How to Teach a Dog to Swim

Golden Retriever swimming in a pool

Swimming can be an enjoyable activity for dogs, but it's not one that always comes naturally. Learn how to properly introduce your puppy to the water and how to teach your dog to swim with these tips and tricks. 

Can All Dogs Swim?

All dogs have the ability to swim, but it's not something that happens naturally for all breeds. Some dogs, such as Labrador retrievers and poodles, are bred to be water dogs. That means they're built to be able to swim well and are known to enjoy the water. Other breeds that are shorter and stockier, such as bulldogs, have proportions that make it harder to swim. However, that doesn't mean they can't enjoy it. 

How Do I Get My Dog Used to the Water?

Your dog will likely have some natural curiosity about the water, and you can capitalize on this by paying close attention to their comfort level and making the water fun with treats, toys and plenty of praise. Here are some tricks for getting your puppy used to the water and making their first experiences positive ones.

Start Slowly

Get your dog used to the water in small increments. A good rainstorm can be a great first introduction, but a kiddie pool with an inch or two of water also offers a great splash zone for building your dog's comfort level. As your dog gets used to the water and shows interest, you can raise the water level. Just make sure to never throw your dog into the water or put them in water they aren't ready for.

Know Your Puppy

Think about your individual puppy, including their breed and temperament, before you start swimming lessons. A Lab puppy will probably pick up swimming quickly, but a breed such as a pug should never be left unattended in the water — even after they learn to swim well. If your dog seems hesitant about the water, go slowly, as you can actually make them even more scared of the water by pushing too hard.

Have Your Dog Wear a Vest

A puppy life jacket can provide extra peace of mind and make both you and your puppy more comfortable as they learn to swim. These are an especially good idea in natural bodies of water like lakes, ponds or the ocean where your dog may be able to quickly get out of your reach.

Make It a Family Thing

In general, dogs want to do whatever their owners are doing, and you can use this knowledge to increase your dog's interest in and comfort with the water. Let them see you splashing around and sitting or swimming in the water. Your dog will think since you're doing it, it has to be a good idea.

Play Follow the Leader

Dogs are hardwired to learn from each other, so if you have a dog that already knows how to swim or loves the water, bringing them along when you teach your puppy to swim can make things easier. Your dog will learn from watching the other dog, and swimming is always better with friends.

Have Fun!

The best thing you can do to help your dog love the water and learn to swim is to make it a fun, positive experience. Have special pool toys or treats and provide plenty of praise, pets and attention when your dog is around and in the water. 

If your dog still seems uncertain or fearful, remember that it can take some time. Keep providing positive reinforcement and use the tips in the next section to teach your puppy to swim.

How to Teach a Puppy to Swim

Before you teach your puppy to swim, it's a good idea to get your vet's OK. In general, if your puppy is old enough to be away from their mother, it's probably OK to start introducing them to the water. However, some breeds need more time to grow and mature before they're ready to try swimming, and your vet can let you know when the best time is for your dog to start learning. 

Once you've gotten the OK to start swimming lessons, you'll need to find a suitable place. If you have a body of water that has a shallow entry, such as a pond or a lake, that can work. But you can also teach your puppy to swim in a pool, in the backyard in a kiddie pool or even in the bathtub.

Start by leading your dog gently into the water. Let them get their paws wet and pay close attention to their reactions. If they seem hesitant, provide plenty of praise and reassurance. You may have to repeat this process several times. 

Once your dog is enjoying getting their paws wet, you can start leading them in deeper water and letting them get their whole legs wet. Once your dog is able to get where they can't touch, you'll likely see them start paddling with their front legs. 

As they get deeper, they will naturally start kicking their back legs as well. While your dog won't need you to explain swimming strokes to them, you do need to make sure that they don't get too excited or worn out. Your dog may love the water so much that they aren't aware that they're tired and need a break.

Repeat swimming sessions with breaks between as long as you want. Teaching your puppy to swim can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. 

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