Canine Flotation Devices

What I like in a Canine Flotation Device for Therapy work…

by Cindy Horsfall

A dog will usually arrive at your pool in order to regain full range of motion, to build confidence, to build muscle and strength. I personally don’t often use a flotation device as I want to be able to support the dog, feel his movement and have access to his entire body for massage, however, for those dogs who don’t need this hands on approach, a floatation device MUST first and foremost be of utmost comfort and not impose on the dog’s full range of motion.

The most common poor design flaw that I see is the flotation device that restricts the forward movement of the shoulder.

The other important characteristic of a good flotation device is one that inspires confidence. In canine water therapy, we often are in need of nurturing confidence and the spirit of a dog who has ‘given up’… the last thing we need is a flotation device that rides up in back (like the ones with only one strap under the body) or that cuts into the belly (like the ones without a protective belly flap), or where the belly flap rides back (like the ones where the belly flaps don’t have proper guides for the 2 straps).

Finally – we need a flotation device that is easy to put on and take off. We are often in the middle of a session and need to be able to put this device on quickly … or perhaps we want to take it off quickly to assess movement or work the muscles in a different way… the plastic quick release buckles are wonderful… as opposed to the flotation devices where one has to place the front feet through little holes… or the ones that zip down the back…. we don’t usually have that kind of time to put one of those contraptions on.

Our needs will be slightly different than the needs of the boat owner looking to secure his pup from drowning – our needs are most importantly to not restrict movement, to be comfortable, to fit well and to be easy to put on and take off…

I’m sure there are many on the market that would work well … but these are the 2 that I have used recently most often…


flotation1K-9 Float Coat – Canine Life Jacket

RUFF WEAR K-9 Float Coat – Canine Life Jacket
In addition to the flotation features, this PFD has reflective trim for visibility and a practical assistance handle for helping your dog. Rock Lockster® release buckles allow for easy removal — even when the dog is soaked or reluctant to cooperate.

Other features:

  • Durable, high-visibility 1,680-denier ballistic nylon fabric.
  • Variable thickness buoyancy cells. Reflective trim for low light visibility.
  • Ergonomic cut for fit, safety and mobility
  • Rock Lockster® side release buckles
  • Concealed D-ring attachment point
  • Low profile handle up top for assisting dog

flotation2Outward Hound – The Safe and Secure Life Jacket for dogs

This design allows for fast size adjustments and a flexible comfortable fit. A high performance dog flotation device, providing flotation and ultimate buoyancy.

Other features:

  • Quickly adjusted for a good fit, with quick-release buckles.
  • Water repellent neoprene and cordura nylon construction provides warmth and protection from abrasion.
  • Fits under the belly to keep it securely in place.
  • Convenient top grab handle for easy rescue by hand or boat hook.
  • Example of what not to use as a Canine Flotation Device!!!


TTouch Method

Swim Sessions Combined with the TTOUCH METHOD ™ offer Canines New Pawsibilities

By Pampered Paw Swim Spa

ttouch-method-picInjuries sustained by canines often leave a holding pattern of impaired function and pain in the injured area. These mal-adaptive responses are repetitively used because they are “programmed” as neural patterns which exist below the level of the dog’s awareness. In an effort to protect their body, the animal that is in pain will carry themselves in a way which is beneficial at the time. However long term, it can have a negative effect, causing movement patterns that cause more tension and pain. These patterns often block the use of that original affected body part and thereby create stress on distant areas of the body which must overwork to compensate. This chronic distress often affects the dog’s general health, mood, and behavior. The TTouch Method ™ is used to bring these patterns to awareness. The benefits of aware functioning are an invitation for restoration of function following surgery or injury.. In this state of awareness daily processes are altered so that self healing is mobilized and a healthier homeostasis results.

The Tellington TTouch Method ™ finds areas in the canine’s body that indicate discomfort, fear of contact, pain and tension. The TTouch Method ™ has been used extensively to speed healing and recovery from injuries, illness and surgeries in all animal species as well as humans. TTouch ™ is NOT a variation of massage. TTouch ™ is useful to “retrain a number of physiological responses in ways which promote recovery and health. The intent of the TTouch ™ is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence. TTouch ™ helps to release tension and increase body awareness by using a combination of touches, lifts and movement exercises. This TTouch ™ awakens the neurological system at the cellular level so that the animal actually learns a different way to relate to his world.

Canine swimming and TTouch ™ practioner, Tonita Fernandez offers combinations of TTouch ™ and hydrothermal exercise to create an invitation for the canine body to re pattern and re balance. At Pampered Paw Swim Spa, LLC in Enumclaw WA we incorporate the TTouch Method ™ in the canine swim sessions. For many clients we also set up follow-up TTouch ™ sessions outside of the water. Tonita has developed a first of its kind swim session for canines using tools, and equipment as the dog is immersed in the comfort of warm water. “I am really excited about bringing TTouch ™ to the world of Canine hydrotherapy.” “By combining swim sessions and TTouch ™ it offers non–invasive ways to work with gait irregularities, injury, illness, arthritis, hip dysplasia, aging and surgery recovery. It reduces stress as well as brings about more body awareness which creates an invitation for better physical and emotional function and balance.

The Tellington TTouch Method ™ is comprised of three components that work independent of each other, but are designed to work most efficiently when the three components of the work are combined for maximum effect.

The first of the three components works on the neurological level, while the second one uses equipment and tools to influence the self confidence and the balance of the animal. The third component uses grounding exercises to increase self confidence, coordination, focus and body awareness.

TTouch ™ can be used on the animal in the comfort of water as well as outside of the water, with equally great results. The few minutes spent before the dog enters the pool or spa can be used to offer TTouches that take little time and can be used parallel to other methods or hydrothermal exercises. In its simplest form the only tools needed are a pair of hands. TTouch ™ offers the dog non-habitual touches and movement. The effects are lasting. TTouch ™ is known as the touch that teaches. As we apply it, TTouch ™ teaches the dog to use its mental and physical resources to reorganize its programmed responses.

Tonita plans to offer Canine Hydrothermal TTouch ™ workshops in the fall 2006 at Pampered at Paw Swim Spa. TTouch ™ is known as the touch that teaches. During a warm water swim session TTouch ™ can be used as a way of offering the dog help in cases of excessive barking, aggressive behavior, extreme fear and shyness, excitability and nervousness, problems with aging, surgery recovery, as well as a multitude of physical and emotional issues. Sessions outside of the pool will help a dog to build confidence as well as bring about more body awareness, helping a dog to recover from injury and illness, or just enhance the quality of the animal’s life. Dog guardians as well as veterinary staff and all water workers will learn ways to help dogs live up to their full potential. Some topics that we will visit are:

  • Calming the nervous dog or a first time swimmer.
  • Specific TTouches to use for helping an incision to heal.
  • How to use a leash to offer the dog with physical issues a way to rebalance its body, promoting optimum balance.
  • TTouches and tools to make the most of a dogs swim session.
  • Minimizing counterproductive stress responses during a swim session.

Watch Tonita’s website for more information:



Depending on the dog, his behavior, or physical impairment, different wraps may be applied. “The wrap pictured is one I most frequently use. It is easy to put on the dog and very effective.” Place the middle of the wrap across the dog’s chest and cross the ends once on the back. Then take both ends (without crossing them) back along the outside of the thighs. Place each end over the hind end and bring the ends of the wrap up under the legs and over the back. Connect the Wrap by tying it off to one side of the dogs spine. If left loose, it may not be effective and, if too tight, it can interfere with the dog’s movement especially when swimming. Some dog’s coats and activity level don’t allow the wrap to be of benefit during a swim session. However, the wrap can be applied for just five minutes or so in the beginning of a session as you introduce the dog to the water and spend some time connecting with him. It can then be removed before he actually swims. Ace bandages are inexpensive and easy to apply on a dog. Pampered Paw Swim Spa stocks Ace bandages for home use. Large breed dogs may need two or three Ace bandages sewn together to function as a full Body Wrap. Tonita likes to send the client home with tips, and TTouches to use at home. The more involved the dog guardian is in the health and well being of the dog the faster we see positive results. After the Body Wrap is on the dog Tonita uses variations of TTouches to increase the dog’s circulation and activate the neural impulses in the legs.


The Body Wrap enhances the dog’s sense of his own body. It is a TTouch aid, that Tonita incorporates into most swim sessions. ” I often use the Body Wrap to address issues that effect a dog on an emotional as well as physical level. It is a great aid, that helps to improve a dog’s mobility. It is especially helpful for the dog that is hyperactive, afraid of loud noises or nervous in general. The Body Wrap is also useful for injured or recovering dogs. It works wonderful for older, stiff and arthritic dogs.” TTouches can be offered to the dog before, during or after the use of the Body Wrap. Veterinary techs, canine water workers and animal massage practitioners can also incorporate the TTouch Body Wrap aid into their swim sessions, as well as before or after a session. Just wearing the Body Wrap for five to ten minutes can bring more body awareness to an animal. “There are several versions of wrapping. When using a wrap in the water, I use a waterproof material.” At Pampered Paw Swim Spa, Tonita teaches the dogs’ guardians to use simple ace bandages as a wrap to offer more information to the dog at home or to calm the dog before coming for a swim session. The dog who is healing from a knee or hip surgery or one who is pre-op with issues in these areas often do remarkably well when body wraps are applied. Pictured at right, Tonita uses wraps to work with a dog that is very hyperactive, nervous and vocal. “Upon arrival I apply a body wrap on this dog and he is able to calm down and relax and be more focused and aware of his body, getting the most out of his swim session.”


Using this gentle circular TTouch ™ on the dogs mouth affects both physical and emotional responses and improves the dog’s focus and ability to learn. This TTouch ™ method is very helpful for barking, stress, shyness, chewing, dental work, hyperactivity, fear and maintaining health and well-being. Pictured at left, Tonita Fernandez of Pampered Paw Swim Spa is sitting behind the dogs head supporting the muzzle or chin softly with one hand, being careful not to squeeze or restrain. She uses gentle TTouches on the outside of the mouth and tiny touches on the upper and lower gums and lip areas, that can be done for just one minute or less with great results. If the mouth is dry, wet fingers work better. This should be done with obvious caution. ” I find that this mouth work is very effective for the dog who has emotional upset. It is great to use for dogs that are recovering from surgery who tend to lick or chew their wounds, continuously. It is also very beneficial for the animal that has a fear of veterinary offices.”

To learn more about TTouch, please go to

Canine First Aid for the Water Therapist

(presented by Lisa Dzyban, DVM, ACVIM Diplomate at the July 2006 ACWT Meeting)


  • Get pet medical history, including underlying medical conditions. Be sure to find out what medication(s) the pet is on. Have veterinarian and emergency contact information.
  • Have a pet first aid kit readily available. This should be in a place where everyone can get to it. Mounting it on a wall may not be a good idea as it can not easily be removed to take to the area where it is needed. (See the Pet First Aid Kit article for items that should be contained in your Kit).
  • Have a list of Emergency Phone Numbers readily available. Animal Poison Control (1-888-426-4435 or
  • All staff should be trained and current in pet CPR.
  • Have a disaster plan in place and practice safety drills with your staff.
  • Make sure all dogs have ID on.


Heart Disease

  • If the dog has been diagnosed with a heart condition, be sure to find out from the veterinarian if the dog can start an exercise program and what the parameters are.
  • Common medications include lasix, digoxin and enalapril.
  • Heart problems commonly show the day after exercise.
  • These dogs are not normal animals. Chemicals and heat can cause problems in these dogs.

Respiratory Disease

  • These involve the lung or upper airway.
  • Common medications include theodur and hycodan
  • Chemicals and heat can cause problems in these dogs.

Neurologic or Muscle Disease

  • This includes seizure disorders.
  • Common medications include phenobarbital and acepromazine.

Endocrine Disease

  • Common medication includes insulin.

Cancer or immune disease

  • Dogs shouldn’t go to public dog places while their white blood cell count is low (usually the 2 days while getting chemotherapy).

Canine Emergency Procedures


  • Did you know that a dog can drown on 1 tablespoon of water?
  • A dog can drown in water or in vomit. The heart will stop within 60 seconds.
  • Wet Drowning: Inhale fluids and lungs get full.
  • Dry Drowning: Nothing is in the lungs. The dog tries to breathe but the glotus closes and clamps shut. The dog does not get oxygen and there is a lot of lung trauma.
  • Gravity is your ally the first few seconds after drowning.
  • Procedure to assist a drowning dog:
    • Invert the dog to expel water and try to get the airway back by sweeping your finger in the back of the throat. Use gravity. You can stand the dog on it’s nose. Do not punch the dog.
    • Lay on side with it’s head lower than it’s torso .
    • Evaluate for CPR and begin if needed.
    • Wrap in warm blankets.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!


  • Causes: Diabetes, Addison ‘s, liver failure, insulin, and tumors. Puppies, Labrador Retrievers and hunting dogs are especially susceptible. Small breeds are more prone to low blood pressure rather than low blood sugar.
  • Signs: Weakness, disorientation and seizures.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Feed the dog if it is able to swallow.
    • If not able to swallow, corn syrup on the gums may work.
    • Honey, glucose tablets, marshmallows and frosting can be kept on hand.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!
  • A reward is that when you exercise a diabetic dog their medications may need to be lowered. Exercise is great for these dogs!


  • Causes: Epilepsy, low blood sugar, low oxygen and brain disorders. The brain feeds on oxygen and sugar.
  • Seizures can be Grand Mal to Petit Mal.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Protect the dog from injury. Hitting it’s head on the ground is the most common problem.
    • If the dog is in the water at the time of the seizure, keep its head above the water. If you are by yourself, stay in the water if the seizure lasts less than 5 minutes. The warm water could actually be helpful.
    • Do not rub or stimulate or yell at the dog. This could make the seizure last longer. Speak calmly and place your hands on them.
    • Time the event.
    • Give Phenobarbital if already prescribed.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian if this is a new problem, if the seizure is longer than 5 minutes or if there are two or more seizures in 24 hours!

Respiratory Distress

  • Causes: Prior heart, upper airway or lung disease, inhalation of water or vomit (choking) and foreign body. One of the most common culprits is beauty bark.
  • Signs: Air gulping, noisy breathing, raspiness, hoarse bark, lilac gums and no breathing. Upper airway noise can indicate inhaled items. Do not confuse these symptoms with reverse sneezing.
  • If the dog is oxygenating properly, there are usually no worries. If the dog has laryngeal paralysis, is overly warm or has had too much exercise, the dog is probably not getting enough oxygen and this becomes a life and death situation.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Keep the dog cool, calm and fan its face. If air conditioning is available, that is best. If you are in a humid place, take the dog outside.
    • Perform the Heimlich maneuver if a known foreign object is present. Do not do this if the dog is coughing.
      Evaluate the dog for CPR and begin if needed.
    • Take the dog to the veterinarian even if the dog improves.
    • If the dog has known lung disease, exercise the dog carefully and expose it only to perfect air quality.
  • Dogs with severe bronchitis may not be a good candidate for swimming.


  • Causes:
    • Neurologic: disc disease, slipped disc, emboli, tumor, endocrine disease, infection, Myasthenia, and certain medications.
      • Myasthenia is an immune disease affecting certain muscles. The longer the dog exercises, the weaker it gets. Hind legs are worse than the front. With rest, they get better. The esophagus is also affected. This mostly occurs in large breed dogs.
      • Hypoxia (low oxygen): heart disease, anemia and lung disease.
        • If the dog comes out of the water and collapses, the veterinarian will look at this as a possible cause.
  • Signs: Inability or incoordinated ambulation. Any dog that is weak of having trouble walking may have hypoxia. Gum color can be an indicator, however dead dogs can have pink gums so you can’t always use this as a sign.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Immediate and complete rest.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!


  • Causes: Heart disease, severe anemia and brain disorder. 90% of the time when a dog faints, they have a heart problem. Low blood sugar and low blood pressure can also cause fainting.
  • Signs: Loss of consciousness with rapid recovery. If the dog falls over, is limp, wakes up and is ok, it has probably fainted versus having a seizure.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Get a heart rate or rhythm while fainted if at all possible. This can be very helpful to the veterinarian.
    • Immediate and complete rest.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!

Pulse and Heart Rate

Normal heart rate (resting)

  • Small dog: 100-160 beats per minute (bpm). This can go up to 250 bpm if the dog is very anxious.
  • Large dog (over 30 pounds): 60-100 bpm. The larger the dog, the slower the heart rate. A Mastiff may have a heart rate of 60 bpm and a Labrador might have a heart rate of 80-100 bpm.

Pulse Points

  • Take the pulse at the inner thigh (femoral), the left fifth rib space (heart beat) or pedal or palmar (paw).
  • Heart rate is similar to pulse but not exactly.

Allergic Reaction (anaphylactic)

  • Causes: Bee stings and spider bites are most common. Also, vaccine and medication reactions.
  • Signs: Swollen muzzle and face, itchiness (usually the first sign), hives, vomiting and diarrhea (a severe sign). Hives are more evident in short haired dogs.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Give Benadryl (diphenhydramine) at a dose of 1 mg per pound. If the dog does not get better right away, it will need a stronger medication. If swollen face and itchiness are the only symptoms, the dog is still in a safe place. Benadryl may keep the dog from going to the next stage which is usually hives.
    • Steroids and epinephrine are also treatment options. An Epi-Pen is used only for life and death situations.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!

Gastric Torsion

  • Cause: Distension of stomach with gas and/or food and rotation of organ on axis. It cuts off its own blood supply and usually takes the spleen with it. Starts as bloat.
  • Signs: The cardinal sign the veterinarian looks for is dry vomiting. You may or may not see a distended stomach. Also, a rapid heart rate.
  • Treatment procedure: Get the dog to the veterinarian immediately. Can be fatal within 4 hours.
  • Simple bloat is rarely fatal. The flip of the stomach is what is most dangerous.
  • Large breed, deep-chested dogs are more prone to bloat. With these dogs, it can be hard to tell if the stomach is distended just by looking at them. An x-ray will probably be needed.
  • The only cause that has been found is exercise after eating. Usually 1 hour after a meal but can be as long as 4 hours after. Also, don’t let dogs eat 4-6 before swimming.


  • Cause: Body temperature greater than 104 degrees. Usually associated with heat (such as being left in a hot car) or exercise. Bulldogs and dogs with laryngeal problems are especially prone.
  • Signs: Excessive panting, drooling, collapse, noisy breathing, brick membranes, cherry red gums bloody diarrhea and rapid heart rate.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Wet body with cool (not cold) water and place in front of a fan or air conditioner.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!
  • When the body temperature reaches 104 degrees, the intestines start to melt and toxins are released into the bloodstream. At 105-106 degrees, the brain swells and damage occurs. Fluid moves into places where it is not supposed to be. The dog can have problems with their heart and kidneys afterward due to the release of the toxins.
  • Hyperthermia is a cardiovascular nightmare. Care can last 3 days or more.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

  • These symptoms can be an emergency if:
    • There is blood in the vomit or throughout the diarrhea.
    • The dog vomits more than eight times in 24 hours.
    • Vomit and diarrhea are occurring together.
    • There are other signs of shock or allergic reaction.
  • Treatment procedure: withhold food and give small amounts of water frequently if it does not trigger vomiting.

Bite Wounds and Eye Trauma

  • All eye wounds are an emergency! Prevent self trauma with an Elizabethan collar.
  • Flat faced dogs are especially prone to eye trauma.
  • All bite wounds are worse than they appear on the surface. There can be muscle trauma and infection.
  • Antibiotics should be started within 8 hours.
  • Bite wounds of the abdomen, neck or chest often need surgical exploration.

How to Pick a Therapist or Pool

(wagcover) Brenda Williams holds Cooper, a lab cross, in a pool at Pawsitively Pooched doing their their assisted swimming program. For Wag Cover in Special Projects ... Robin Kuniski/Sept.29.2005/Digital

(wagcover) Brenda Williams holds Cooper, a lab cross, in a pool at Pawsitively Pooched doing their their assisted swimming program. For Wag Cover in Special Projects … Robin Kuniski/Sept.29.2005/Digital

Canine water therapy and aquatic swimming can serve many purposes, from pure, recreational fun to post surgery rehabilitation. There are different types of pools and spa services to meet these needs. Spas may offer assisted swimming alone, self swimming where you can swim your own dog, or they may offer massage, Ttouch, acupressure, reiki, aromatherapy, etc. The facility might also have an underwater treadmill.

Before choosing a pool or therapist, think about what benefits you hope your dog will gain from swimming and/or aquatic massage. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if your dog is a candidate, and ask what type of pool is best for your dog’s specific needs.

Note – in some states a veterinary referral is needed prior to certain services, such as massage, and in some states massage can only be performed by or under direct supervision of a veterinarian. A list of requirements by state can be found on the IAAMB website, or by calling your local veterinarian or massage board and inquiring. The laws are ‘up in the air’ in this rapidly growing field of service and in the process of being defined in each State/Province.

Things to Consider

Swimming provides a non weight-bearing form of exercise. Benefits may include the following:

  • Loosening tight muscles
  • Increasing circulation, endurance, flexibility, range of motion, balance, coordination and muscle strength
  • Decreasing swelling
  • Relaxation
  • Confidence building

Conditions which may benefit from water therapy include:

  • Joint injury
  • Hip/elbow dysplasia
  • Spinal injury
  • Mobility problems
  • Arthritis
  • Pre/Post-Surgery
  • Chronic pain
  • Geriatrics
  • Weight reduction

Some questions to ask about the therapist:

  • What training has the person received?
  • Are they licensed or certified?
  • Why did they choose this line of work?
  • How many hours have they spent in the pool?
  • Are they trained in pet first aid, specifically first aid in the water? What is the procedure in the event of an emergency situation? Does the therapist or facility have a relationship with a nearby veterinarian? Is there veterinary care available if an emergency occurs outside of normal business hours?
  • What type of evaluation is required prior to swimming your dog? Is the evaluation performed by your veterinarian, the therapist, both?
  • What, if any, vaccinations are required?

Some questions to ask about the pool:

  • What is the pool temperature? Pool temperature should be between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooler temperatures can be better for conditioning or weight loss. Warmer temperatures can help with muscle relaxation and sooth stiff or sore joints.
  • How often is the pool cleaned? What chemicals are used to clean the pool?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Is the business insured?
  • Ask if you can tour the facility and meet the therapist(s) prior to scheduling an appointment.
  • Are customer referrals available?

Some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Were all of my questions answered to my satisfaction?
  • Did I feel comfortable asking questions?
  • Am I comfortable putting my dog in this persons care?

Canine Water Therapy has profound effects on many levels, each therapist and each pool will offer a different ‘feeling’ or service. Explore and Inquire and Try a few different programs. Don’t be shy about asking that your dog be removed from the pool or the session if you feel uncomfortable. Remember that is is YOUR emotional safety and YOUR DOG’s emotional and physical safety that is the priority.