Pet Boarding & Daycare

Dog Swimming Pools

Dog Swimming Pools

By Craig McAllester
Photos © Craig McAllester, Inc. 2017

In this article we will look at some types of swimming pools and their related equipment. We will take a look at some of the differences between pools intended for people vs pools intended for dogs. We’ll also touch on some of the benefits you may gain by offering swimming for your boarding or daycare clients.

It’s summer, and it’s hot outside! My family had a pool when I was growing up. We spent at least a little time in the pool nearly every day. I remember that I never slept better than I did after a full day of swimming with my friends. The exercise that is gained from swimming is non-impact, and so, compared to running on a hard surface, swimming is going to be much easier on your knees and hips.

The same holds true for dogs. Adding a swimming pool to the list of amenities you offer your animal boarding clients might just tip the scales enough set you apart from
your competition.

The Benefits of Swimming

• The resistance that water has upon a swimmer causes the swimmer to work harder than exerting that same amount of energy during other exercise activities, such as running for example. Frequent swimming helps the dog to build muscle strength and increase muscle tone. This harder workout helps to improve a dog’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and increases the dog’s range of motion – all without increasing the impact associated with running on a hard surface.

• The improved musculoskeletal system helps to prevent future injury as well. Swimming exercise also helps to improve mental health and helps the swimmer relax and lose a few pounds at the same time. It should not be a replacement for land exercise, however, but used in addition to walking, running and other land activities.

• As with people, swimming in cold water may cause muscles to cramp. Warmer water promotes better circulation, and so, lessens the amount of time needed to warm-up before exercise. This lessens the possibility of cramps and adds to the overall enjoyment of the swimming experience.

• Dogs may require some rest time when starting a swimming regiment.  Just as with me, as a young boy, swimming will tire them out, thereby promoting a good night’s sleep.

• Hydrotherapy is often used to treat certain types of musculoskeletal injury and post-op orthopedic patients. Many trainers and veterinary facilities are using underwater treadmills to help dogs recover from injury more quickly. This is especially important where the patient may not be able to tolerate walking.

Pool Safety

• Fencing
It goes without saying, that just as with any swimming pool for humans, a pool intended for dogs must be safe. It must be safe for the occupants, safe for the operators, but also safe for any passersby. Proper pool fencing is a must, and not just any fencing will do. It must be a fence that will stop a would–be child climber from trying to get into the fenced pool yard, but also it must prevent a dog with Houdini escape or climbing skills from trying to get out.

Fencing may even be needed for indoor pools to protect anyone—people or canine—from getting to the water without proper supervision.

Now might be a good time to talk to your insurance agent about liability insurance. Some pool owners will not permit humans in their dog pools. Likely, one reason is to reduce their liability.

• Life Safety
It must be understood that not all dogs know how to swim. Each dog must be introduced to the water to ensure that they can indeed swim and are not frightened of water. For those who are a little unsure of the water, life jackets are available for dogs of all sizes. A life preserver should be available for human swimmers too, should someone get into trouble. Nothing can replace a properly trained staff person who is supervising the pool.

No dog, or child for that matter, should ever be left unattended in a pool area for any reason. The person on duty should be watching the pool and not checking social media on a smartphone.

• Stairs, Ladders & Ramps
For all dogs in the pool, having an easy route to get out of the water is extremely important. I have seen dogs climb out of a pool using a common swimming pool ladder that is intended for human egress. Understand that not all dogs, and some humans for that matter, may not be able to negotiate a pool ladder for egress.

Similar to a ship’s brow, ramps are available in which one end attaches firmly to the edge of the pool deck and the other extends into the water with a float that holds the ramp at about a foot or two below the surface of the water. This type of ramp allows a dog to essentially walk out of the pool without touching the pool bottom. Also available are floating stairs which may work better depending on how far the water is below the pool deck.

It is important that every dog knows where the pool exit points are and how to use each before being allowed free access to the pool.

If there is a shallow end of the pool, or built in stairs or ramp, it may be shallow enough to allow even small dogs to jump or even walk in and out without assistance. Large stair landings will allow even small dogs to enjoy the pool without any fear of not being able to get out when tired out from swimming.

• Hydrotherapy Tank Access
Many hydrotherapy tanks with underwater treadmills use a separate holding tank into which the water is pumped while awaiting the next patient to enter the tank and close door. When the dog and therapist are in the tank, the water is pumped back into the exercise tank to a level providing the appropriate buoyancy for the size, activity and therapy desired.

• Overhead Crane
Depending on the use, and the pool, an overhead crane may be used with a sling to raise and lower a dog into and out of a tank or pool. This is especially nice for therapy treatment in pools for a dog of whom may not be ambulatory.

Indoors VS Outdoors

• Indoor Pools
An indoor pool has several benefits over an outdoor pool. An indoor pool offers better security over an outdoor pool and they are easier to keep clean as blowing leaves and debris will not be a problem. The biggest advantage is, of course, the weather. Dogs can be swimming during inclement weather and all year long.

Indoor pools are not without their drawbacks. Cost is the biggest. It will cost more to build a pool and the enclosing structure. The water in the pool will evaporate into the air within the building. The mechanical system in the building must be designed to handle this moisture, draining it back into the pool. This adds to the overall initial cost and the operating cost of the pool.

• Outdoor Pools
Outdoor pools in mild climates allow for an open–air feel and are less costly to build and operate, but require more cleaning time because of leaves and dirt that get into the pool. They must be protected with a fence and can only be used during mild weather.

• Pool Heaters
Heating an outdoor pool extends the usable season, but that adds considerable operating cost for the heating fuel. Some insulated covers are available that float on the water surface helping to hold the heat in as the sun warms the water, but they are bulky and storage may be a problem when not in use during swimming hours.

Using solar panels to heat the water and circulate the warmed water back into the pool would eliminate the fuel cost for heating the water, but solar panels are pricey.

Think about the area you live in and how many months you will have to swim. If your neighbor is Santa and you live at the North Pole, then you might want to think about building an indoor pool.

Above Ground VS In–Ground

There are various types of pool construction available, but not all are suitable for frequent abuse from canine use. Let’s have a look at a few.

First, make the choice between an in-ground pool or an above ground pool. If building a new swimming pool for constant canine use, most likely an in-ground pool will serve your needs best, if the lay of the land is relatively level. This makes easy access to the pool and to the adjacent yard for a place for dogs to rest.

If choosing an above–ground pool for a commercial boarding facility, consider that you may be required to provide ramps to get the staff up onto the pool deck and perhaps even into the pool itself. I worked on the design of an accessible swimming pool intended for disabled persons to recover from their ailments. The ramp leading down into the water was more than 50 feet long and it was a very expensive pool. Having the pool deck on grade and using an in–ground pool is best.

Construction Type

In areas where the temperature drops below freezing in the winter, some outdoor pool construction types require that the pool be drained or that the water level be reduced substantially during those cold winter months. This may not be the best choice, as you may need to fill the pool with water from a garden hose and that is money out of your pocket. This outlay of cash will occur every spring. Ask your pool builder about what is required for winterizing the type of pool you are thinking about building before settling on a construction type.

Check with your local pool builder and find out what construction types are available in your area. Here are a few examples.

• Concrete or Gunite
The pool could be made of concrete or gunite which is sprayed into place. The shape of this kind of pool is defined by the steel rebar (reinforcement bar) structure into which the concrete is sprayed. The form, or the shape of the pool, depending on the contractor, can pretty much be anything your heart desires. This is a good choice if you are planning a bone shaped pool or a long, narrow pool for dock diving sports. When working with your contractor to establish the pool shape, be sure to eliminate any sharp corners that a dog could swim into.

• Fiberglass
Another choice is a manufactured fiberglass pool. This somewhat limits your shape choices because the fiberglass is pre-formed. They look something like a giant seashell and are trucked to the site and craned into a hole in the ground. Then, they are backfilled as the water level increases. Then the concrete pool deck or walk is poured around the pool afterwards.

• Vinyl or Plastic Liner
Some pools are made with a heavy vinyl or plastic-type liner. The bottom of the pool is formed with sand to protect the liner from sharp stones. The straight sides are formed with steel panels that are bolted together forming the pool walls. Once filled with water and backfilled, the sand stays in place from the weight of the water. I know first-hand that this makes a very nice human pool, but because of the liner, this might not be the best choice for a canine pool.

There may be other choices available from your local pool contractor. Most importantly, make sure they know that this pool is intended for canine use.

Other Considerations

• Pool Deck Coatings
If you are using concrete for a deck or walk around your swimming pool, as you should, then you might want to consider finishing that concrete with a product that is often referred to as Cool Deck. This finish absorbs less heat from the sun’s rays than an unfinished concrete slab will absorb, thereby keeping the deck cooler to walk on. Remember, if it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot, then it’s too hot for dogs’ paws too.

There are a few other advantages too. The material will prevent water from being absorbed into the concrete. When a dog gets out of the pool, the first thing they will do is shake off the water. This will happen continually while the pool is open for business. If you plan ahead, you could slope the deck to direct that water to a drain system that routes it back into the pool.

• Pool Size
The size of the pool needed depends greatly on the activities being planned and the number of dogs and people that will be in the pool at any one time. Most dogs have energy to burn, but consider that, likely, all dogs may not be able to swim for hours upon hours. That said, swimming may need to take place in shifts, and so, all your dogs may not be in the pool at the same time. This is a good thing, really. The fewer dogs in the pool at once will reduce the overall size of pool needed.

Consider too, that someday, if you need more pool for more dogs, perhaps adding a second one is the answer. Maybe a smaller, shallower pool for little dogs.

• Depth of the Pool
The depth of the pool depends on the activity(s) too. Most pools are at least four feet deep or more. See my comments on Dock Diving below.

• Water Filtration & Purification
A typical human swimming pool may only require a skimmer to collect the leaves from the water surface through a skimmer basket and a sand filter to collect dirt and everything else. The sand filter is backwashed, where it is cleaned and ready to trap more impurities.

A pool for dogs is a bit different. The filtration system must also be able to purify the water. Dogs may not get out of the water to relieve themselves. Solids may be collected with a net during the day and disposed of in the trash. Any pathogens left behind must be destroyed, something a sand filtration system will not do. Inquire about ultraviolet light or other filtration for this task. Some indoor pools are using saltwater chlorinator to help prevent dry skin. Oversizing a chlorinator unit such as this helps to minimize the pump turning on and off.

Dock Diving

When thinking about using your pool for dock diving, research the activity and how much space you will need to make it happen. According to the North American Diving Dogs Association, the water itself for dock jumping must be at least 4 feet deep and the dimensions of the pool must be at least 17’ x 41’. Consider too the length of the dock needed for the specific activity.

• Big Air Diving
Big Air is the long jump for canines. These dogs race off a 40-foot dock into a body of water to retrieve a float or toy.  Distances are measured from the end of the dock to the base of a dog’s tail as it enters the water. The distance record exceeds 30 feet.

• Extreme Vertical Jumping
Extreme Vertical is a high jump contest in which the dog launches upward, nearly seven feet in the air, and then into water. The dogs must knock down a bumper which is suspended over the water.

• Speed Retrieve
Speed Retrieve is a bumper hung at the end of the pool, near the surface of the water. The dog then runs 20 feet on the dock, jumps in the water and swims to the bumper. This is a timed race.

• Iron Dog
This is a newer event, and somewhat encompasses all of the above.

There is a lot that goes into the design of a pool. Find a quality pool builder, ask a lot of questions, and enjoy your new pool this summer!

Craig L. McAllester, President, Craig L. McAllester, Inc, kennel designer, has been designing veterinary hospitals, boarding kennels, animal shelters, police, military, and U.S. Department of HomeLand Security/Boarder Patrol working dog kennels, here in the United States of America, and in countries around the world, since 2003. Craig may be contacted at  877-234-2301, [email protected], A special thank you to The Canine Spa, Dillsburg, PA, for allowing me to photograph an event for many of these images.