Whether your dog is always vying to go swimming or is skittish around bodies of water larger than their drinking bowl, it’s important to teach them the basics of how to swim. For some dog breeds, this will come naturally. For others… not so much.
Teaching your dog to swim is both a bonding exercise and a practical precaution. It’s inevitable that they’ll be around water sooner or later, whether it’s a pool, the beach, a lake, or something else entirely. Knowing how to swim and being familiar (if not comfortable) with water can provide them with additional enrichment and even safe their life.
Tips On Teaching Your Dog To Swim
The amount of instruction your dog will need to learn how to swim will largely depend on their breed. Some dogs are naturally inclined to swim and have webbed toes, water repellent coats, and a physical build suited to the water. Other breeds are more timid around water or may have genetic or health issues that make swimming difficult.
Always Use A Life Vest
Even if your dog acts more like a duck in water, keep a life vest on them as they’re learning. This has several benefits:
- A life vest builds your dog’s confidence as they become used to swimming and learn what motions are involved. It provides a safety net that ensures they won’t accidentally hurt themselves as you get them used to different types of water.
- If your dog is in the ocean or other natural body of water, they may not be prepared for a drop off or the end of the sand bar. A life vest keeps them from panicking or ingesting water when they realize the ground has changed.
- When dogs are first learning, they also have a tendency to only use their front paws. A life vest keeps their back level, so they can eventually transition from letting their back legs just dangle to actually using them to paddle.
When fitting your dog for a pet life vest, make sure to measure carefully around their neck, chest, and back. A life vest should be snug, but still allow them to easily move and breathe.
Keep in mind, brachycephalic dogs (including Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, among 20 other breeds) may not ever be able to swim without the help of aids such as life vests.
Make Swimming A Positive Experience
Associate swimming with a positive experience as much as possible in order to initially entice your dog into the water and reinforce their confidence as the swimming lessons continue.
Here are some ways to make sure your dog has a good time, even if they’re unsure:
- Bring toys or treats that your dog enjoys. Give them to your dog when they’re around or in the water.
- Let your dog get used to shallow water before starting the swimming or allowing them to be submerged.
- If possible, bring your dog around other dogs who already know how to and enjoy swimming. Let them see the other dogs interacting with the water.
- Make sure there is an easily accessible exit from the water, such as a ramp or steps. Show it to your dog so that they know they can get out of the water.
Don’t force your dog into the water, use water to punish your dog, or otherwise use water as a negative reinforcement. Forming negative associations with swimming will cause your dog to avoid and fear it.
Some local waterparks have end-of-the-summer events where they allow dogs to come play before shutting down the rides. Research to see if such events happen near you or if there are any dog-friendly water parks, beaches, or similar attractions.
Be Prepared and Check Your Environment
Prior to any swimming (impromptu or planned), make sure you’re prepared to keep your dog safe. A key component of this is checking your dog’s environment to make sure their swimming experience won’t be harmful to themselves or other animals.
Here are some tips on how to make this happen:
- The ambient temperature and the water temperature combined should be at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This will prevent limber tail (also known as swimmer’s tail), hypothermia, or shivering.
- Make sure your dog has their swimming vest and access to clean, fresh water. If necessary, bring along paw booties to protect their sensitive pads from rocks and give them extra traction.
- Check around the swimming area for other inhabitants, such as snapping turtles. These residents may not appreciate a dog in their territory and some of them, such as water snakes, can be harmful.
And if your dog is swimming in an open body of water, such as a lake or the ocean, make sure their recall training is top-notch. If there’s a possibility that they won’t return to you, either because they don’t want to or because they’re panicking, make sure to attach a lead to their vest prior to letting them into the water.
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Whether your dog is always vying to go swimming or is skittish around bodies of water larger than their drinking bowl, it’s important to teach them the basics of how to swim. For some dog breeds, this will come naturally. For others… not so much. Teaching your dog to swim is both a bonding exercise