If you've never seen a doggo joyfully paddling through the water, let me tell you, you're missing out. It's very cute. (In fact, here are some videos of dogs learning to swim that you should watch ASAP, just to brighten your day and get you on board.) If you happen to be a dog parent yourself, you're likely wondering how to teach your dog to swim, too. Because while not all canines get an opportunity to put their paddle stroke to the test, many of them can actually safely and happily indulge in a healthy dip in the pool if they're trained properly and supervised — and teaching them how to do so can be fun, rewarding, and surprisingly simple.
And if you've seen a dog paddling through the water at a dog-friendly pool or lake, then you can probably attest to the fact that many of them really enjoy it! Swimming is a fantastic way for your pup to cool down on a warm summer day, plus it's great exercise for them, too. Dogs can get bored if they're stuck living the same ol' routine day after day, season after season — so switching up their exercise and entertainment routine by incorporating some water play can help keep them stimulated, both mentally and physically.
Teaching your pup to swim is great for your dog, and it's a fun bonding activity, too. So whether your pup ends up being a swimmer upon first stroke or has a longer learning curve ahead, following these tips will help ensure that you can teach them effectively and safely.
First Thing's First: Not All Dogs Are Swimmers
Just like not all humans can swim, some dogs truly can't, either — so you'll want to be sure to ascertain whether or not this new activity is in the stars for your canine. For example, according to PetMD, some breeds (like bulldogs) are completely unable to swim, and will literally sink to the bottom if thrown into the water. Other breeds who don't make the best candidates for swimming include dogs who don't weigh very much or have very short legs, like pugs or dachshunds.
And it's not just about your dog's breed or body type. Some dogs who could theoretically be taught how to swim may just simply not enjoy doing so, in which case you should never force them to. You'll know if your pup is having a good time or if they're trying to get their feet back on solid ground ASAP, so respect it.
Dog Floaties Are Your Friend
As mentioned above, not all dogs are born for swimming — and any inexperienced pup is at risk of drowning if they panic and aren't already a strong swimmer. That said, investing in a flotation device made for dogs is a good bet for anyone who is planning to teach their furry friend to swim. While it's certainly no replacement for swimming lessons, it can allow dogs who aren't the best swimmers to experience the joys of the water, too — and it can offer you some peace of mind. It's also a must-have for any dog who will be swimming in deeper waters. That all said, remember that all dogs should still be supervised while they're in the water, floatie or not.
Use The Buddy System
Dogs are highly social beings, so it's good to use the "buddy system" when teaching your pup to swim. Go into the water with them for their swimming lessons, and stay by their side. Not only will this enable you to guide them in their movements, but it'll also help them to feel safer and more protected. Make sure you have the proper gear for your dog, too: Keeping your pup on a leash until you're absolutely confident in their ability to swim strongly and follow your commands is a good idea, and starting out with a made-for-dogs life jacket or flotation device can be helpful, too.
And just like us, dogs learn effectively by example — so it can apparently be helpful to bring along another dog buddy who swims confidently. Seeing this can help prove to your pup that's it's do-able and show them additional tips on what to do.
Take It Slow & Steady
None of this "diving right in" business — swimming lessons for dogs must be taken slowly and cautiously, as it can be frightening or even deadly for an inexperienced dog to be thrown into the water without proper training. Start in a shallow area where your pup can adjust to the water and get comfortable moving in it. "Gradually take her into deeper water until she must start paddling to stay afloat," explained PetMD on its site. "At this point, you can use an arm to provide support under your dog’s belly if she appears to need the extra support. This gives her the incentive to paddle her rear legs along with the front legs." This last bit is important, as you don't want your pup to get into the habit of paddling with front paws only. This will tire them out much more quickly and prevent them from being able to make the most of their swim time in the future.
Pay Close Attention At All Times
During the training process, if you notice your dog getting panicked or anxious at any point, calmly bring them back to shallow water immediately so they can relax. And it's good to pay close attention your dog's body language even after they become a strong swimmer, as dogs can drown if they become too exhausted and are unable to get themselves onto shallow ground.
And remember: Always supervise your dogs when they're in the water, no matter how much swimming experience they have. Putting your pupper in the water will always run a risk, but that risk is much reduced if they have your watchful eyes on them at all times. Never leave your dog in water unattended, and keep a close eye on their location and body language.
Praise Your Pup For A Job Well Done
Once you've exited the water and rinsed off after training sessions, be sure you give your dog lots of hugs, affection, and verbal praise — even if all they were able to do is stroll with you through the shallow end of a pool. It's helpful to bring along a few favorite treats, too, just to boost the positive reinforcement. Learning to swim can be hard work, so your dog will appreciate the fact that you appreciate their efforts, and it'll make them more willing to try again next time and continue the learning process.
Last But Not Least: Don't Sleep On The Joys Of A Kiddie Pool
If you don't have a pool or live near a dog-friendly lake or beach (or if your pup isn't very gifted in the swimming department), you can still give your pup some fun water playtime by getting your hands on a small kiddie pool and setting it up in your yard. While this won't exactly be swimming, your dog will still be able to have some fun splashing around in the water, and that's worth it. Plus, dogs in kiddie pools — is there anything more adorable?