How to Teach a Dog to Swim

Swimming is a fun activity for dogs, and while some automatically know how to swim, many dogs aren’t comfortable with water and need to learn how. Teaching your dog to swim or taking your dog to swimming lessons reinforces the idea that being in and around the water is going to be a positive experience.

Before teaching your dog to swim: follow these three water-safety tips:

  • Wear swim clothes so you can go into the water with your dog.
  • Bring a properly fitted dog life jacket or life vest. These dog life jackets, also called canine floatation devices, are made specifically to keep dogs buoyant in the water. Not only can this keep your dog safe as she learns to swim, it can also help your dog to be more confident. Brachial dog breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs should never swim or be near water without a life vest for their own safety. (Here’s our guide to the best dog life jackets and how to fit your dog for one.)
  • If you’re going to be teaching your dog to swim in a natural water area, utilize a long-line leash so you can keep your dog tethered to you in the water.

Next, find the right dog-friendly swim location

Dog pool or canine swim centers are ideal places to start introducing a dog to water. Pick a location that has minimal distractions. Natural settings, such as lakes and rivers, should have minimal waves, which can scare dogs, and a gentle slope into the water, which is more  comfortable to dogs than a drop-off entrance.

Time to introduce your dog to water

Always supervise your dog while swimming or even near the water. The key to teaching your dog to enjoy swimming and become confident in the water is to go slowly and ensure your dog is having fun. Don’t force your dog to go into deeper water than she is comfortable with as this can lead to a fear of swimming. Make sure she is wearing her dog swimming vest.

Follow these 5 steps to introduce your dog to water and teach her to swim:

Step 1: Go at your dog’s pace by letting her explore and play at the water’s edge, going into the water when she’s comfortable. Praise and reward your dog for any interest and engagement in the water, including just splashing and wading.

Step 2: As your dog is playing, encourage her to slowly move deeper into the water. If your dog seems wary or uncomfortable, encourage her back into the shallow water.

Step 3: Continue to encourage your dog into slightly deeper water using lots of praise until your dog is swimming. Introduce floating and water safe toys to encourage your dog to stay and play in the water.

Step 4: Use treats and toys to lure your dog back to where she can get out of the water. This shows her how to safely get out of the water, which is especially important for dogs learning to swim in a pool where they must find a specific ramp or stairs to exit.

Step 5: Remain close to your dog during the swim session. If your dog seems to get worried, encourage her back to an area shallow enough for her to stand.

Dog swim lessons: what to expect

If you’re feeling uncertain or worried about teaching your dog to swim, sign up for lessons. Many veterinary physical therapy/rehabilitation centers have recreational swim lessons and dog pools that hold dock-diving events often have introductory swimming lessons for dogs and puppies. At the lessons, a trained instructor stays in the water with your dog, which is especially helpful for nervous dogs (and dog guardians). Another benefit of swim lessons is the facilities typically have dog floatation vests in a wide range of sizes.

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