of my yard - the agility geek in me with my equipment and maybe wanting to practice out there wishes the pool wasn't so dead-center of the yard...I'd prefer an in-ground pool - but again - the above ground came with the house and when it was time to put in the replacement $4,000 (inc installation) sounded A LOT better than $17,000 for an in-ground number..There are some options now for partially in-ground pools - which is something I'd consider - but when it came down to price and convenience it was another above ground pool for us....
Teller (L) and Murphy swimming at dusk.

Why Chlorine? Aren't there other options now?
Sure there are - but they're prohibitively expensive (in my opinion) and might actually be more difficult to balance. I've developed a routine now with Chlorine - I rarely have to use test strips anymore (though 10 years ago I used at least one strip a day) now that I've fallen into that routine. I can smell when the pool needs chlorine (remember, chlorine smell increases when the available free chlorine drops. So when you smell chlorine in hotel corridors that's a good indication that chlorine is working hard to sanitize that pool (and likely has done so successfully). Either way - I run my pool from April through October - that'd be a whole lot of bacquacil!!!

1 comment:

katie trachte said...

The poooool! I bet you guys can't wait for summer, great post!