A Place Where Doggies Paddle | Alpha Dog Club

A Place Where Doggies Paddle

Sometimes, you just feel like taking a dip. That can be tough when it’s not the dog days of summer — and even tougher when you’re a dog.

One business in western Henrico County is trying to change that.

Alpha Dog Club on Patterson Avenue has taken over a space once owned by a scuba shop. It offers an indoor heated, saltwater pool for man’s best friend.

The facility has special ramps so dogs can easily and safely get in and out. The 40-foot pool is saline, which means it doesn’t use chlorine. It has upgraded filters to deal with the dog hair, but a lot of that work gets done by a radio-controlled boat with a net attached.

Feb. 2 will mark the facility’s second anniversary. It’s one of several dog pools that have popped up in the Richmond area in recent years.

RTD dog swimming


Last Monday, Duke, a mixed-breed rescue dog about a year old, could barely wait to dive in.

When his person, Nancy Hundley of Hanover County, adopted him, she was told he loved the water. So she took him to the river.

He did love the little pools near the riverbank, she said, but anything else was a problem.

“I knew that he had swimming blood in him and just had to get him over his fear of the deeper water,” she said.

So she took him to the pool for swimming lessons. Before his first lesson was over, he was out of the doggie jacket and loving the pool, she said.

Alan and Hermine Douglas opened Alpha Dog because they wanted a pool for their own dogs and decided there was an opportunity.

It took a while to get a business license, Hermine Douglas said, because it took the county a while to figure out how to classify a swimming pool for dogs. Ultimately, on the strength of the swimming instruction the facility provides, it was classified as a dog training facility.

The introductory assessment costs $5, and after that, 30 minutes of pool time costs $25 to $40, or $15 to participate in a group swim.

“If your dog has had surgery or is overweight or is going stir crazy, you think it’s a terrific idea, and they get it and appreciate it, as do their dogs,” Alan Douglas said.

The facility is paired with a grooming and self-service pet wash in the same building. It also offers services such as American Red Cross pet first-aid classes, complete with a “pet-equin,” rather than mannequin, for learning mouth-to-snout resuscitation.

The owners have started a charity, Advanced Canine Education, to help pay for shelter dogs to use the service and for people to attend the Red Cross classes.

Ozzie, 7, is an English springer spaniel with a titanium reinforced knee. He is steadily, methodically enthusiastic about the water.

“He loves swimming,” said Christy Thomas, his person. “He’s not one of the wild ones that leaps off the sides.”

Instead, he loves fetching toys from the pool over and over and over again, she said.

He’s also active out of the pool, running all the time and doing agility work. But, as he gets up in years, Thomas is glad the pool is an option, too, she said.

“It’s just the time to spend with your dog … and just get a chance to be dog and owner,” Thomas said.

Thomas, from Short Pump, teaches in rural Powhatan County. She said her decision to take her dog to the pool raised a few eyebrows.

“I said, ‘Y’all don’t laugh. I’m taking Ozzie for swimming lessons,’” Thomas recalled. “And they laughed.”

Some folks might see Ozzie’s trips to the pool as a silly thing done by “Short Pump people,” but Thomas doesn’t care.

“This is an inside, sleep-on-the-bed kind of dog,” she said.

And he’ll go swimming if he wants to.

By Ted Strong
©Richmond Times Dispatch
January 27, 2015