How To Teach Your Dog to Swim
As the summer heat rolls in, what better way to beat the dry, scorching temperatures than taking a refreshing dip in the water?
But why should humans have all the fun? Dogs can also enjoy the benefits of swimming–which not only provides a fantastic exercise opportunity but can also be a great bonding experience for you and your dog!
If your four-legged companion is hesitant or unfamiliar with the water, fear not! In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the steps to teach your dog to swim like a pro.
Why Teach Your Dog to Swim
Every dog is different and not all are born with a love of getting wet. But CAN all dogs swim?
Depending on their breed, your dog might be a natural in the water or swimming might be more challenging. However, whether your dog enjoys taking the plunge or prefers staying on land, it’s essential for safety that your dog learn to be comfortable in and around water.
Even if you don’t have a backyard pool or a lakeside cabin, it’s important for your pup to learn to be comfortable in and around water. Chances are he’ll be around water–a pool, a lake, an ocean, a stream, or a bay–during his lifetime. And it’s better that he knows how to feel confident and be safe around all types of water.
Benefits of Teaching Your Dog to Swim
Swimming is the perfect summer activity for your dog! Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for dogs, providing a low-impact, full-body workout that strengthens muscles and improves cardiovascular health.
Swimming can also be a bonding experience for pet parents and pups! Time in the water fosters trust, builds a stronger emotional connection, and provides an opportunity for both physical and mental stimulation for the dog (and humans too!)
The buoyancy of water reduces stress on joints, making it ideal for senior dogs with mobility issues.
In addition to cardio workout & lower stress on joints, swimming is also an ideal activity in warm temperatures as the risk of overheating is smaller.
12 Steps to Teach Your Dog to Swim
Here are 12 important beginner tips to help you teach your dog to swim & make it a fun and positive experience for both of you:
1. SWIM LESSONS BEGIN WITH TRUST –
Teaching your dog to swim begins on dry land with trust-building-activities. Before introducing your dog to water, it’s crucial to build trust and establish a positive association with hand & voice commands.
Engage in activities that encourage trust, such as playing fetch, practicing obedience commands, or going for regular walks. A trusting relationship forms the foundation for fun & successful water training.
2. CHOOSE THE BEST TRAINING LOCATION –
Select a calm and shallow body of water for your dog’s first swimming lesson. A quiet lake, a gentle river, or a designated dog-friendly pool are ideal choices. Ensure that the water is clean and free from any harmful substances that may affect your dog’s health. Avoid areas with strong currents or rough waves, like swift flowing rivers and the ocean.
Also begin your dog’s introduction to swimming in a quiet place. Too much noise and activity nearby can be distracting when you are teaching a dog to swim.
Choose a more private, quiet area of the lake, river, or pool to start your doggy swimming lessons. This will help your dog focus on the task at hand and feel more comfortable in the water. There will be plenty of time to play with other dogs and swim with family once your dog is comfortable.
3. PREPARE FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY –
Warming up is recommended before any physical activity to help prepare your dog’s body to work and prevent injuries. You can start with walking, then gradually increase the intensity by jogging, playing, and activating the body through tricks. A good warm-up routine also makes the whole experience of water training more pleasant for your dog.
NOTE: During the warm-up, your dog will most likely have a toilet break, meaning less risk of accidents at the beach. Dogs usually have to pee or poop straight after swimming, so always carry dog waste bags to avoid leaving waste traces.
4. USE A LIFE JACKET OR DOGGIE SWIM VEST –
As a safety precaution, you are advised to always use a life jacket for your dog when in or by water. Accidents can happen even to the strongest K9 swimmers. The risk increases with colder temperatures, when your dog swims longer distances, or when swimming in deep or moving water.
When in distress, a dog will often drop their back end, causing them to quickly sink and disappear under the surface of the water. A buoyancy life vest can provide additional support and make swimming easier and more enjoyable for them. A life jacket will help keep your dog safely stay afloat, allow them to conserve energy and reduce the risk of drowning accidents.
When introducing a dog to water for the first time, a life jacket (K9 swim vest) will give them a positive experience with the new element by providing extra support and stability. This helps lay the foundation for lots of fun in the years to come!
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5. START SLOW & INTRODUCE WATER GRADUALLY –
Just like humans, dogs need to learn how to swim gradually. Start by introducing your dog to shallow water where they can touch the bottom. This will help them get used to the sensation of being in the water without feeling overwhelmed.
You can also use a kiddie pool or a bathtub to get your dog comfortable with the water. Don’t move out of the shallows until your dog seems happy where they are.
If possible, arrange a time for your dog to watch another dog swim. If the two dogs are friendly, let your dog follow the other dog around, wearing a life vest. With this technique, your dog can watch and learn, but even more importantly, see how fun the water can be.
6. USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT –
Positive reinforcement is key when teaching your dog to swim. Use treats, toys, and lots of positive verbal praise to encourage your dog to get in the water. Start by tossing a toy or treat into the water and encouraging your dog to retrieve it. Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can gradually move to deeper water.
It’s important to be calm but with high praise for your dog as he enters the water as well as when his feet are first wet. Never, force your dog into the water & don’t just pick him up and plop him in–a beginning ‘negative’ association with being around water will be harder to UN-learn than simply being patient with your pup’s progress.
Positive reinforcement is key to building their confidence & keeping them motivated to enter the water on future occasions. Reward their progress and efforts with treats, praise, and plenty of physical affection. A canine’s eagerness to please their owner often leads to faster skill acquisition.
7. ENCOURAGEMENT & SUPPORT BUILDS COURAGE –
Once your dog has grown comfortable with shallow water, gently encourage them to venture deeper by wading alongside them. Offer verbal support and maintain eye contact to alleviate any anxiety. Gradually increase the water depth over several sessions as their confidence grows.
When your pup is in deep enough water and starts to paddle, support him underneath his belly with your arm–this gives him confidence and incentive to paddle with his rear legs too.
8. BE YOUR DOG’S PERSONAL LIFEGUARD –
Never leave your dog unattended in the water, even for a minute. Always keep a close eye on your dog and be ready to jump in if they need help. If you’re swimming in a natural body of water, be aware of the water quality and any potential hazards that can interfere with your dog’s movement, motion and breathing.
9. PROVIDE REGULAR BREAKS –
Puppies & older dogs may tire more quickly, so provide frequent breaks during swimming sessions to prevent exhaustion. Monitor their energy levels closely and give them plenty of rest and recovery time. Even after a short swim session, puppies and senior dogs will need to rest.
10. PRACTICE THE ‘SWIM-TO-ME’ EXERCISE –
With your dog on-leash and in their life jacket/vest, stand in shallow water a few feet away from them. Call out their name excitedly and use encouraging gestures to entice them to swim toward you. Reward their efforts with treats and praise when they reach your location. Repeat this exercise until they become more proficient.
11. GRADUALLY TRANSITION TO OFF-LEASH SWIMMING –
As your dog becomes more comfortable and confident in the water, you can consider removing their leash under controlled conditions. However, always prioritize safety and ensure the area is secure, free from hazards, and devoid of strong currents.
Over subsequent swimming training sessions, teach him to swim in deeper water. Stay alongside him in a depth that’s safe for you and in which you can stand comfortably. Put your arm under your dog’s belly to support him at first. Make sure that his rear is aligned with his head. Go only at his pace.
For safety, wear your own life vest too, remember you’re your puppy’s lifeguard.
12. FOCUS ON HAVING FUN!
Having fun together should be the main priority when introducing your dog to the water. Reward your dog with treats or toys for any and all progress. Don’t set too high an expectation for them or force your dog into the water.
If your dog is scared about the water, approach gradually and let them explore it at their own pace. You can throw treats or toys by the water to make it a fun game. If your dog gets overly excited about toys, using treats is the recommended choice.
Remember to be patient, use positive reinforcement, and prioritize safety throughout the training process. With time, practice, and trust, your beloved furry companion will become a confident swimmer, ready to join you in the water adventures that lie ahead.
After the Swim Training Lessons –
Here are some important tips for after you take your pup swimming:
- Have fresh water available for your dog (like after regular exercise)
- Rinse your ‘student-swimmer’ off with fresh, clean water to remove any chemicals or other matter.
- Offer food & treats to replenish energy levels and reward good behavior
- Give your dog a well-deserved a nap so that he can rest & recharge for more fun.
Key Takeaways for Teaching Your Dog to Swim
- All dogs can learn to swim, including senior pups.
- Start with a calm body of water or a pool to begin swimming lessons.
- Check water quality first (especially if a natural body of water) to ensure safety.
- Invest in a life jacket and water toys to keep your pup engaged during training.
- Positive encouragement, physical support & realistic expectations are key to successful water training your dog.
Teaching your dog to swim is an enriching and rewarding journey for both of you and swimming is an excellent way of exercising for old dogs as it is gentle to their bodies.
Dogs of all ages can learn to enjoy the water if you adjust to your dog and set them up for success. With puppies & senior dogs, keep an extra eye on the water temperature to prevent them from getting too cold.
So, grab your towels, put on those doggy life jackets, and dive in together—because there’s nothing quite like the joy of swimming with your canine best friend!
Curtis has been passionate about the health and welfare of animals since his first dog rescue.
After studying Sports Medicine & Biology at the University of Oregon, Curtis went on to excel in a career of Clinical Nutrition, later owning a health care supplement company serving private-practice physicians.
Known for his expansive knowledge of natural health and alternative medicine, Curtis believes that natural plant-based therapies can be applied to veterinary animal care which led him to study the science of Cannabinoid Medicine. His expertise in Functional Medicine led him to formulate a unique hemp-based canine care product, Canine Support Formula, fulfilling a dream to combine natural pet-care strategies with the new therapeutic potential of medical cannabis.
In reverence for his own dog, Parker, Curtis has dedicated his company–K9 Medibles–to improving the health and longevity of all dogs.
To learn more about Curtis and how K9 Medibles can help your dog, click HERE.