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How to teach your dog to swim

How to teach your dog to swim

Doggy paddle may come naturally to certain dogs, however for the vast majority, swimming is a skill that needs to be learned. Here are 6 steps to teach your dog how to swim:

It’s a commonly held belief that dogs are innately good swimmers. While this may be true of certain breeds, such as Irish setters, other breeds, like Bulldogs may not be as buoyant. The bulk of dogs can be taught to swim so follow these six simple steps for how to teach your dog to swim and soon you’ll have a canine that can swim like a fish!

1. Pick a safe area

Find an area of water with a gradually inclined shoreline; a shallow lake is ideal. When you’re choosing, keep in mind things like rips and waves in the ocean, water depth, underwater plants or seaweed, and whether or not dogs are allowed (a lot of beaches and reserve parks don’t allow dogs). You should also be aware that swimming pools tend to be quite a difficult place for you to introduce your dog to water and then teach them how to swim, as the transition from one step to the next is not very obvious to a dog. 

Some dogs can be overwhelmed by large bodies of water. If this is the case, try starting with an empty baby pool in your yard before venturing to the beach or lake. Get your dog comfortable stepping in while the pool is empty before slowly adding water. Reward your dog for getting in and he’ll soon be happily jumping in every chance he gets!

2. Pack the essentials

Come armed with treats and toys to encourage your dog to go into the water, and to reward them for their brave efforts. Also bring your swimmers and towel, and be prepared to get wet.

Swimming can be a very exhausting activity for your pooch, so a dog life jacket is always recommended to help keep them afloat when they tire.

3. Get your dog used to the water

Try tossing a tennis ball or toy a short distance from the edge of the water but far enough that your dog has to wade slightly, but close enough that their feet still touch the ground when they go to retrieve it. Reward your dog for going into the water with a treat, and repeat the exercise several times.

4. Provide hands-on support

Encourage your dog further into the water with a treat. As soon as their feet lift off the ground, or you place them in the water, assume a supportive position with your hands. The key to teaching your dog to swim is to ensure their bottom is aligned with their head – you can do this by placing one hand beneath their rump. Make sure your dog feels secure, and that you are holding them steady so that they aren’t actually moving anywhere just yet. Speak calmly and give them lots of praise.

5. Gently let them go

Point your dog towards the shoreline and gently let them go. Ensure you are very close to support them as needed – hopefully they will start swimming towards it. If you walk towards the shore yourself, it’s likely they will follow you. Keep a close eye on your dog at this stage to make sure their bottom is still aligned with their head, and help to correct their technique if their rump is sinking. Reward them with lots of praise and a treat, and repeat the exercise several times.

Top tips:

  • Before teaching your dog to swim, do some research into their breed so that you’re aware of any potential limitations.
  • Don’t ever force your dog into the water, it will only increase their fear, and may prevent them from entering the water in the future.
  • Safety first! Just like with children, you should always supervise your dog when they are swimming.
  • It can help to bring along a canine role model – a dog who loves the water – when teaching your dog to swim.
  • Don’t ever yell at your dog during a swimming lesson – positive reinforcement works much more successfully. Plenty of treats and pats are essential after a swim session.