As the weather gets warmer many people are starting to plan trips to the beach/river or have pool days at home. While hanging out by the water is super fun, it can also be very dangerous. No one is born able to immediately swim, and just as we sign our kids up for swim lessons, our dogs also often need some coaching. While some breeds are natural-born swimmers (like golden retrievers), many other breeds are much less suited for swimming.
Regardless of breed, all dogs should wear a life jacket when they are first learning how to swim. Life jackets are especially helpful in deep or unpredictable water. Pet life jackets can be found at pet supply stores and online. Also, a life jacket with a handle can be super helpful for attaching their leash and guiding them to the water. Before using the life jacket for swimming many trainers, including Helpline Trainer Breanne Long, say “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” (American Kennel Club).
Once your pet has adapted to wearing the life vest you should start in shallow water with your dog on a leash. Ideally, you would be in the water with your dog as they first learn to swim, but it is not required. Next, wade in a little bit and encourage your dog to follow by holding some tasty treats. Be sure to reward your pet for getting in the water, even if it’s just a little bit at first. Over time try to get your dog to get further and further into the water until they have to swim to reach you. Some dogs will fully get in the water on the first day, while others will be much more apprehensive and require more time. Try to be patient with your dog and think about how scared you might have been when you were first learning to swim.
Some dogs are overwhelmed by large bodies of water. Instead of trying in a river or pool, try starting with an empty kiddy pool in the yard so they can get comfortable getting in the pool. Once they are comfortable standing in the kiddy pool, then you can slowly add water. Be sure to reward your dog for getting in, even if it’s not filled with water!
If your pet is scared of jumping into deeper water like a pool, consider finding a place where they can slowly wade into the water.
Starting with your dog when they are a puppy can help a lot too! While they are still small and young you can get them acquainted with a bathtub or kiddy pool before graduating to a pool or river.
Staff, AKC. “How to Teach a Dog to Swim.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 13 May 2021, www.akc.org/expert-advice/