How Do I Teach My Dog To Swim?

Your dog will be swimming in no time 🏊‍♀️

dog standing in kiddie pool

If you plan on spending a lot of time by the pool or at the beach with your dog, you should make sure he knows how to swim first (since, believe it or not, not all dogs know how to swim).

Luckily it can be pretty easy to teach your pup to swim if he doesn’t know how. Just follow a few steps, and you’ll have your dog swimming in no time.

The Dodo spoke to Lauren Novack, a dog behavior consultant and trainer with NYC Behavior Vets, to find out everything you need to know about teaching your dog to swim.

Can all dogs swim?

Contrary to what you might have heard, not all dogs are born knowing how to swim. Some dogs love to swim, while others don’t want to go anywhere near the water. And some dogs might like the water but not be great swimmers, which is why it’s important to teach your pup how to swim so he can enjoy the water safely.

“While most dogs will start to paddle when they're in water, that doesn't mean they are good swimmers, like to swim or know how to get out of a body of water if they fall in,” Novack told The Dodo.

If you spend a lot of time around water, or if you have a pool, it’s also important to make sure your dog can swim so he’ll be safe no matter what, even if he doesn’t particularly like swimming.

“If you have a dog who isn't thrilled about your chosen summer activities, you want to at least ensure that your dog is comfortable enough in water that they are able to swim to the exit of the body of water and get out in the case of an emergency,” Novack said. “If they know how to do that and have regular practice, they are less likely to panic, ingest water or drown if they fall in [if] they are unattended.”

What you need to teach your dog to swim

Before starting your swim lesson, you should get a few items to get your pup ready:

  • Dog life jacket — “For dogs who don't have experience swimming or don't like swimming, a life vest is a must,” Novack said. A life vest is also a good idea for breeds who have trouble swimming. Some breeds of dogs, such as dachshunds or bulldogs, have more trouble swimming because of their weight distribution. Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, can have difficulty swimming because of their smushed faces, which cause them to have trouble breathing. You can get this dog life jacket from Amazon for $31.99.
  • Dog swimming pool — A dog swimming pool can be a good idea to teach your dog to be comfortable in water in a safe, controlled environment. You can get this one from Amazon for $35.37.
  • Pool steps — You might want to add an additional exit to your pool in case your dog gets tired and isn’t near the stairs. You can get these pool steps from Open Sky for $190.89.
  • Pool ramp — A pool ramp can also be an easy way for your dog to get in and out of an in-ground pool if he doesn’t like using the stairs. You can get this one from Petco for $44.80.
  • Treats — A high-value snack will encourage your pup to do the behaviors you want and make the overall training experience a positive one.

How to teach your dog to swim

To teach your pup to swim, you’ll want to make sure he’s comfortable, you have plenty of treats handy and he’s under your supervision at all times.

Make sure your dog is comfortable

You should only take your dog in the water if he wants to go in. If it seems like he’s afraid or if you’re having to force him to go in, he’ll have a bad experience.

“As exciting as it is to introduce your dog to your pool (or lake, or ocean), remember that it's always your dog's choice to participate in the activity,” Novack said. “Remember that forcing them to do something is not going to help your cause in the long run — it's just going to make them more wary of the activity. You will have more success if you go super slow and make it fun.”

Coax your dog into the water with treats

Dogs love treats, so to make your dog love swimming, give him treats as you lead him into the water.

“Hang out with your pup on the first step of the pool, feeding them treats,” Novack said. “Or in a lake, just stand in a few inches of water. Make it a fun game!”

If your dog comes onto the first step, give him a treat. Then throw another treat out of the pool to show him how to exit the pool.

“Stay on the first step until they are completely relaxed,” Novack said. “If they decide to venture further on their own — awesome, go with them! Treat them on the second step and then toss an extra treat out of the pool for them to run and get.”

Keep repeating this until he knows how to get in and out of the pool. Then (if he’s comfortable) you can show him how to swim.

Supervise your dog while swimming and help him paddle

If your dog starts swimming on his own, great! Just be sure to keep an eye on him, since dogs should never swim alone.

“If they step off into the water and start to swim, stay by their side,” Novack said. “Let them swim for five seconds, and then direct them to get out of the pool and toss a treat out of the pool for them.”

And if your dog doesn’t seem to know how to swim, you can support his belly as he paddles to show him how to move through the water. This is also why a doggie life vest is helpful, since it will keep your dog afloat while you help him paddle, and you can easily grab your pup by the handles on the jacket in case of an emergency.

Show your dog how to get out of the water

Make sure your dog knows how to get out of the water so he doesn’t get lost. This is important because if your dog gets tired while swimming, he needs to know how to get out of the water quickly so he doesn’t drown.

“It's important to teach dogs how to get out of pools and provide distinct visual cues, like a big plant by the stairs of a pool, so they know where to go if they've fallen in,” Novack said.

And once your dog is a pro at swimming, be sure to always supervise him while he’s in or around bodies of water to avoid any accidents. You should also limit swimming time so he doesn’t get too tired or ingest too much water.

“You also have to be mindful of water toxicity, which can occur when a dog swallows too much water,” Novack said. “This is especially true if your pup likes to play fetch in the pool, as they are likely to ingest water when grabbing their toy. Limit water time to 10 minutes.”

Now that you know how to teach your dog to swim, you can have a fun time at the beach or pool with your pup.

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