In the Swim of It: Swimming with Your Dog

It's summer, it's hot, and it's time for swimming with your dog. My dog Wyn loves swimming games. He will swim to fetch objects and bring them back and he's got a mean fraternity boy cannonball from the side of the pool. But Wyn's favorite activity is when I say, "Let's race," and swim beside him from the end of the pool to the steps.

I've never once won a race against my web-footed Welsh Springer. In the water, he's like greased lightening. And, when he sees a person gaining on him in the race, he kicks into high gear and cranks up the power. It never gets old, I start laughing and I lose the race.

Here are some tips for swimming with your dog:

  • Use the behavioral principles of shaping and fading to teach swimming. To use shaping, start with shallow water and gradually expose your pup to deeper water. For fading, you might begin by supporting your dog in the water and gradually fading out your assistance.
  • Make sure your dog is well-suited for swimming. Often, short-legged, long bodied dogs (e.g., Dachshunds, Scottish Terriers) are not the strongest swimmers and they may be happier in the house or enjoying the activity from the sidelines.
  • Remember that it is better to be safe than sorry. If your dog is not a strong swimmer, use a canine life vest. Hairless breeds (e.g., Chinese Crested) and light coated dogs can get bad sunburns. Use sunscreen with these dogs and avoid spending too much time in the sun.
  • On hot summer days, if you're swimming at a lake,  clean drinking water should be available for your dog. Even though your dog may take a quick gulp, the water in ocean, lakes, rivers, and ponds isn't the best option for your dog's drinking water.
  • The old belief, "All dogs can swim," is a myth. If your dog is a good swimming candidate, introduce swimming systematically. "Sink or swim" is by no means the best or most humane method to teach a dog to swim. Start slowly in shallow water, or with you nearby to give the dog support. You can also begin training with a life vest that is faded once your dog is a confident swimmer.

Splish, splash, have fun!  This year, I'm going to win that swimming race!

Find a dog trainer near your location and take the Canine Good Citizen test for your dog.