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By Liss Scott

Things to know when teaching your dog to swim

When teaching a dog to swim, it is important to keep a few things in mind to keep the experience positive.

Before you start

  • It is critical to note that not all dogs naturally take to the water. While spaniels and retrievers may easily learn to swim, bulldogs may need more encouragement.

  • Invest in a life vest for your dog. Even if your pup is among the breeds who are known to swim well, this is important while they learn as they may tire easily in the water. A life jacket with a handle and a D ring for a leash is preferable.

  • Check with your vet. Make sure your dog is healthy enough to attempt this form of exercise and that their body type is compatible with the water.

Starting out

  • If possible, introduce your dog to the water when it is young.

  • Start in a small body of water. Many pet owners like to start with an empty, plastic pool and slowly add water. Barring that, try for a swimming pool instead of heading straight for a lake or the ocean.

  • Never throw the dog in and assume they will swim on instinct. One of the best case scenarios here is scaring the dog for life and not being able to get them near the water again.

  • Use steps or a slope to get the dog into the water, starting slowly, and letting them get used to having their paws be wet.

  • Get into the water with your dog. Let them see it does not hurt and encourage them to stay close to you.

  • Once the dog is used to the idea of water, coax them deeper with toys and treats. During this process, support their weight until they figure out how to paddle with all four limbs.

Finishing up

  • It is important to clearly show the dog how to get out of the water. Get in and out with them several times to be sure they know how to get out.

  • When the swimming lesson is done, rinse your dog off with fresh water and dry them thoroughly, especially their ears. Floppy ears mixed with dampness may cause infections.

  • Be sure to reward your dog. Giving them an extra treat and lots of praise will create a positive association with the water.

Other tips

  • If possible, bring another dog along to the swimming lesson that already loves the water. This may help your dog relax and embrace the new activity.

  • Be aware of birds and other wildlife, even in your own backyard. If you are in a lake and they swim out too deep after a duck, this may spell trouble. If you are in your backyard and they get riled up over a squirrel sighting and expend all their energy trying and failing to go after it, this may spell trouble.

  • Remember that some dogs just do not like the water no matter what you do. Never force a dog into the water.

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