Warm weather means water, and a lot of it! To maximise fun, cool a hot dog down, and keep your pup safe, it’s a good idea to teach your dog how to swim.
As with human babies, so with dogs – the younger you start teaching them to swim, the quicker they’ll take to it. Just make sure you’re not starting too young; a dog behaviourist, breeder, or vet can advise the ideal age for your furry friend.
The good news? It’s easier than you’d think! Some dogs like Retrievers, Spaniels, Newfoundlands and Labradors are natural water babies and should swim easily, but this should never be assumed until you’ve had a chance to gauge their ability.
10 Steps to dive in
Here’s a step-by-step guide to get your pup swimming:
1. Safety first.
Regardless of breed, all dogs should wear a life jacket when first learning to swim. Try one with a handle and a D-ring to attach a leash to.
2. Learn to love the life jacket.
Before going near water, your pup should be comfortable in the life jacket. The last thing you want is them trying to get it off in the water. Once your hound is happy to hang out in the life jacket, you can approach the water. Patience is key – this can take a few tries, or even a few days.
3. Start small.
For medium to large dogs, use an inflatable paddle pool before moving onto a pond or swimming pool. For small dogs, a large container can slowly be swapped for the bath, which can get deeper and deeper as they progress.
4. Your turn to hop in.
Friends of the Dog advises: Get into the pool yourself and have somebody hand the puppy down to you. Let it stand on the step and with your finger on the collar, let it walk back and forward, even playing with a light ball, offering treats and praise.
5. Patience wins (and swims!)
Pay close attention to signs of fear. It’s important to be careful because some dogs (especially rescues of unknown genetic origin or with a mysterious puppyhood) may take a while to dip a toe in, while others will make a happy splash from the get-go. You don’t want to create any new traumas for your pooch in the process.
7. Command your pup into the pool.
Teach your dog the “swim” command with the swimming motion. Some dogs may do so naturally, but others find an authoritative word from their trusted human works to get those four legs pumping.
8. Slow down.
As adults, most of us have long since forgotten what it was like to learn how to swim. If you’re meeting resistance at any point, slow down, go back one step and repeat until you’re certain that your dog is safe, calm, and ready for the next one. It can take several days of repeat efforts to make progress.
9. Who’s a good boy?
Reward each progressive step with verbal affirmations and/or healthy, calorie-controlled treats.
10. Practice makes paw-fect.
Like with any other training, it’s important to keep practising regularly. If you take a long break (for example, over winter), make sure to take it slow when you’re ready to dive back in.
Swim lesson dos and don’ts
- DON’T be tricked by a bit of splashy-splashy: The majority of pups will initially splash and only use their front legs rather than truly swim, warns Friends of the Dog. You want all limbs moving to keep them buoyant.
- DO be gentle with portly pups: Obese or overweight dogs may struggle and require more time. If they aren’t used to exercising, don’t push them too hard as it may strain their heart.
- DON’T forget to check the temperature: A reluctant dog may simply find the water too cold! Make sure the water is warm (but not hot) and take it slow.
- DO enlist the big boys: Some dogs will respond to other dogs more than to the alpha human. They’re pack creatures, after all. If you have an older dog who can already swim, see if you can recruit him or her for the training lessons. Nothing like a senior to show you that it’s possible!
Ready to dive in? Keep your financial head above water. Get pet insurance for unexpected accidents!