A chocolate Labrador lollops around the side of the pool before lunging into the water over the head of a child who lets out an excited scream. In the water, 11 other dogs – including spaniels, a wolfhound and a Westie (West Highland terrier) – frolic with their owners – while displaying varying degrees of enthusiasm.
After a successful pilot last year, Heckington Community Pool in Lincolnshire has just rounded off two weeks of canine-friendly sessions. It is well-known that Brits love their dogs – one in four households has one – so might we be about to see pooch-packed pools spring up nationwide?
Luckily, I am in possession of a Jack Russell that is usually game when it comes to getting wet. Embarrassingly, his name is Tony. As I arrive, two punters in the pool are pushing a makeshift AstroTurf platform to the side. Sat atop is a sheepish looking retriever – and next to him a small mound of doggy poop. So it is, on a drizzly Wednesday evening, that I lower myself hesitantly into the tepid water.
Michael Wells, the chairman of the pool, says the idea for the sessions arose when a committee member joked about having her pets in the water. The scheme has proved incredibly popular, with up to 40 dogs attending the busiest session and one man travelling 50 miles from Grimsby to take part.
But Tony is as reluctant as me to get in, seemingly unsettled by a marauding Irish Setter. Dr Muriel Brasseur, a zoologist and animal behaviourist, tells me afterwards that activities like this are important for dog-owner bonding – but that one needs to respect their pet’s limits.
“Any joint activity is great for the dog – it’s what’s termed as ‘enrichment’. Anything an owner does so that their dog is not sat at home is great. In 75 per cent of cases I deal with, the real problem is a lack of ‘enrichment’.”
“But it’s not fair to force your dog to do something they don’t want to,” she adds. “You have to go with the dog’s personality.”
Pete Lett, 51, an aviation maintenance worker from Ruskington is here with Winston and Barley, his two Labradors. He heard about the swimming club last Friday while the dogs were completing their Kennel Club Silver Award. “They both passed,” he says proudly.
“Winston’s a water lover but Barley’s not so keen. It’s been good to get her in because she knows she can swim – it’s just persuading her. It’s far easier to do it here than getting into the river.”
Tony and I also befriend a cockapoo – a cocker spaniel and poodle mix – named Jasper who spends the session bounding in and out of the pool. “He loves swimming,” says his owner Jamie Dickson, a 29-year-old paramedic. “He jumped straight in when we came – although he did struggle getting back out.”
Dr Brasseur points out that hydrotherapy is a common course of treatment for dogs with arthritis. However, not all dogs are well-suited to water. Certain breeds such as spaniels and Newfoundlands are built to swim. However, water can pose a serious risk to dogs with short snouts or flat faces such as pugs and bulldogs. The general rule when teaching your dog to swim is to follow Dr Brasseur’s advice and take it at their pace.
Heckington Community Pool might not be the place for a quiet introduction to the water. Much like with teenagers, these hounds are here to strut their stuff – and a few particularly boisterous specimens make it a manic environment.
While an avowed dog lover, I cannot help but think the whole thing makes for a rather unsavoury soup. However, North Kesteven District Council confirmed that the swimming club meets health and safety guidelines. And everyone seems to be having a whale of a time, so maybe this could catch on. Watch out for a doggy paddle coming to a pool near you soon.
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