How to teach your dog to swim

Dog swimming in the lake Photo by ID stock photography/Shutterstock

Cottages and lakes go hand in hand. The water can be a paradise for dogs—some breeds are natural swimmers and take to the waves like a duck. But for other dogs, the water can be a hazard—some don’t know what to do. If your dog needs help in the water, we’re here to help. Follow these tips to teach your dog how to swim.

Use a life jacket

Dog life jackets aren’t just for boating, they can help your dog learn to swim as well. The extra buoyancy the jacket provides will give your dog confidence in the water. For some dogs, a life jacket may be the only way they can swim. The weight distribution of some breeds, like the bulldog, and the short legs and long bodies of other breeds, like the dachshund, make it hard for them to stay afloat on their own. Be sure the jacket fits properly, is waterproof, and has a handle on top so you can grab hold of your dog if they need assistance.

Start in shallow water

Because swimming is not instinctive for some dogs, it’s dangerous to throw your dog in deep water and expect them to figure things out on their own. Plus, the trauma can turn your dog off the water forever. It’s much easier to start in shallow water and progressively get deeper. Start by luring your life jacket-clad dog into the water by the shore. Once they enjoy wading, encourage them to venture further in. Don’t forget to praise and reward your dog. If they get treats for being in the water, they will want to go in again later.

Play games in the water

Make getting wet fun. Play games like fetch along the water’s edge and gradually get deeper. Or take your dog’s favourite toy and play tug-of-war. You can also have your dog approach you for a treat as you progress farther into the water. The idea is to get your dog enthusiastic about going in. You can also let them paddle around while you hold the handle of their life jacket for support. But, especially with larger dogs in deep water, wear your own life jacket in case your dog panics, putting you at risk.

Follow the leader

If your dog enjoys the company of other canines, let them learn to swim by watching another dog. If your dog sees a buddy enjoying the water, they will be more likely to try it themselves. Plus, thanks to dogs’ ability to imitate, they can learn some swimming techniques at the same time. Just be sure the other dog doesn’t roughhouse with your dog in the water until your dog is confident and ready.

Move at your dog’s pace

Your dog might go from beach bathing to swimming in one session. Or it might take a few weeks. Think long-term and go at your dog’s pace. If your dog seems overwhelmed or stressed, move back to shallower water or onto the shore and give them time to relax before you try again. Note that not every dog will take to swimming, no matter how many lessons they receive. But at the very least, your training will help them feel comfortable on the shore.

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