Teaching A Dog To Swim: Canine Swimming Lesson 101

AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long shares some tips on introducing your dog to the water so they have a positive experience and learn to love to swim.

Many breeds are natural-born swimmers. Many retrievers and spaniels will swim with little encouragement, but dogs with body types less suited to swimming, like Bulldogs, may need more encouragement and should wear a life jacket when swimming. 

Regardless of breed, all dogs should wear a life jacket when first learning to swim. Most pet supply stores stock life jackets in many sizes and styles appropriate for all body types. Look for a lifejacket with a handle that you can use to guide your dog in the water and a D-ring to attach a leash.

 

Before using the lifejacket in the water, put it on your dog at home and get him comfortable with it by feeding him dinner while he wears it, as well as rewarding him with treats while he wears it.

Start in shallow water with your dog on leash, ideally, where you too can enter the water. Wade in a few steps and encourage your dog to follow with some tasty treats. Reward him when he steps in the water, even if he only gets his toes wet. Gradually ask your dog to step further and further into the water until he has to start swimming to reach you. 

If your dog likes to retrieve, you can toss his ball or toy a few steps into the water; each turn toss it a little further so gradually your dog will need to swim to reach his toy.

These steps should be done over a period of several days so as not to overwhelm your dog in one session. 
 


Troubleshooting:

  • Some dogs can be overwhelmed by large bodies of water. Try starting with an empty baby pool in your yard. Get your dog comfortable stepping in while the pool is empty before slowly adding water. Reward your dog for getting in and he'll soon be happily jumping in every chance he gets!
  • Start young! Get your puppy comfortable with water as soon as you bring him home! Your bathtub or a baby pool with an inch or two of water make great places to introduce young puppies. You can also carry small puppies into the water and help them swim back to shore or another person.
  • If your dog won't step off a pool step to start swimming try a pond or lake where they can gradually wade deeper rather than a sudden drop off.

Note: For safety, never allow your dog to swim unattended! Remember to follow all applicable leash laws in your area!

For more training tips and behavioral advice for your dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline. The seven-day-a-week telephone support service is staffed by experienced dog trainers.

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