How to Teach a Dog to Swim? Everything You Need to Know

In the United States, it is estimated that 10,000 dogs drown every year. These tragedies mainly occur when dogs accidentally get into a pool and cannot get out. Like humans, animals also become tired of splashing water. So, teaching your dog to swim is one of the most important skills he can learn.

Teaching your dog to swim while he’s young has benefits besides safety. For example, swimming can be a safe aerobic exercise for dogs with:

  • Arthritis
  • Joint or spine issues
  • Overweight dogs 

Water takes the pressure off the joints in these situations, reducing pain and burning calories.

Additionally, swimming allows dogs to burn off excess energy. It is such a great exercise that owners of performance dogs (those competing in agility, herding, flyball, frisbee, tracking, and obedience) often use swimming to keep their canines in top physical condition.

Swimming is fun for many dogs (Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers), while some do not even like getting their paws wet. Some breeds are not naturally developed for water sports, as the Bulldogs with short-necked, large-chested bodies have trouble keeping their heads above water. In addition, Spaniels and Retrievers need a little practice to perfect their “doggie paddle.”

How to Determine if Your Dog is a Natural-Born Swimmer?

One indicative sign to determine whether your dog is a natural-born swimmer is if he gets on a raft when placed in the water. However, there is another easy way to determine if swimming is one of your dog’s intrinsic skills. Hold your pup in the water, and if he only uses his front legs to paddle and gets his paws out of the water, slapping at the water surface, he needs some help learning to swim. With some support from you, your pup will learn to incorporate his hind legs and tail to stay afloat.

What Equipment is Required to Teach a Dog to Swim?

Steps to Teach a Dog to Swim

This step-by-step guide will help your dog swim like a pro:

Lead Your Dog Slowly 

Guide your dog gently into the water. Do not take them too far in – make sure your dog’s paws and only a part of their legs are wet. Allow your canine to splash around and get used to the feel. Your dog may not immediately obey when you take them into the water, so this can take several such trips.

Always Wear Dog Life Vests

While teaching your dog to swim, ensure to wear your own life vest. Your dog could drag you underwater if they get frightened and if he is a large breed.

Increase the Depth

Once dogs are at ease, take them deeper into the water. Make sure you are always holding them.

See How Your Dog Uses His Legs

Paddling with only their front legs will be your dog’s first instinct. This is good but not useful, as they will get tired quickly.

See How Your Dog Reacts

Ensure your dog is in the water and that you are holding him around the belly. The depth will signify that he starts to kick with his back legs.

Stop and Repeat

Do not hurry. Take the process as slowly as you need. If your pet looks scared or is anxious, stop, move back to the coast, and offer some treats, praising him. It would be best if you only went back into the water when he was comfortable.

Stay Patient and Consistent

Be patient as the whole process may take some time. Remember that your aim is to show your dog that swimming is a fun and pleasant activity.

What If Your Dog Doesn’t Like to Swim?

Some dogs do not enjoy playing in the water and probably will not swim. 

  • Bulldogs
  • Dachshunds
  • Pugs
  • Breeds with short legs and heavy chests 
  • Brachycephalic Dogs

In addition, overweight and older dogs may struggle to stay afloat after a short time in the water. Your dog can still find ways to cool off on hot days, even if they don’t like water. These include:

  • Drinking plenty of fresh, cold water.
  • Resting in an inch of water in a kid’s pool.
  • Licking ice cubes that are made from low-salt bone broth.
  • Spending time in the shade or sitting in front of a cooling fan.

Pro Tips – How to Teach a Dog to Swim?

Always Use Canine Life Vests

Use canine life vests for your dogs as the buoyancy helps the dog feel more secure in the water. Swimming capabilities aside, life vests are also crucial in an accident or other unpredictable circumstances, such as the dog falling off a dock or out of a boat. A good life vest:

  • Fits snugly
  • Has a handle for you to hold onto the dog
  • Is brightly colored with reflective trim for visibility

Avoid Distractions

Too much activity and noise can be distracting when teaching a dog to swim. It would help if you began your dog swimming lessons at a peaceful area of the lake, river, or pool.

Always Carry Fresh Water

Allowing your dog to drink pond, lake, or saltwater can lead to intestinal distress or parasites. So, always carry a portable water dispenser and give him frequent hydration breaks. You also don’t want your dog to get into the habit of drinking pool water.

Always Keep Your Dog on a Leash

During the sessions, keep your dog leashed at all times. The dog leash will help ensure that your pup stays out of risk and doesn’t swim too far. Never remove the leash until your dog can swim unassisted and consistently return when called back.

Be Your Dog’s Lifeguard

Never leave a dog alone in the water, not even for a minute.

Don’t Throw Your Dog In

Ensure your dog creates positive associations with water. So, it is never a good idea to throw your dog into the water for his first swim. It’ll only frighten him that he’ll never want to swim again.

Post-Swim Activities

After you teach your dog to swim, train him to get out of the pool safely. Bathe him thoroughly with fresh water to eliminate any algae or chemicals that might be present in the water and stick on to your pet’s coat. Finally, reward your dog with praises, treats, and positive reinforcements after every swimming session. This helps to get closer with your pet, builds the bond between you and your pet, and encourages him to dive into the pool next time without hesitation.

Final Thoughts

Teaching your dog to swim takes patience, time, motivation, and a safe environment where they can adapt to the water at their own pace. But, in the end, your dog may love playing in the water and enjoy swimming all summer long. 

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