BANGKOK -- Dogs, like us humans, need their exercise. But what is an owner to do when temperatures are soaring and long walks are out of the question? The answer in the often-sweltering Thai capital: swimming lessons.
Pet ownership in the Southeast Asian country has been rising since the early 2000s. This coincides with the growth of the middle class, as well as a shift toward smaller families as the birthrate falls and the population grays.
Further inspiration for dog ownership came from the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was a true dog lover. The king in 2002 published a book about his dog, "The Story of Tongdaeng," which became a big hit and spawned cartoon and film adaptations.
Walking dogs is generally prohibited in Bangkok's public parks, but the city has a number of dedicated dog parks. Some of these places have opened swimming pools for residents' four-legged pals.
Furry belly flops
One example is Doggie Doo, in central Bangkok. There, a human coach looks out for one or two dogs during swimming sessions.
"Come on! Jump!" a coach said one recent day, coaxing two Labrador retrievers into the water. Serious splashing ensued.
A session costs about 500 baht ($15) for a short-haired, medium-sized dog -- including a shower and drying service after swimming. The price may seem a bit steep, but more and more owners are taking the plunge.
A woman in her 30s brings her 1 year-old Siberian husky to the pool about once a week. "It's a little expensive, but my dog is young and has a lot of energy to release," she said.
Another 30-something owner brings his 8-year-old pug every week because he wants the dog to lose weight. It might not work: The pug, fitted with a life jacket, tends to stick to the edge of the pool rather than actually swimming.
Still, the man said, "He seems to enjoy playing with other dogs, and often does not want to go home."
Another Bangkok dog park with a pool, Barkyard BKK, attracts some 300 visitors a week -- many of them repeat customers. Weekends are especially busy.
Admission to the park itself costs 100 baht, or 200 baht on weekends, while use of the swimming pool runs an extra 500 to 1,100 baht.
A common refrain among owners is that the pools offer a welcome respite from the heat. "If I walk my dog during the day, the hot pavement can burn the paws," said an owner who takes her dog swimming once or twice a week.