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How to Teach a Dog to Swim

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Original post How to Teach a Dog to Swim on PetMD

One of the best things about summer is cooling off at your local swimming spot, especially if you can have a swimming buddy! If you live near a dog-friendly lake or beach, or you have a backyard pool, you should definitely encourage your dog to join you for a swim.

But before letting your pup jump in the deep end, you will need to give her a few basic doggy swimming lessons first, especially if she has never been swimming before.

Safety Precautions for Teaching a Dog to Swim

Just because you have a dog doesn’t mean she’ll be a natural swimmer, and not all dogs can swim. Here are some important safety considerations to keep in mind before you get started on the lessons.

Should Dogs Wear Life Jackets?

Dog breeds like the Bulldog will sink right to the bottom of the water if they aren’t wearing a flotation device like a life jacket.

Yes, there are life jackets that are made for dogs. Any dog that is lightweight, has short legs, or will be spending time out on the boat in deep waters with you should be outfitted with their own life vest or jacket.

Look for a dog life jacket that’s easy to get on and off but fits snugly enough to keep your dog’s head above water. Your dog should be able to move easily while wearing the jacket, whether he’s in the water or on land.

Avoid Distractions

Too much noise and activity can be distracting when you are teaching a dog to swim. You should begin your doggy swimming lessons at a quiet area of the lake, river or pool.

Always Bring Your Own Source of Clean, Fresh Water

Allowing your dog to drink lake, pond or salt water can lead to intestinal distress or parasites, so always bring a portable water dispenser and give her frequent hydration beaks. You also don’t want your pup to get into the habit of drinking pool water.

Keep Your Dog on a Leash

Keep your dog leashed at all times during the lessons. The dog leash will help you ensure that your pup stays out of trouble and doesn’t swim too far out. Do not remove the leash until your dog is able to swim unassisted and is consistently returning to you when called back.

Be Your Dog’s Lifeguard

Never (ever!) leave a dog unattended in the water, not even for a minute.

Don’t Throw Your Dog In

You will also want to make sure that your pup creates positive associations with water, so it is never a good idea to throw your dog into the water for her first swim. It’ll only frighten her to the point that she’ll never want to swim again.

Start Slow With Doggy Swimming Lessons

When teaching a dog to swim, it’s best to start in a shallow area where you can walk beside your pet. Put on the dog life jacket, attach the leash, and walk slowly into the water. Let your dog get used to having wet paws.

Practice walking into the shallow water then back out again so that your dog understands that she can get out if she feels overwhelmed.

If your pet is reluctant, use a positive tone of voice and lots of verbal praise when she enters the water. Watch your dog’s body language to make sure that she’s happy and confident, especially as you gradually move into deeper water.

Once your dog needs to start paddling to stay afloat, you can use an arm to provide a little extra support under your dog’s belly if she needs it. This gives her the incentive to paddle her rear legs along with the front legs.

You don’t want your dog to use only her front legs to swim, as she will tire more quickly and splash around. Keep supporting underneath her belly until she seems comfortable in the water and is using all four limbs to swim. Keep the initial full-body swimming session brief so that your dog doesn’t get overtired.

If at any point she appears to be panicking, back up into the shallow water and let her calm down before trying again.

Establish a Post-Swim Ritual

When the lesson is over, take your time showing your dog the proper and safe way to exit the boat or pool so she can find her own way out the next time.

A good final rinse with fresh water will help get rid of any residual chemicals or algae that might be clinging to her haircoat.

Finally, give her lots of verbal and physical praise after the lesson, and maybe a few extra dog treats. This will help your dog to associate fun and positive times with the experience of swimming.

When you teach a dog to swim, the time spent together will also help you bond and build trust with your canine companion.


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