There are few images more associated with dogs than a happy and free pup bounding in the water, but how do you teach your dog to swim? While some dogs show a natural affinity to swimming and submerging themselves, many dogs are initially hesitant and frightened by water. Just like human beings, they must be taught how to safely swim in the water and over time they will learn to enjoy themselves. Before you know it, they will be running and jumping into the water any chance they get. Have you ever wondered how to teach your dog to swim? If so, this guide is for you.
As a dog owner, you want to give your dog the happiest life possible and swimming can be a component of that. Whether it’s in a pool, the ocean, or a flowing river, giving your dog the knowledge and confidence to swim will allow them to have fun in the water and help keep them feel safe if they ever fall in by accident.
How to Teach a Dog to Swim: The Basics
If you want to get your dog ready to take on the waves at the beach or the pool in your backyard, you’ll need to teach them how to swim. Your dog doesn’t innately know how to safely enter and exit the water or swim well. You’ll have to put in the work to teach him what he doesn’t know so he can grow to feel comfortable in the water. The first thing to be mindful of when you are trying to teach your dog to swim are the safety considerations.
Safety Considerations for Teaching Your Dog to Swim
Safety first is a motto that is applicable to many aspects of life and teaching your dog to swim is no different. You want to make sure your furry friend stays completely safe and healthy on their journey to becoming a water-lover. Below are a handful of safety tips for teaching your dog to swim.
- Pick a place without distractions. When you are teaching your dog to swim, you want them to be focused on listening to the commands you are giving them. One safety measure to take is picking a place to teach them that has minimal distractions. You don’t want them focusing on other dogs or outside stimuli while you are trying to give them a swim lesson. It can be helpful to try out a few different places if you don’t have access to an isolated swim environment.
- Skip swim spots with currents. Currents can be tricky for well-seasoned dogs to navigate and aren’t a place to teach a beginner. If a dog is unsure of how to swim and begins to be swept away by a current, they may become frightened and panicked, which can be dangerous and create a negative association with the water. Instead, pick somewhere to teach them to swim that is calm and does not have currents.
- Bring a water bottle or dog bowl with clean water for breaks to hydrate. Trying to learn to swim can be hard work and your dog will be thirsty when they are taking a break from swimming. When left to their own devices, your dog may be tempted to drink the water that is around them to satiate their thirst. Unfortunately, that could be pond or lake water that contains parasites or salt water that could lead to gastrointestinal distress and dehydration. To prevent this, make sure that you let your dog take frequent breaks to get a drink from a dog bowl full of fresh, clean water. It’s also best to discourage your dog from drinking the water they are swimming in, whether it is chlorinated pool water, ocean water, river water, or anything else.
- Never leave your dog unattended. If you were teaching a child to swim, would you ever walk away and leave them alone in the water? Of course not! The same caution should be exercised when teaching a dog to swim. Your dog will not be adept at navigating the water yet and could become exhausted quickly. You have to be your dog’s lifeguard in case they find themselves in any danger.
- Consider using a life jacket. While not all dogs will need a life jacket to learn how to swim, there are some dogs that are at a disadvantage in the water. If you want to prevent your dog from drowning, it’s highly recommended to take as many safety precautions as possible. For example, a short, stocky breed like a Bulldog will be much less buoyant and may benefit from the addition of a life jacket to help them float. If you are planning a long day on the water, a life jacket will help reduce the strain on your dog and allow them to swim around and float more comfortably over a longer period of time. Thankfully, there are many dog life jackets to choose from so you can find one that fits your pup perfectly and keeps them comfortable and safe while swimming.
- Don’t throw your dog in the water. Though the old adage may be sink or swim, when teaching your dog how to swim, you don’t ever want to throw them in the water as it may do the opposite of what you want. The sudden shock of being put into the water may create a negative association and fear of the water that can be hard to overcome once it is developed. Instead, take it slow and keep the association positive to foster a love of the water in your dog.
- Keep your dog leashed while he is first learning to swim. When your dog is first learning to swim, you want to make sure that you have as much control as possible to keep them safe and intervene quickly should they begin to become tired or panicked. By having your dog on a leash when you are giving them swim lessons, you can make sure that they don’t accidentally swim too far away and become confused about how to get back. Once they can swim more confidently and are consistently returning back to you when called, they are ready to be out on their own. Until then, a leash allows you to teach them good habits in the water and keep them safe.
Now that you’ve got the basics on how to keep your dog safe while you are teaching them to swim, let’s dive into the steps to take to get your pup swimming out in the water.
Steps for Teaching Your Dog to Swim
Teaching your dog to swim can seem like an overwhelming task, especially if they are unsure and uneasy around water, but by taking it slow and following a basic process, you can help your dog foster a love of water in no time. Below are the steps for teaching your dog how to swim.
- Show them how to enter and exit the water. The first thing you want to teach your dog is where the entry and exit to the water is so that they begin to understand how to leave the water if they feel stressed or overwhelmed. This also helps teach them from the onset how to swim safely and exit the water when they need to. Take it slow and allow your dog to understand that they can leave the water whenever they want.
- Practice walking into and out of shallow water with your dog. After you’ve established where the entry and exit are, the next step is to walk your dog into and out of shallow water. This will allow them to begin to get a feel for the water without feeling too overwhelmed or afraid. Walking out of the water periodically allows them to take a break and calm back down if they are feeling stressed.
- Praise your dog and reward him when he is in water. When you are teaching your dog to swim, you want to be able to reward him when he is reacting positively to the water to encourage good behavior. When your dog is comfortable swimming, give him a treat and some praise to build up his confidence. Be sure to only give him a few treats to avoid upsetting their stomach.
- As your dog’s confidence begins to increase, encourage wider loops into deeper water. As your dog becomes more comfortable with the water touching him, begin to slowly take them into deeper water while still periodically looping back to the shallow water. This allows them to gradually become used to the depth and the feeling of more water on his fur.
- If your dog becomes scared or uneasy, retreat back to shallower water until he is feeling more comfortable again. You want to make sure that your dog has a positive relationship with the water, which means avoiding negative experiences. If your dog becomes frightened or panicked while you are introducing them to the water, retreat back to the shallows or to land until he has calmed back down and are ready to try again.
- Once you are in water deep enough to paddle in, you can help your dog get the hang of paddling by providing support under their belly. Once your dog is comfortable in water that is deep enough to paddle, then you can help them learn good habits for how to swim. Some dogs may be tempted to swim using just their front legs, which can tire them out quickly. Instead, you want to reinforce good form while they are learning. To do so, gently place an arm under your dog’s belly to help provide them support. By doing this, you will also encourage your dog to use their rear legs in addition to their front legs as they paddle. Once you see they are continuously using all four legs to swim, you can let them swim freely.
Tips for Teaching a Dog to Swim
If you’ve been struggling with how to teach my dog to swim, there are a few tips to keep in mind to help keep the process safe and fun for both you and your dog.
Take it Slow
While some dogs may immediately love the water, others may not, and that’s okay! Take it slow when you are teaching him how to swim. It’s important to keep it a positive experience for him and to let him come around to it in his own time. Dogs can also become very tired from swimming, so be mindful of how long they have been practicing for so they don’t over-exert themselves. Before you know it, they will feel comfortable and confident in no time.
Bring a Friend
Some dogs may feel more inclined to go swimming if they see another dog that they are friends with doing it. If your dog has a friend or sibling who knows how to swim well, it can be helpful to bring them along to show your dog that swimming is a fun experience and they have nothing to be afraid of.
Armed with the knowledge of what to do, you and your dog will be out exploring the world of water around you in no time. Always remember these safety tips so you and your dog can have some fun in the sun!
- “How to Teach a Dog to Swim.” PetMD, 7 May 2019, www.petmd.com/dog/training/evr_dg_how_to_teach_your_dog_how_to_swim.
- “How to Teach Your Dog to Swim.” American Kennel Club, 1 Jan. 2009, www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-teach-your-dog-to-swim-and-love-it-too/.
- “Tips For Teaching Your Dog How To Swim.” GoPetFriendly.com, 29 Apr. 2018, blog.gopetfriendly.com/tips-for-teaching-your-dog-how-to-swim/.
- Coile, Caroline. “Dog Swimming Lessons: 11 Tips for Teaching Your Pup to Swim Safely.” Dogster, 3 Aug. 2018,