The right way to teach your dog to swim


Teaching a dog to swim is easier than you think. When the warm weather returns, these four steps will help transform your pooch into a true water baby.

Summer might seem a long way off right now, but it’ll be here again before you know it, and you’ll probably want to bring your pup along to the beach or cottage with you. While some dogs take to the water naturally, others need some help and encouragement. That means a lot more than just tossing your pup into a pool or lake. For rookie and veteran dog parents alike, teaching a pooch how to swim can be accomplished in a few short steps.

1. Start slow

Keep in mind that some dogs hate water, while others love it. Remember, big bodies of water can be very intimidating, even for humans!

If your dog is a bit apprehensive about the water, or has never experienced it before, introduce her to it very slowly. Never force a dog into the water — this can give her a negative and scary first impression. So if she’s resisting, or showing signs of nervousness, just try again later.

Encourage your dog to enter the water on her own. You can do this by enticing her with a toy or asking her to come to play with you near the water. These first steps are vital to a successful experience.

2. Stay shallow

Once your dog is comfortable with being around water, begin your training in a shallow area. If you’re at a lake, stick close to the shore.

Let him get used to being in the water. Encourage him to enter the water one paw at a time so as to not overstimulate him with the new sensation. It can be an overwhelming experience for a dog, so letting him know you are there to protect him helps. Depending on the dog, he might cling to you in an attempt to get out of the water. This is normal; just keep reassuring and encouraging him in a calm voice.

TIP: If you’re in a pool, stay close to the exit and let your dog find it on his own. Repeat this until you are 100% certain he knows how to get himself out.

3. Make it fun

As with any training experience, you want to make sure that teaching your dog to swim is a positive experience for her, so she’ll have a good feeling about it the next time. Providing lots of praise and encouragement lets her know she’s doing something fun and good.

Playing with toys as well as paddling and swimming along with your dog is a great way to reassure her that swimming is a fun time. Once she knows how to swim, she might enjoy participating in other aquatic leisure activities with you, such as paddle boarding, surfing, and kayaking.

4. Be safe

When your dog is in or near deep water, put a canine lifevest or flotation device on him to protect against drowning. This is especially important if you take him boating. Measure your dog carefully before buying to ensure you get a proper fit.

Depending on where you’re swimming, marine animals such as snapping turtles can pose a risk if they’re attacked, so keep your eyes peeled.

Before jumping into the deep end with your dog, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Dogs can get exhausted from swimming, and that can be serious if they can’t make it out of the water when they need to. Always watch your dog while he’s swimming; drowning can happen in seconds.
  • Be aware of the water temperature; dogs can quickly succumb to hypothermia if it’s too cold.
  • Dogs can also suffer from water intoxication, which occurs when a dog swallows too much water while swimming. Water intoxication can cause a dog to vomit, become nauseous, or collapse from weakness and lack of coordination.
  • Ensure the body of water your dog is swimming in is clean and free of pathogens such as blue-green algae and Giardia, a water-borne parasite.

TIP: Dogs that aren’t built for swimming include Pugs, Bulldogs and other short-nosed breeds.

Some dogs won’t take to the water no matter what and you shouldn’t force the issue, but most will come to love swimming if they’re taught properly, with plenty of praise and patience.