Years ago I had a Dalmatian named Mookie and we did everything together; camping, canoeing, skijoring, biking, but what we really enjoyed was swimming.  Now, Dalmatians aren’t the calmest of dogs and maybe Mookie in a boat wasn’t the best of ideas. Still, as I would struggle to right the boat, I’d think to myself, “damn, that dog’s a great swimmer.” Eventually, Frisbee took its toll and like so many other kooky active older dogs he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and had to have surgery.I knew the surgery would go well, but I also knew the rehabilitation process post-surgery would present an ethical quandry: could I/we practice what I preached?  No exercise for 4 weeks?  Limited movement?  It didn’t take long after the surgery for me to completely dismiss Mookie’s surgeon’s rehab suggestions and start to swim him again, much earlier than the recommended time. He recuperated remarkably more quickly than what I was used to seeing.  In fact, this lead to our clinic’s recommendation of swimming dogs just a few weeks after surgery versus what we used to encourage. Our patients have had great success with this.  With our location, Lake Superior is easily accessible and with dozens of warmer inland lakes nearby, swimming is easy to do with these post surgical cases. The owners just use a long rope and have the dogs swim in circles away from the beach.  As you may have guessed, this won’t work in the winter months.After many years of watching patients muscle up from swimming post-surgery, I started to chew over how to use this type of cross training with my sled dogs. It offers perfect exercise of a non-concussive nature on the dogs’ joints, not to mention the blend of anaerobic and aerobic exercise.  Hmmmmmmmmmmm.Ideally, we would live on a lake; my wife would swim the dogs in a bikini, and she would greet me at the end of the day with a quart-sized gin and tonic to nurse as I ogled the musculature of the dogs. OR, my wife would load/unload 15 dogs, again in her bikini, to take to our camp  to swim and  again meet me back home with a quart-sized refreshment to nurse while asking about dinner and swimming.  Now, I’m a realistic man, and seeing as my wife quitting her job was the least of the problems tied to this fantasy, I started researching the market. I looked for current pools, or endless pools, both on the veterinary and the human side.  A current or “endless” pool is simply a pool with a jet in it that creates a current which you swim against, resulting in a tremendous workout.  I wasn’t willing to spend the 32,000 dollars that some current pool manufacturers wanted to deliver their products to my door, so I decided to make my own.  I bought a brand new 10 by 18 by 5 foot deep pool on eBay and located a pump capable of creating a 4 mph current. We went ahead and put it together and we also added a solar powered heater to keep the temperature comfortable for all involved.  A deck and mega filter soon followed, and lo and behold, we had a current pool.Dogs being dogs, they were all over the map with their reactions to the pool. Some dogs, whether yearlings or veterans, were a piece of cake. Some were not, and I learned to wear a wetsuit in the pool to avoid the ferocious scratches from those who clearly and simply hated it.  We gave all of the dogs in our training plan a chance to swim in the pool. Out of those who liked swimming, we then selected the ones most likely to make the team this year to continue training in the pool. I also wanted to compare the dogs in the program to those who weren’t in the program in the fall. Would there be a difference?  I figured that when you look at what people do in triathlons, they’re biking 110 miles, running 26 miles and swimming only 3 miles. From that “scientific” approach, I decided that we could go roughly 5 minutes per session for starters and eventually work towards an endpoint of 10 minutes per session per dog, three times weekly.  We concentrated on a core group of 15 dogs and off we went in late May. Throughout the course of the summer we went from swimming one dog at a time to two dogs simultaneously.  As you can tell from the pictures, the dogs were in the middle of the 4 mph current, in harness, with the neck line in place and the tug line attached so that it came back to me. This way I could manage the process while standing in front of the dogs. This set up allowed for a comforting visual bond for the dogs while I encouraged them with both voice and touch.  It was just plain fun to watch them grow in their comfort in the pool.  Eventually, we just let the dogs go from the dog yard and they would zoom to the pool, scramble up the deck steps and wait their turn to swim.  What a blast!  Even our smug little cats sitting on the deck wouldn’t distract the swimmers, nor did the house dogs who continually tried to steal their thunder. They sure conditioned up well.  Their muscles started to grow, their breathing rates and heart rates noticeably dropped and we did see a distinct difference in the dogs, physically and mentally.Swimming these guys until the end of September will actually overlap a month with our cart training.  All is well so far, but the benefits remain to be seen this winter.  The dogs look and feel very strong at this point, but as we all know they usually do look strong on a cart. If nothing else, the dogs and I gained dear time together in a place we all enjoyed; the water. Being in the pool with the dogs allowed us tremendous contact time and bonding opportunities. The trust that was gained with the dogs as we progressed through our multiple swimming sessions may be the greatest benefit from this whole experiment.  Who knows – maybe with more folks swimming their dogs these days we should start a swimming circuit for our sled dogs!Dr. Hunt graduated from Michigan State University in1989 as a veterinarian and owns Bayshore Veterinary Hospital in Marquette, Michigan. Tim began mushing fourteen years ago after working with sled dogs as a race vet and was hooked. Tim’s been a race vet at the Iditarod numerous times as well as the UP 200 and Midnight Run in Michigan, and his experience on the mushing side of the coin includes the Wyoming Stage Stop Race, La Grande Odyssee in Europe,Upper Michigan’s UP 200 and Midnight Run, the Percy DeWolfe and Minnesota’s Beargrease as well as numerous weekend races. Tim’s accomplishments also include the prestigious Humanitarian and Sportsmanship Awards in the UP 200 and the “Prix L’Orange” in La Grande Odyssee.


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