A Husky enjoying the water based treadmill….
1) What inspired you to open a facility that specializes in aquatic training for dogs?
So I don’t know if you can see it. There’s a picture of a dog behind my back that dog is Beamer. He was my German shepherd and he developed something called degenerative myelopathy, which is a progressive disease. There’s no cure for it, but there are things that you can do to provide support for quality of life. And one of the things I needed to get for him, because he was a very large shepherd, 110 pounds was something called a help ’em up harness. It’s a two part harness and I wanted to try it on him because he was at the time he was in between a large and extra –large size. And the only place around here close that I could find one is in Crownsville, Maryland. So Beamer and I drove out there one afternoon and we got him fitted for a harness. I walked into this place and it had two in ground swimming pools. The facility also had an Underwater Treadmill. In addition, an acupuncturist came by once a week to provide massage, all the things that I thought were awesome. And so as I left there, I called my husband and said, this is what I want to do. I’d been a nurse and was starting to get tired of the nursing career and thought it was time to transition. So we opened up this business, it took about two years. And, um, here we are all because of my dog.
2) Your facility offers some really innovative services to help treat dogs and get them comfortable with the water. Can you tell us a bit about them?
So we have a lot of people that want their dogs to learn how to swim. Um, so for those dogs, depending upon the dog’s personality, if it’s a younger dog, we typically will go straight for the pool. If it’s a little bit older dog, we’ll do the underwater treadmill. Our facility has two underwater treadmills and what they are is a treadmill inside an acrylic box that fills up with water from the bottom up and the treadmill starts moving with the dog on it. And the good thing about the underwater treadmill is that it gets the dog used to water. It is a form of exercise. It’s actually a great form of exercise for senior dogs, dogs that have had surgery. And in the future when the dog gets used to the treadmill they can graduate to the pool.
All my dogs have a life jacket on to start with. We do nothing but positive reinforcement. We try to get the dog to go into the water by themselves. That works about 5% of the time. If they’ve never been introduced to water before, other than that, we start them gradually by getting them to stand on the step, stand on the next step, if they won’t get in on their own then we’ll just kind of pick them up and carry them around the pool so that they get used to being in the pool itself close to the edge. Their legs will start swimming in a natural doggy paddle. And so it’s just a slow progression like that. Most dogs, about 10 minutes and they’re getting off the step on their own. We have some very high value treats that we use to get them in. You know, trying to come to us. The owners are involved as much as they want to be as far as being by the side of the pool.
3) What types of injuries and conditions can aquatic training help alleviate?
So most of my dogs are senior dogs that have arthritis in the back legs and they start to get muscle atrophy or muscle weakness or muscle wasting all kinds of the same things. And they have difficulty going up and down steps. They have difficulty standing and walking for long distance walking on non-carpeted floors. So what the underwater treadmill does because it is partial weight bearing it is 60% non-weight bearing it helps build the muscles without the pressure on the joints. The water is warm it’s between 88 and 90 degrees. And so that warm water acts as a muscle conditioner. So to speak, where it allows the muscle to relax and enable the dog to get a better stretch on the leg.
I also have dogs that have recently had back surgery and then another large section of my dogs on the underwater treadmill are dogs that have had TPLO surgery, which is basically, ACL surgery in humans. The dog has torn a ligament or tendon in their hind leg and they have surgery. In a lot of cases if the dog blows one knee and has surgery, the other knee is going to go within a year or two. So the underwater treadmill helps strengthen the surrounding muscles and provides additional post-surgery therapy. It allows the dog to rebuild the muscle in that surgically repaired leg quicker so that they’re back to normal faster.
4) What kind of feedback are you getting from customers?
Our customers think aquatic training is a great way to tire their dogs out for fun or for treatment. If you’ve got a seven or eight year old dog, that’s recently had surgery, but they feel good except for that leg, they have energy. And so the underwater treadmill allows them to burn off some extra energy in a safe manner. They’re not going to be dashing around corners or tripping over their feet. They’re going to be in a very controlled environment. One of the things I love to hear is my dog hasn’t gone up the steps in months by himself. But recently I was upstairs and I turned around and there he was standing behind me. So that is a really good feeling for me because that means that this therapy is helping the dog.
5) Are the local veterinarians and animal hospitals taking advantage of your facilities?
Yes, they do. I have about 25 veterinarians that actively refer to me for dogs with weight control issues. Weight control is also another really great thing that the underwater treadmill and the pool is for to help dogs get in better shape. It is really helpful for arthritis and for general movement especially when it’s been as hot outside as this summer. So I have had several veterinarians saying, “hey, it’s too hot to exercise your dog outside, but here’s a place that you can take them to exercise in the inside and in water and the water would help keep them cool for the rest of the day as well. And I have about five or six where they actually bring their own dogs to me.
6) Do you have a success story you could share with us of a dog that has received treatment from your facility?
So I, I had a feeling you were going to ask me that question and I thought long and hard about that because pretty much all of my dogs are success stories, but I did have this one dog who came to me, he was a shelter dog. He was a rescue. He was actually removed from the house by the police department with multiple fractures of ribs, legs, skull fracture, and everything like that and the veterinarian assessed his wounds and decided that they may have to amputate two of his legs because of the severe breakage. The breaks were such that they were already partially healed. So breaking them and setting them was not really an option. And this dog was a puppy too. He was under a year old. After the treatment he was adopted out. He runs, he jumps, he did not have to have anything amputated. All of his wounds healed nicely. He has a little limp when he walks, but other than that he is a very healthy dog. The pool and the underwater treadmill did wonders for him.
7) How long did that rehabilitation take for the dog?
He was coming to me twice a week for about five months and then once a week for about four months.
8) Do you think the idea of aquatic training and exercise for pets will become more main stream in the future?
No, absolutely. I think it’s something that can become main stream because people love their pets and they want their pets to live a good life. And for the senior dogs, this has extended many dogs lives months, if not years.
9) How long has Aquatic Paws been opened and how have things gone this year?
We opened October 1st, 2016. So we are almost at the four year mark. It’s been a crazy year this year. I was closed for a month due to the COVID issues, I reopened May 1st. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was seeing close to a hundred dogs a week before we closed and that number was dwindling in March, as people were becoming more and more cautious. So when I reopened in May, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But it’s been overwhelming. It’s been amazing. People have just embraced helping their dogs and getting them proper exercise. And now we’re doing well over a hundred appointments, almost 110 appointments a week.
10) What are your plans for the future of Aquatic Paws?
So we have discussed seriously, my husband and I about opening Aquatic Paws 2 in a different location. We are not sure if we are there yet and ready to expand. We want to make sure we have the customers for it. We are in Falls Church today, so we would want to open the second facility in a new area – that is what would be next in line for us.
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