Taking your dog for a swim can be fun for both of you as well as great exercise. For pool or boat owners teaching your dog to swim can also be a safety issue. Plan to get wet, you’ll have to get in the water with your dog. It can be easier to teach swimming with another dog present that knows and loves to swim. I like to take a dog that loves to fetch a toy in the water. If the natural swimmer is over exuberant, you may need to play with him first to get some energy out while your dog watches the fun. My first choice for teaching a dog to swim is to begin with a pond or lake and pick a shore line that gradually goes into the water.
Pond or Lake
Find a spot on the shore with a slow grade into the water, not a quick drop off into the water. You shouldn’t toss your dog into the water. That scares most dogs and he will not trust you to keep him safe. Taking your time for each step of training will give the dog confidence and his learning will go faster. On a loose leash or long line, you’ll want to walk in the water with the dog and allow him to get his paws wet until he willingly goes in and out of the water on his own. Next, with a big dog you can gently guide your dog with the leash out deep enough that the dog can’t touch bottom. When the dog begins to paddle, turn him around to come back to shore. It’s important you don’t have the dog go out too far so he doesn’t panic. It should be about two strokes without touching bottom before turning him around back to shore. With a small dog you can gently pick up your dog in the water and have him turned towards shore. Glide him across the water allowing him to swim about two strokes before reaching shore. Continue doing this to build up confidence in swimming stroke. After your small dog is swimming to shore, with leash on gently guide him into the water and turn him back to shore using the leash. This is to teach the dog he needs to turn around to get to shore. Most dogs will initially swim upright, splashing frantically when swimming. You may assist by gently placing a hand under his belly and supporting him as he swims back to solid ground. Asthey become more adept, they will glide smoothly through the water. As you see the dog gain confidence you can have them swim out farther, but always turn the dog back to shore with the line/leash. Repetition in having the dog turn around in the water will condition the dog to come back to you with the shore.
To introduce fetch in the water you can begin once the dog is swimming smooth strokes and naturally turning towards shore. The dog will still be on a leash so you can control and still guide the dog back to you. Remember, repetition in training is important to make the dog habitually come back on shore to you. Begin by dropping a ball or floating toy in shallow water and have the dog practice picking it out of the water and giving you the toy. Once you see the dog picks the toy up and continues to give it to you then toss a little farther into water so he has to swim a few strokes to get it. Again, when he takes the toy gently turn him with the leash so he has to return to shore. Repeat a few times for him to gain confidence but watch that he doesn’t get too tired. Better to stop with the dog wanting more than to drill him.
If you’re having your dog swim off the side of an anchored boat, I would definitely keep him on a long line that is attached to a fitted collar that won’t slip off your dogs head. This precaution is in case the dog gets tired or decides to swim out too far, you can reel him in to safety.
Not growing up near the ocean I have to admit this is not my expertise. Begin by acclimating him to the tides movement in shallow water. Then dropping a water toy that floats in the shallow water and having him play with it, allowing him to get use to the tide moving the toy around. Next, without a toy, gently walk the dog out further in the water and if the tide takes him out let him swim a few strokes and turn him back to shore. Once he is comfortable swimming in and out of the waves you can toss a toy just a little ahead of him so he swims out to get it. Gently turn him back to shore. If you have a small dog, I would keep the long line on him every time he is near the water to prevent the tide from taking him out to sea. Watch to make sure your dog doesn’t get over tired to where he can’t make it back to shore.
The danger of not teaching your dog to swim can be experienced more with swimming pools in our backyards. Dogs run around the pool, fall in and then either can’t swim well or are unable to get out because they don’t know how to find the steps. Some pool owners would prefer their dogs not swim in the pool but if it were your child would you not want it to know how to be safe around the pool? Many dogs prefer not to swim or just to use the pool to cool off occasionally.
Begin by placing the front paws on the first step in the pool. Let the dog get comfortable standing there. If it is a small dog physically place the dog on the first step with all paws on the step in the water. You can feed him treats for motivation but if he won’t eat then this is very stressful with him and you may have to stay at this phase for a few sessions. If your small dog is doing fine on the steps then proceed to teaching him to swim to the steps. Pick up your small dog and gently place the dog in the water facing the steps. Support him while he swims to the steps. Help him up the steps so he doesn’t slip. For a big dog encourage it to go onto the second step with its front paws. You may need to guide the dog by placing a hand on his chest and other hand under his belly. If he is comfortable then turn him to the side so he can place his back paws on the second step. As long as the dog appears willing you can continue. With you seated on the stairs next to the dog, gently guide him by the collar into the water while supporting him under the belly and then immediately turn the dog back to the steps by gently pushing on his neck as a guide. Help the dog up the steps slowly so he doesn’t slip and become fearful. You need to stay at this phase of training continuing to guide the dog back to the steps until the dog willing enters the pool, swims around and turns to the steps to get out. The final leg of the training is for you to be in the pool at different locations, encouraging the dog to swim to you and then turn the dog back towards the steps. This helps the dog see the pool from different angles and he won’t panic if he should fall in.
Once your dog is proficient at swimming he should be able to adapt to other body of waters just make sure to acclimate them gradually. If swimming with other dogs have plenty of toys to toss in the water so they don’t have to fight for one toy. Nothing brings owners and dogs more joy then a romp and swim together.