Most dogs are natural swimmers, but some dip a paw in the water and say, “No thanks! Not for me!” If you are frequently in or around water, you want to make sure your dog knows how to swim for safety reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if they learned to love swimming?
It may take a little bit of time and a lot of patience, but most dogs can be taught to love swimming. Please keep in mind that some dog breeds are physically incapable of swimming more than VERY short distances. Dogs with flat faces, short legs, or very large heads and deep chests are not built for the water and are susceptible to drowning.
#1 – Start young
The younger your dog is when they’re first introduced to water, the more likely they are to enjoy swimming. They’re less likely to become afraid of the water if they are introduced to it at a very young age.
#2 – Start small
Just throwing your dog into a pool and assuming they’ll figure out how to swim can be very traumatizing for a dog, and some dogs will never get over the fear that can cause. Start small with a kiddy pool or extremely shallow, slow-moving water. Be aware that rivers and creeks that seem slow can have strong currents underneath the surface. Make sure there are either steps or a gently sloping surface for your dog to easily get in and out of the water.
#3 – Use treats
Use your dog’s favorite treats to get them to move gradually into deeper water. Give them a treat when they first step into the water and for each step further into the water that they take. Retrievers and other dogs that love to fetch might be encouraged by a ball or other floating toy tossed into deeper and deeper water. The key is to let your dog go at their own pace without forcing them.
#4 – Support their belly
Like humans who are new to swimming, dogs tend to let their back end drop too far into the water to make any forward progress. Getting into the water with them and putting your hand under their belly to support their back end will teach them how to keep their bodies flat while paddling.
#5 – Bring a buddy or a life jacket
Sometimes the best way to teach a dog to swim is to have them watch another dog swim. If you have or know another dog who is a good swimmer and gets along with your dog, bring them along to your swimming lesson. For dogs who are extra nervous about the water, a life jacket can help them float while they become more confident with their paddling skills.
Bonus tip: Teach your dog to shake on cue
If you aren’t in the water with your dog, you probably don’t enjoy it when they come right next to you to shake their water off. Luckily, you can teach them to shake on cue, which will help keep you dry. This training can be done either in a situation where you can be right next to your dog when they get out of the water or even with the water hose at home (a small amount of water on their head will encourage them to shake; there’s no need to soak their whole body). Begin by treating (and clicking if you’re into clicker training) as soon as your dog shakes. Once your dog gets used to being treated for shaking, anticipate when they’re about to shake and attach a verbal cue. Build on this until they only shake when cued.