How to Introduce Your Dog to Water and Teach it to Swim
Dogs, just like people, need to learn how to swim before they can be trusted near water. Even the most water-loving breeds require gentle introductions to water and swimming, and tips for safely introducing your dog to water and teaching him or her how to swim will be discussed.
Choose a Quiet Area
When introducing your dog to water for the first time, choose a quiet and distraction-free area. It is important that this first introduction is positive, and there are no loud noises or other potentially scary surroundings that could make your dog associate swimming with fear. Start with a shallow area of clear, calm water that will not be frightening to a pet.
Never Force your Dog into Water
The “old school” way of teaching a dog to swim was to toss the animal into a pond and force him or her to swim to safety. Not only is this method cruel, but it can be extremely dangerous as well. More often than not, dogs that are introduced to water in this manner will become fearful of open water in the future. Also avoid tugging on your dog’s leash to force him or her into shallow water, or yelling at your dog for being afraid. Instead, gently coax your dog and continue the socialization process until your pet is comfortable with these surroundings.
Make Learning to Swim Fun
Whenever you are teaching your dog a new skill, it is important to make the experience as fun and enjoyable as possible. Do not expect too much from your pet too soon. For instance, during your first introduction session, simply give your dog a treat and plenty of verbal praise if he or she shows any interest in water. Keep sessions short, and always end on a positive note. For instance, engage your dog in a fun game of tug of war in shallow water before heading home.
Lead by Example
If your dog is unsure about getting his or her paws wet, go into the water first. Oftentimes, if dogs see another animal or a person they trust doing something scary, they will be less fearful. Attach a long leash to your pet (never to a choke chain or prong collar) and wade into shallow water. Call for your dog to follow, but do not force him or her into the water. Your dog will likely follow you, but if he or she does not, continue gently coaxing your pet and providing praise.
Equip your Dog with a Life Jacket
Finally, make sure your dog is safe in the water. Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, a life jacket can be the difference between life and death if your dog grows tired of swimming and is unable to safely exit the pool, pond, or lake. When in open water, rip tides and currents can quickly sweep a small dog away. Look for a life jacket that is easy to use and will not hinder your dog’s natural movement.