Teaching Your Dog How to Swim

Eyes on the prize!

There are some dogs that are naturals around the water; they require no training and sometimes seem more comfortable with swimming than with walking on dry land. Other dogs, however, don’t have that natural instinct or desire to swim for hours, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to be comfortable around around the water.  Here are some tips to make being in and around the water fun and safe for your dog!

Start Early & Easy

Introduce your dog to water as soon as possible. The sooner he is exposed to water and starts making positive associations with those environments, the more confident he will be about swimming and water related activities as an adult. Try starting with a plastic children’s pool. You can put just a little bit of water in the bottom and have your dog test it out. If he likes the water, you can add more. If he’s not sure, you can take some water out.  When you’re ready to introduce your dog to a larger body of water for the first time, find a quiet and shallow place to start. Teaching your dog how to swim is no different than training any other behaviour – the fewer distractions at first, the better! If you’re going to the beach, a long leash can be really helpful too. If your dog takes to swimming right away, he can play in the water without getting too far away from you or getting into waters that are too deep for him. Finally, remember to never force your dog into the water. Be patient and go at his pace!

Train it like a Trick!

At the beach…

The beach isn’t too far away from where I live. When my youngest dog was a puppy, we drove down to the beach so that he could see what it was all about. We found a shallow spot in an inlet where there were no waves. He saw no point in going near the water at first, so I trained it like any other trick. He was on a long line so that he could explore, but I wouldn’t lose him. Anytime he took a step towards the water, I praised him and gave him a treat. We had already played similar targeting games at home, so he figured out pretty quickly that he could keep getting rewarded if he continued to move in that direction.  Pretty soon, we were at the water’s edge and I began to praise and treat him if he put one foot in the water, and then two, then all four feet, and then for walking and swimming in the water. He learned that being in the water was no big deal, and actually, it can be pretty fun to get wet! 

Or at the pool…

Alternatively, you could visit one of the 5 dog friendly pools in Singapore, where your dog could take up swimming in a safe and conducive environment. Be sure to start slow and show him the ways out of the pools.

Keep Safety in Mind

There’s no such thing as being too careful with your dog around water. Safety should always be a primary concern when you’re planning to spend time swimming with your dog. I like to condition my dogs to wearing a life jacket as a first step. Just like human life vests, your dog’s life vest will help him stay afloat if he finds himself in rough water or too far from shore when he starts to get tired. The vest can buy you some time to get to your dog and help him out of a bad situation.

Bulldog swimming lesson
Photo: iStock

Also, make sure that your dog is never swimming unsupervised. Even the most experienced swimmers can get themselves into trouble. If you have a pool at home, make sure that it’s fenced off or that it has a sturdy cover on it. If you live near a beach or a reservoir, make sure that your dog can’t get out of the house or yard without you knowing. 

Dog jumping into water
Photo: iStock

Finally, make sure that your dog knows how to get out of the water. If he is swimming in a pool, make sure that there are steps and that he knows where they are. Most dogs cannot climb ladders, and some will panic and potentially injure themselves if they can’t find a way out. The same rules apply when swimming at the beach. A lot of people will encourage their dogs to jump off of a dock, which can be a lot of fun for both humans and dogs. However, dogs can’t get out of the water by jumping back up onto the dock, so make sure that he knows how to get to shore quickly and safely.

Swimming can be great exercise and great fun for your dog. But we have to make sure that he has good associations with water from an early age.


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