Do you dream of bringing your dog to swim even in Winter? Or to introduce your furry friend to water in a safe environment before beach-time comes? As outdoor solutions are clearly not an option in this cold weather, we researched dog-friendly indoor swimming pools in London and surrounding areas and put together this guide, with all you need to know to take your pooch for a fun dog swim indoors.
Fun Dog Swim in dog-friendly pools in London and surrounding areas
On those hot days in the Summer months you have some good options for some water fun for your dog at one of the various dog ponds in London. You can also get your dog enjoying the time of their life with the last splash of the season at one of the special dog swim days hosted by outdoor swimming pools around the UK (which we researched and collected in this guide last year; our 2019 fun dog swim guide will be published as soon as the 2019 dates are confirmed). What was missing, then, was an indoor alternative for the colder months.
As expected, we couldn’t find any regular indoor swimming pool for humans allowing dogs. Also, to our surprise, it came out that most centres which have indoor pools for dogs offer canine hydrotherapy sessions and other treatments, but not also fun dog swim sessions. Good news is that we eventually found three dog-friendly indoor swimming pools in London and surrounding areas which allow your dog to swim, jump, dive, splash and play for fun! These are Dipping Dogs, in Uxbridge, which is the perfect destination for all West London dogs; Canine Aqua Centre, in Ridgmont, which can be a convenient solution for North Londoners although a bit more North, and Hainault Hydrotherapy Centre in Romford, which is the closest for East London dogs. After publishing this guide, thanks to a reader we discovered one more pool: Canine Aqua Splash, in Elstree, Borehamwood. Each has different house rules and types of sessions, which we are going to tell you about in this guide. Another centre we reached out to is currently considering to start offering fun dog swim sessions later this year, so we will add it to the list if and when this happens. On the other hand, we haven’t come across any centre offering fun swim sessions for dogs in South London yet, but we’ll keep looking and of course will add it to this guide if and when we find one.
We have interviewed each centre to learn more about their sessions and visited the Canine Aqua Centre (we are planning to visit Dipping Dogs too at some point, so we will tell you more about it later), so we will also tell you about our experience.
Canine Aqua Centre dog swim sessions
To reach Canine Aqua Centre, in Ridgmont, North of Luton, it takes a bit more than an hour drive from Central London (more towards an hour and a half), or an hour and a half door to door by train from St Pancras International station (or you can get the train from City Thameslink station). As the Centre is located on the other side of the road from Ridgmont train station (literally a two-minute walk), it is an ideal destination to be reached by public transport in case you don’t own a car.
Talking with Robert Kemeny, Director of the Canine Aqua Centre, we discover that while the centre was started relatively recently (in September 2017) they are linked to long-running sister company, K9 Aqua Sports, which tours the UK with outdoor dog pools for dog diving and attends many events, such as county shows and dog shows, including DogFest and All About Dog shows. “At these events, we have met a lot of people with dogs and became aware that a number of people do not know if their dogs can swim. Some people believe all dogs can swim, which is incorrect: not all dogs can swim for a variety of reasons, from their build, big heads and chests, short noses, short legs, just to name a few. Some dogs have never been in water and this is a whole new experience for them. We know we will never be able to swim all the dogs in the UK, but if we can help some dogs experience water, it will help,” says Robert.
He continues saying that, in his opinion, all owners should know whether their dogs can swim and that this would be essential in case the dog falls into the water, as the owner’s first reaction may be panicking and entering the water to ‘save’ their dog without thinking, sometimes putting themselves at risk, while their dog’s natural reaction may be getting out of the water by themselves or coming closer to the shore for the owner to help them. Robert is clearly passionate about the subject and loves his job.
We had visited the Centre with Argo and Eddie and will tell you all about our visit further below in this post. At the moment, the Centre has a small very basic area for humans to get changed around the swimming pool area, but no showers or dryers. They are in the process of building a new reception area with two changing rooms, a shower and toilet facilities. Their swimming pool is not built-in, but above ground.
With regards to fun dog swimming, the Canine Aqua Centre offers a number of options (they also have pre-paid bulk sessions discounts), namely:
- Intro Swims – for first timers, here they get to know more about the dogs themselves (£20 per dog)
- Aqua Pups – introducing puppies to the water for the first time from 12 weeks old (after vaccinations), as the first 18 weeks are very important to a puppies’ life (£15 per dog)
- General Swims – for confident swimmers, for fun, exercises and socialisation – Dogs should know each other and be happy to be together (£15 per dog)
- One to One Sessions – for the dogs that need the added space and love, reactive dogs or dogs that require additional help (£25 per dog)
- Private Hire – this can be for multiple dogs that are family or friends, for Dog Birthday Parties, for people that want just themselves and their dogs there (£30 per dog, plus £10 per additional dog)
- Dock Jumping – introduction to Dock Jumping, right up to Team practice for Competition (Robert is the only qualified UKC Dock Jumping Judge in Europe and trained in America)
Some useful information to know what to expect from the experience and the house rules for fun swims at Canine Aqua Centre:
- Pool dimensions: They have an above ground indoor pool measuring 6 m (approx. 19.68 ft) x 4 m (approx. 13.12 ft).
- Sessions last 30 minutes, including arrival and leaving time. Robert explains, “20 minutes of activity within the pool swimming and on the deck, is plenty for any dog of any fitness level, we do cut some swims to 10 minutes due to the dogs fitness and health.”
- Toys in the pool: The Canine Aqua Centre has a large selection of floatable and retrievable toys that you can borrow for the fun swim with your dog, but you can bring yours if you prefer.
- Temperature: The pool is heated to around 22° C. This is lower than the 30° to 32° C of the treatment pools, as the Canine Aqua Centre does not offer hydrotherapy treatments. “An outside body of water in the UK in the height of the summer will be around 15° to 20° C, we keep our pool above this, so it is comfortable for the humans and safe for the dogs,” says Robert.
- Water safety: We asked them about filtering and water safety in the pool and Robert explained, “We follow very strict water guidelines for safe water quality levels and ranges, within the guidelines set out by hydrotherapy, we have a very big filtration system (bigger than the pool requires), so that the water is circulated completely with the flowrate over a few hours, the pool is treated with chlorine at recommended levels, we hoover the pool daily, and test regularly.”
- Maximum number of dogs per session: Depending on the session booked, from 1 to 5 dogs can attend. Exceptionally they had a dog birthday party with 9 dogs, but had several human helpers to make sure the dogs were safe and cared for.
- Sessions and hires duration: slots are 30-minute long. “Dogs swim for no more then 20 minutes, and this gives time to swap dogs and people over, regulars believes this works well, so newbies sometimes take a little longer or we need to cover something with a dog – bring loose clothing, not skinny jeans”, says Robert. When the new reception area is ready visitors will have more time for changing and drying.
- Facilities: At the moment the centre doesn’t have any showers, hairdryers or toilets. The reception area is currently under construction and it will feature showers, toilets and two changing rooms. Later in 2019, they will also have dog floating and retrievable toys, as well as some other items such as fleeces, for sale.
Requirements: For them to be allowed to swim, dogs must be fit and healthy, have not eaten at least 2 hours prior and have been to the toilet. In addition, dogs that attend General Swims, must have already attended Intro Swims. For Private Hire, a Canine Aqua Centre instructor will cover everything before the start and ask that the dogs either know each other socially or that the owners help in the water also.
The Canine Aqua Centre has a number of plans for the future. “We are working closely with a number of like-minded people and are setting up partnerships to open more indoor and possible outdoor CAC Facilities, across the UK, all will have very strict policies and will have to be trained to a very high standard for the safety and wellbeing of the dogs.”
CANINE AQUA CENTRE
- Where: Unit 2, The Old Fruit Farm, Station Rd, Ridgmont, Bedford MK43 0XP
- How to get there:
- by car: get the M1 and exit at Ridgmont, turn right (you have to take the roundabout) towards Ridgmont and then again right towards the train station.
- by public transport: get the Thameslink from City Thameslink or St Pancras International station to Bedford and there change with the West Midlands Railway train towards Bletchley, getting off in Ridgmont. From there just cross the street and walk to the right for one or two minutes and you will find the Canine Aqua Centre. Important thing to note: on Sundays there are currently no trains to Ridgmont, so if you want to visit during the weekend best to pick a Saturday slot.
- Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
- Prices: £15-£30 depending on the type of session (see above descriptions and prices)
- How to book: you can book any session online through their booking page
Dipping Dogs fun swim sessions
Dipping Dogs is a centre offering both assisted swimming sessions, where their hydrotherapist swim the dogs, and unassisted sessions where owners can swim with their dogs. The centre is located in Cowley, Uxbridge, West London. It takes approximately a 45 minutes drive from Central London, or, if like us you travel by public transport, you can reach the centre with a Great Western Railway train from Paddington station to West Drayton and a bus, in 40 minutes circa.
They have a large built-in indoor swimming pool, which measures 30 ft (approx. 9 m) x 14ft (approx. 4 m) x 4ft (approx. 1.2 m) and has a running temperature of 29-31° C (normally 30° C, they said). Being an in-built pool means that there is no risk for the dog to jump out and fall like from an above ground one, and there is no need to walk on ramps to reach the poolside, while there is a ramp in the water, to ease the access for the dogs.
Humans are allowed in the water with their pooches too, provided they are over 16 years old, so they can encourage their dogs and play with them, reinforcing the bond. A great thing of Dipping Dogs Centre is that the centre is equipped with dog showers, hairdryers and a changing room for owners, so after the fun swim one has the opportunity to wash off the pool water and dry them to avoid them getting cold when leaving the facility, especially in Winter (more information about their facilities here).
Sessions last 30 minutes for single dogs and an hour for two or more dogs, and must be booked by appointment. They also hire out the pool to groups of friends/dog clubs on request. They explained that, in general, they allow 4-5 dogs within an hour slot.
If you are considering booking a session, note that all dogs must have a signed veterinary referral form to ensure there is no underlying reason why they cannot swim, but Dipping Dogs will arrange this for the owners. Also you will need to bring your dog’s vaccination card at the first visit. Additional requirements are that you do not feed your dog for two hours before the swim and an hour afterwards, and that the dog has been to the toilet before your appointment.
- Where: Dipping Dogs, Tomo Industrial Estate, Packet Boat Ln, Uxbridge UB8 2JP
- How to get there:
- By car: if you are coming from Central London, from the M4 take exit number 4 on A408, and then follow to Packet Boat Lane. Enter Tomo Industrial Estate, take the first left, which leads you down a slope to their car park (Dipping Dogs is in the right hand corner of the car park).
- By public transport: get the train from Paddington station towards Twyford, getting off at West Drayton, then the bus 222 to Packet Boat Lane, or walk 20 minutes.
- Opening times: Monday 12:30 – 7:30 pm, Wednesday 09:30 – 8:00 pm, Thursday – Friday 09:30 – 4:30 pm, Saturday 09:00 – 4:30 pm, Sunday 09:00 – 2:30 pm. Tuesday Closed.
- Price: Single dog unassisted £22.50, then £10 per additional dog. Single dog assisted £35, then £10 per additional dog.
- How to book: over the phone 01895 446406
Hainault Hydrotherapy Centre fun swim
Hainault Hydrotherapy Centre, in Romford, is specialised in hydrotherapy, but also offers fun swimming for dogs, which purpose is specifically fun fitness. Their pool is heated at 30° C. It is a bit smaller than the others, as it measures 13 ft (approx. 3.9 m) x 7 ft (approx. 2.13 m) x 4 ft (approx. 1.22 m), but it is equipped with swim jets. We confirmed with them that the sessions are for one dog at a time only, and they do not hire the pool to groups of dogs. They explained that a hydrotherapist would be in the water assisting the dog with their swim, monitoring and checking their progress (like heart-rate, movements to ensure they don’t get injured, etc), while owners are not allowed to get into the water.
Regarding the use of toys, they explained that while these are used to encourage the dog swimming, they do not let the dog retrieve it, over concerns about dogs drinking the water from the pool and getting water intoxicated. They also have a water treadmill, which they can use to get dogs with hydrophobia started, as it fills up gradually, before getting them used to the large swimming pool.
They have a separate room with showers and hairdryers for the dogs, and you will just need to bring a towel and they recommend to bring a coat for colder days. Hainault Hydrotherapy centre requires consent from your vet before your dog can swim, however, to ease the process, their website states that they liaise with the vet directly so there is no need for you to attend the vet before your session.
- Where: Hainault House, Billet Road, Romford, Essex, RM6 5SX
- How to get there: by public transport: Central Line to Newbury Park station and then a bus and a few minutes walk.
- Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday-Wednesday 8:30am – 8pm, Thursday 12-8pm, Friday-Sunday 9am-5pm
- Contacts: 0208 599 3405
- Prices: £29 for 30 minutes session (one dog, assisted)
- How to book: you can submit the online form and wait to hear from them.
Canine Aqua Splash
Following a kind note by a reader, we are adding one more option West London dogs will be glad about. Canine Aqua Splash, in Elstree, Borehamwood, which is officially launching tomorrow (2nd March 2019), will be offering fun dog swim session.
We reached out to them and they explained that their pool measures 9 m (approx. 29.52 ft) x 5 m (approx. 16.40 ft) and is a bit over 1 m (3.2 ft) deep. It is currently heated at 23° C, but will reach 28° C. Sessions last 30 minutes each and they have a range of options from individual group sessions (£15) to private sessions (£36) and bundle sessions.
Owners can get into the water with their dogs, although in case they don’t wish to do so they have a trained person who will be able to assist the dog in the water. Dog owners can bring their dogs’ favourite toys to encourage swimming (they also have a few toys available there). Currently they have some changing facilities and toilets, but no showers and they have a dog hairdryer. They advised that as they are just launching more features will added later. We will tell you more about the centre as soon as we visit it.
CANINE AQUA SPLASH
- Where: Canine Paradise, Fieldgrove Farm, Elstree, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6 3FS
- How to get there by public transport: there are a number of options from London. In circa 45 minutes you can get there with the Thameslink from St Pancras International to Elstree & Borehamwood and then the 306 bus towards Watford, getting off at Lismirrane Business Park, and a couple of minutes walk from there. Alternatively you can get the Overground to Bushey and then the 306 bus.
- Contacts: 0330 333 8776 and online form
- Prices: £15 for individual group session (group of maximum 5 dogs), £36 for private session and £12 additional dogs sharing (dogs who prefer to swim alone or with dogs they know)
Our experience at Canine Aqua Centre
As mentioned above, we visited the Canine Aqua Centre in Ridgmont for a fun swim with Argo, who is a confident swimmer, and Eddie, a lovely 2 year-old rescue dog from Battersea (and Argo’s lookalike), who was at his first swimming experience.
We travelled to Ridgmont by car with Eddie’s mum for an afternoon session and were welcomed by Robert, the director, who showed us the building site where the new reception area will be developed, and they hope to terminate in the next month or so. At the moment you have to use your imagination to picture what the shower area, the changing area and toilets, as well as the reception will look like, as while there are the walls, the inside is a currently a building site.
As soon as we got into the future reception room, Argo started whining, probably hearing the sound of the water and/or seeing the dog jumping from the platform into the swimming pool in the pool area next door through the door window. Robert said that many regulars tell them that their dogs know they are coming from the time they get bags ready or when driving along. Argo had probably worked it out already.
As soon as the dog before us left, we were welcomed into the pool area into a warm and steamy high-ceiling room. The pool is a large above ground one. One of the large sides looks over the entrance area (and the chairs where you can leave your stuff). There is a rubber ramp, with a wooden gate leading to the platform area, which is covered in green fake grass. There you and your dog can access the pool by diving from the platform or walking down a ramp into the water. The other two sides of the pool are against the wall and there are a wooden beams running around it.
My husband and Eddie’s mum got changed in the temporary changing area (a basic space under the platform with a curtain) and we left our bags on the chairs near the pool. Good to keep in mind that, as the chairs are pretty wet, you may want to leave at home (or in your car) any fancy bags or coats or get something waterproof to wrap your things into, until their changing area is ready. We took off Argo’s collar and put on his Ruffwear harness, while the staff gave Eddie a floating jacket (they have plenty available of any size), considering it was his first time swimming.
Argo started crying as he was dying to get into the pool and play with the tennis ball which came out, and immediately ran up the ramp to get onto the platform. At first he wasn’t convinced about jumping into the water to retrieve the ball and started walking on the beams around the swimming pool. Robert later explained to us that this is because of dogs vision: while they are confident outdoors as they clearly distinguish the the colour of the lake/sea and the shore, in the swimming pool they can feel confused because the water and the outside water have very similar colours and be worried that the leap be bigger than what actually is. After a few rounds, Argo got his courage and jumped into the water.
My husband got into the pool with him and they dived and had a good fun together, although he said that he soon started to feel quite cold. Also Eddie’s mum feedback was that the water wasn’t that warm.
Eddie was a bit more shy and not too convinced about swimming at first. The instructor helped him building his confidence by guiding him into the water and holding him by the floating jacket while he swam, directioning him for a circular swim. He had the chance to get back onto the platform and take his time. He was a bit petrified from the experience at first when he swam unassisted, and tried to get out of the pool from the wrong side, where there is a big leap on the floor underneath (luckily stopped by my husband and Eddie’s mum before he went for it – see picture below in the post).
Taking it slowly and after a few guided swims, before the end of the session his mum got in the point where he seemed to want to get out from and he swam to her and back without assistance, making his mum very proud!
At the end of the session, Argo would have definitely liked to continue swimming and playing with the toys and didn’t show any sign of tireness, as the full of bean lad he is. Getting the dogs into the towels, and getting changed.
What we liked
- The great range of floating toys available. This also means that you won’t have to carry a very wet/heavy toy in your bag on the way back.
- That they have available floating jackets you can borrow. Especially if this is your dog’s first experience, you can save quite a few bucks on a gear you may not even need in the future.
- The good size of the pool, which allows your dog to have a decent swim.
- The fact that there are both a ramp and a diving platform, so you can choose and experiment. Also great that they are separated by a divider, so the dog does not jump from the platform onto the ramp instead of into the water (this was what happened with Argo a few years back at Paws in the Park Dash n Splash).
- That there are two entrances to the pool area, one from a door from the (future) reception, and one door on the outside, so in case a nervous dog visits the pool they won’t be meeting other dogs waiting for their session.
- That the owner can get into the water and interact with their dog. This is great for bonding with your dog through play.
- The fact that it is so close to the train station, so it is very convenient also if you travel by public transport.
Room for improvement
- It will definitely be a very welcome improvement when the reception area will be built and showers and proper changing rooms will be available.
- I asked, but didn’t understand whether hairdryers will be provided too, as Robert was saying that the choice of drying ones’ dog is personal. From my side, I’d warmly welcome such an addition, especially since we normally travel by public transport.
- One thing that would be useful is also some sort of barrier on the side of the pool, in case other dogs like Eddie try and jump over and out (in the photo above you can see Eddie’s escapist attempt and the rescue), this would add a safety layer.
- It would be great if the chairs around the pool were wiped dry, or at least there was a dry place where to store bags, clothes, shoes (which may be the case with the new reception area, I hope).
- My husband and Eddie’s mum feedback about the temperature of the water was that it was quite cold, so it may be good to make it a bit warmer at least in Winter. Robert later explained that they have an electric heat pump and that most people that go in the pool keep a t-shirt on, to help keep the warm, he reminded that the pool is for the dogs: human owners are there just to help.
Dog-friendly pubs and things to do nearby
If you want to combine your visit to the Canine Aqua Centre with some activity nearby, there are some nice options. If you fancy going out to eat at the pub, like we did, there is The White Horse pub, on Mill Road, which is just a couple of minutes drive, or 20 something minutes walk. Being in the countryside, you can also opt for a nice country walk on one of the paths or through the fields. We didn’t go for a walk, but we spoke with some local dog owners and they said that it is very beautiful. All land is owned by the Duke of Bedford, who rents it out to farmers and there are many footpaths running between the fields, where you can walk with your dogs. Online you can find a host of sources with all types of walks. Near the Centre, going towards the pub, we saw a marked footpath, so may be a nice adventure for another time.
Things to know and what to bring to your indoor fun dog swim session
What to bring when going for a fun dog swim session? We put together a list and give you some tips. Please note that we use affiliate links, this means that at no cost for you, for every purchase through that link we will get a few cents, that will go towards funding the blog.
- Microfibre towel for you. On the market there are some good microfibre towels which have the advantage of being super light, fast-drying and not taking much space in your bag. Two options available on Amazon with very good reviews are this 180x90cm bestseller microfibre towel (£11.99) and this 200×100 cm one with carrier bag and strap, available in many colours (£15.95 – you have to select the size), which can be good especially if you are travelling by public transport to have a lighter bag.
- Towel/robe for your dog. If you want to save money you can definitely recycle one of your old towels for this purpose. If you want something fast-drying and you can put on your dog without dragging it on the floor, there are many alternatives on the market. One is Dogrobes dog robe (£36.90 for the M size, £40.90 for the L, other prices depending on size), another one is this dog drying coat by Ruff and Tumble (£41.50 for the M/L size, price depending on size) with velcro and double thickness cotton toweling.
- Fleece. To keep your dog warm when leaving the swimming pool in Winter, you can bring a fleece. For instance, an option is HOTTERdog by Equafleece (£19. for M size in grape colour, prices depending on size). If you’d rather go for a more stylish garment, on Etsy there is this lovely fleece lined dog coat with white and navy breton stripe (from £15 depending on size), although it maybe not be the one to choose for the coldest days of the year. If you go for it, there is also its matching bandana (£8)!
- Flip-flops or Fivefinger shoes for you. Personally, I am a fan of Havaianas and tend to spend all Summer holidays and home time wearing them (various sizes and colours here, with some good discounts at the moment). On his side, a couple of years ago my husband bought this pair of Vibram Fivefinger shoes, which he used at the pool, and loves them (a woman lighter version is this model, which could be a comfortable option for pool and Summer beach/river trips).
- Bathing suit (if you are allowed in the water) and clothes change for you. If you are visiting one of the 30 heated pools a bathing suit may be enough, otherwise perhaps you may want to bring something warmer to wear while in the water.
- Harness with handle or floating jacket. Before purchasing one, I’d advice to check with the centre (I will confirm if Dipping Dogs and Hainault Hydrotherapy provide them and add this information to this post later), as for instance Canine Aqua Centre can provide floating jackets so you don’t need to buy/bring one. We found our Ruffwear harness very useful and lighter than the floating jacket.
- Floating dog toy (if allowed). From a simple tennis ball (convenience triple pack with 12 balls for £9.99) to this floatable Kong (£13.98 for one) Argo tried at the Canine Aqua Centre, there are plenty of options online. Again, some centres may have toys you can borrow.
- Waterproof bag. So your change of clothes will stay dry in case you bring your bag on the poolside.
- Waterproof bag/case for your phone (£8.99 – check sizes) in case you really want to get those pics of your dog in the water and from a really good angle!
Recommendations for your fun dog swim
- Check you put everything you need in your bag before going (see list above), especially a dog fleece for the after-swim.
- Wear suitable clothes. You will get wet even if you don’t get into the water.
- Make sure your dog is fit and healthy. Before booking a fun swim session, it is important to make sure that your dog is fit and healthy to swim, and does not have any injuries that can lead to unwanted side effects.
- Take it slow if your dog is not convinced of the water, and seek help from the hydrotherapist/trained pool staff to approach it in the right manner. Don’t force things and make it a positive experience.
- Monitor your dog during the swim. It is also good to be aware that there are risks associated with overswimming a dog and with dogs intaking too much water (water intoxication), so good to keep an eye on your dog and learn the signs.
- “Put down your phone and get into the water with your dog” as Robert from Canine Aqua Centre says. “One thing that surprises [me], is the number of people that say ‘I did not think my dog would like this.’ Come with an open mind, be prepared to interact with you dog, even if that means getting wet or going in with them. Too many people are so busy trying to take photos or video of their dogs, instead of helping them with their confidence. [My advice is] put the phone down to start with. Be prepared to see you dog go from an unsure [pooch] to happy playful dog; it may take a few sessions, remember that the centre is new to them, new people handling them, new experiences and smells, it is sometimes out of their comfort zone.”
- Have fun!