How to Introduce Your Dog to Swimming

Summer is in full swing, and the heat of the season is beckoning you toward your favorite local swimming hole for a dip. It's tempting to just bring your pooch along with you to that dog-friendly beach or lake, but there are a few tips you should follow before attempting to get your dog into the water for the first time.

Golden retriever jumping into pool 6
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Here are a few basic tips for your first doggy swimming lesson:

Start slowly and begin with the basics

Start in very shallow water or in a baby pool when introducing a puppy or dog to water for the first time. Begin with showing your dog where the safest place to enter and exit from is located. For hesitant dogs, use a treat to help encourage them to step in safely. Work at your dog's pace to help them associate water with a positive experience.

When your dog is ready for the next step, move to a regular-sized pool or a body of water that is shallow with calm waters. Be sure that that where your dog enters and exits the water is something that they will be able to do with ease, such as a pool with steps leading down into the water. Again, be sure to bring plenty of treats and encourage your dogs with praise as they attempt entering the water. Be patient and encouraging.

Brindle pit bull swimming in the pool
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Keep the leash on

When your dog is ready for larger bodies of water, be sure to keep the leash attached to your dog in case of any emergency so you can quickly come to their aid.

Don't be afraid to get in the water with your dog to help coach and provide comfort for your dog. Positive reinforcement and verbal praise will encourage your dog, especially if they are nervous or reluctant.

Use other dogs as examples

Utilizing another dog that is confident in the water can be a great tool in order to encourage a fearful or hesitant dog. A pup that may be resistant to heading into deeper waters may be encouraged with an older dog who happily jumps in for a swim.

Lifejackets save lives

Fit your dog with a canine-specific PDF (personal flotation device) before allowing them to enter any pool or lake. These devices are especially useful for reluctant dogs and dogs that may have trouble with buoyancy. Be sure to find a vest that is a snug fit and has a handle on the back—this helps the owner lift the dog out of water in case of emergency.

Dog standing in blue lake with blurred city view in the background. Happy american staffordshire terrier having fun in summer river.
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What to avoid

For a successful swim, it's important to avoid certain mistakes when introducing your dog to the water. Here a few helpful tips on what to not do when taking your pup into the water for the first time:

It's important to remember that not every dog is a born swimmer nor does every dog enjoy the water. Some breeds were meant for the water, like Newfoundlands, but there are some breeds that are just not natural-born swimmers. Dogs with short legs, such as English Bulldogs, Bassett Hounds, and French Bulldogs have naturally short legs that are unable to move fast enough to keep them afloat.

Do not attempt to toss your dog into any body of water if they are hesitant to go in. Not only could this permanently traumatize your dog, but this could lead to the dog inhaling water.

Never leave your dog unattended while swimming.

Also remember that playtime in the pool or lake in the summer is fun, but excessively hot weather can lead to heat stroke. Be aware of any signs of stress the hot weather may have on your dog.

Remember, patience is key when teaching your dog to love the water as much as you do.