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Educational Blog

Pool Puppy: Teaching Your Dog to Swim

A white labrador jumping off the end of a pier into a lake. On the end of a pier is a girl in shorts and a tank top

Sometimes, dog owners are surprised to learn that swimming isn’t an innate skill for many animals. Although some dogs find swimming enjoyable and adapt quickly, many others must be taught gradually. For short-legged and brachycephalic pets (pugs, bulldogs, etc.), swimming isn’t something they’re physical designed to do.

However, swimming can be a great way for your canine to cool off, get some exercise, and have fun with you. As with any new experience, time must be devoted to teaching your dog how to safely enjoy the water and decrease the chances of an accident.

Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Swim (Without the Fear)

First – just putting this out there – when you begin introducing your pet to the water, you will get wet!

As your dog acclimates, plan on being in the pool or other body of water with your pup. Your presence will provide reassurance and will allow you to quickly assist your pet if he or she is struggling.

To prevent an emergency situation, we always recommend using a pet life jacket, just as you would with a child. You may also consider investing in one with a handle, especially when your dog swims in a lake or other large body of water.

In addition, take a moment to review these simple steps for teaching your dog to swim:

  1. Start in shallow water. Begin in a familiar place, such as your backyard pool or the shoreline of your favorite northern AZ lake. Make sure there’s good visibility, no currents or waves, and that you can easily get in and out of the water with your pet.
  2. Wade into the water with your dog. Get him or her used to the feel of the water, and stay in a shallow area for a while. Try throwing a favorite toy to see if your pet responds and goes after it.
  3. Entice with treats. As you walk out into the water, call your dog to come along. If he or she resists, try using a treat or favorite fetch toy to entice your pet.
  4. Help your small dog. Carry your pet out into the water – far enough for him or her to swim back to the shoreline/doggy ramp/step. Allow him or her to swim while you walk along side. If your pet panics, pick him or her up and take a break by playing a favorite game or relaxing in the shallow end.
  5. Don’t force the issue. Sometimes, just wading a bit in shallow water for a few days is enough exposure. If your dog seems frightened, wait for another time when he or she is relaxed and try again.

You may find that your pooch is one who would rather splash around than swim. As long as he or she isn’t experiencing any fear of the water, that’s just fine. It’s still an activity that can be enjoyed during the hot summer days (using pet heat safety awareness, of course!).

Remember, even if your canine is a water-loving dog paddler, pets should always be supervised in and around water.

For training tips and behavioral advice, please call the team at Animal Medical & Surgical Center.

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