Doggy Paddle Anyone? Teaching your Dog to Swim

Retreiver By the Sea

We all love the summer and one of the best things about long hot days is being able to cool off in your local swimming hole - especially if you can have a swimming companion! Even as the weather turns a bit cooler you can’t stop some dogs taking a dive for the nearest water although you might not be as keen to join them!

If you’re lucky enough to live near a dog-friendly lake or beach, or even if you have a pool in your back garden, you should definitely encourage your dog to join you for a swim. However, it’s a good idea to teach him a few basic lessons first if he’s not been swimming before.

Surprising, not all dogs are natural swimmers. In fact, some breeds can’t swim at all and will just sink to the bottom without a flotation aid – and we certainly don’t want that!

Firstly, too much noise and activity can be distracting, so start with a quiet area of the lake, river or pool and keep your dog on a lead at all times in case he gets into trouble or swims out too far. Small dogs can even be fitted with their own live vest or jacket. The lead should not be taken off until he is able to swim unassisted and is consistently returning to you when called back.

It’s best to start in a shallow area where you can walk beside him. Put on the flotation vest if needed, attach the lead and walk slowly into the water, letting him get used to having wet feet.

Never (ever!) leave your dog unattended in the water, not even for a minute. And, whatever you do, don’t throw your dog into the water for his first swim. It may well frighten him so much that he’ll never want to swim again.

If your dog doesn’t seem keen, bring a toy or a few training treats to coax him in further. Use a positive tone of voice and lots of verbal praise when he enters the water. Gradually take him into deeper water until he needs to start paddling to stay afloat. At this point, you can use an arm to provide support under your dog’s belly if he appears to need it. This will encourage him to paddle his rear legs along with the front ones.

If your dog uses only his front legs to swim, he will get very tired very quickly. Keep supporting him until he seems comfortable in the water and is using all four limbs to swim. If at any point he panics, go back into the shallow water and let him calm down before trying again.

When the lesson is over, show your dog the proper and safe way to exit the water so he can find his own way out next time. Then give him a good rinse with fresh water, which will help get rid of any residual chemicals or algae that might be clinging to his coat. Finally, give him lots of verbal and physical praise and maybe an extra treat. This will help your dog to associate fun and positive times with the experience of swimming.

Have fun out there!

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