I know what some of you may be thinking: Dog life jackets, who needs those? Just hear me out. Has your dog ever got up in the morning and casually told you they're not feeling too well; or that they are sore and don't know why? Or have a fever? Or maybe they've told you they're having a bad couple days and could use some rest? No? Right. The language barrier between dogs and humans always has me wondering. What if your dog is having one of those bad days, but because they're dogs and pretty much under our control, we take them out for a swim, hike, or run anyway. There are times where I observe my dogs having a little more fun than normal at the lake. Sometimes, they have energy to run and swim for hours. Other days, they rather not do much but hang in a few feet of water. They have the option to lay on the sand if they wish as well. Still I wonder, what if they don't want to be anywhere at all? The only times we (dog owners) certainly know that our dogs aren't in any shape to participate in physical activity is when there are serious signs to telling us so–sprained ankle, severe lameness, cut or laceration on their pad, surgery, etc. But how many of us can really read our dog's body language? The real problem with dogs is they push themselves too far. Physically and mentally, some dogs, just don't know when to call it quits. This is the main reason why I constantly look out for their well-being when playing outdoors. I live with a few stubborn dogs (Standard Poodles and Pit Bulls). These breeds are full of drive and programmed with one switch; full throttle. This is the main reason I never let my dogs swim in large bodies of water without a dog floatation vest. Other than pushing themselves too hard, you have Mother Nature to worry about. Is it a lake? A stream? A swimming pool? A beach? Natural lakes contain a lot of underwater debris. Areas around the bed of a lake are cluttered with brush, branches and tall grass. Foliage like this can snag or slow your dog down. If they can't break away quick enough, they can tire out and possibly drown. Streams tire dogs out quickly, especially if playing and swimming against them. And though a stream may look calm on the surface, fast moving undercurrents can sweep away just about any dog. Swimming pools are fun. They are in the comfort of our backyards, but dogs still seam to drown in them every year. And beaches, those are the worst. Dogs tire out quickly in ocean/beach water, and it's easy for dogs to get pushed out to sea by strong undertows. Take into consideration a hard-headed dog who has the drive to retrieve a toy "one last time," when they should have stopped 10 fetches ago, and you have an accident waiting to happen. My dog Leila, scared us pretty good during hunt class a while back. She was learning to retrieve across a dyke when she tired out in the middle of one of the ponds. We weren't too far into training for the day, when Leila all of the sudden gassed out in half the time she usually does. There weren't any signs, physically or mentally, that told me she wasn't well rested (we were training once a week). Luckily, she was able to keep her head above water by standing on her back feet. What I witnessed next was something out of a movie. We instructed Leila to stop the retrieve and get out of the water. She dropped focus on the dummy and started working her way to land. I was relieved, for a second. I'm guessing Leila wasn't too happy her dummy was left out in the middle of the pond, so she turns back around (still walking on her hind legs) and walked 100 feet to retrieve her dummy. I was shedding clothes at this point because there was a good 100 yards of water between us. Out of energy to swim, Leila found it easier to walk the whole way back on her hind legs–dummy in mouth of course. She was ecstatic when she came out of the water. She followed up with a heel and a shake, ready for the next toss. Everyone was impressed by her determination. No one could believe what they've just seen. I was mostly freaked out. We called it a day, of course. But I knew if Leila could talk, she would have given me the finger. I also know a couple who take their two Border Collies to swim where we train. They told us their dogs swim in water for hours, until they literally exhaust and pass out. They equip their Collies with neoprene jackets (these offer some floatation) because they weren't fans of playing lifeguard for their dogs. Dogs can be very stubborn; and humans can be very clueless when it comes to limiting dog exercise because dogs are very good at masking pain and keeping interested. Dog life jackets also make great tools for teaching a dog to swim. One of the many quirks dogs need to work out when learning to swim is keeping their rear up by kicking their back feet. Life jackets helps keep dogs buoyant on the water surface and encourages the use of all fours. Equipping a dog with a life jacket is the safest way for a dog to learn the concept of swimming; you never want a dog to loose confidence in the water by experiencing a near-drowning experience. Remember, if your dog hates water, learn to let them love it. You never want to break the trust you have with your dog in the water. Dog life jackets help the good vibes flow. How many of you make your dogs wear floatation vests? Have you experienced any close calls not using a life vest?
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