Swimming Lessons For Dogs - 9 Helpful Tips

by Pool Builders on 06-06-2011 in Articles

Most people believe that all dogs have an innate ability to swim. This is true for most dogs in the wild, but some breeds of domestic dogs are actually adverse to water. If they are not introduced to it early enough a dog can become frightened of water. No matter what the situation these ten tips can help you teach your dog to love the water.

1. Understand that your dog needs to be introduced to something before they can learn to like it. How eager were you to ride a bike the first time you tried? There was probably some trepidation and fear. The same goes for your dog. If they have never been near water it is going to take some time for them to get use to it. A good way to get started is to get a plastic baby pool and let your dog get wet in it. Place a favorite toy or piece of hot dog in the pool and let him retrieve it. You may have to put their feet in it but let them get back out if they want to.

2. Your dog feels your energy so if you are nervous about the water your dog will be too. When I owned my canine rehab pool dog owners would come in all jittery stating, "my dog hates the water." I could clearly see the dog was unsure about the situation. That is why I always take the leash when they come in the door. Just getting a positive energy going through the leash was enough to calm the dog down. Once I was working with the dog things moved along a lot more smoothly. Dogs are very in tuned to energy and they feel what you are feeling. If you are confident swimming will be fun, your dog will too.

3. Always use a life vest when teaching your dog to swim. A life vest helps both of you. It will make your dog feel more secure and it gives you a handle to hang onto, which makes maneuvering the dog easier.

4. You may have to hold your dog the first time you take them in the pool. This is not as hard as it sounds even for a big dog, although you will need help (I held a 245lb dog on my lap once) it can be done. Sit at the edge of the pool, near the stairs. Have your friend help you sit your dog across your lap. Your dog's two front legs should be on one of your legs and his two back legs are on the other. If your dog is big the further you move your legs apart the harder it is for them to move. Work your way into the pool one step at a time. Your dog will get lighter the further into the water you get. At about the second step down hold your dog and let them feel your calm energy. Your dog will give you signs that he is relaxing. He will lick his lips and pant. When your dog's pant becomes slow and even you are ready to move on.

Horror Story: "I had a client bring her dog into my spa because of a bad knee and he needed rehab. The client was sure her dog wouldn't swim because of his past experience. At three months old "a trainer" threw this poor puppy into a pool. The trainer told my client the puppy would eventually start to swim because he didn't want to drown. After a few seconds of watching her poor pup thrash around in the water and going under numerous times my client jumped in the water to rescued her dog."

5. I was flabbergasted that anyone no less a trainer could be so irresponsible. NEVER NEVER throw a dog in the water to teach them to swim! Sometimes the damage is irreversible and it is beyond cruel. Dogs can learn to love swimming just like they learn to love other forms of play, but you need patience and above all kindness.

6. When you think your dog is ready to move on let your dog stand on a step, in belly deep water. Using the life vest handle stand with your dog and let them get use to their environment. Feeding them treats in this position helps them connect the water with good things. If they try to get out of the pool lead them the other way and make them swim. Don't let go, but lead them around the low end of the pool one time and back to the step. At the same time tell them to "find their step." This gets them use to the idea that there is a safe place in the pool. Be sure to reward them with lots of treats and hugs. Repeat this step a few times. Always repeat, "find your step", then give them a treat. By telling them to find the step they also learn where it is safe and how to get out of the pool.

7. If you are at a lake your dog really needs a life vest. Once the life vest is correctly put on slowly guide the dog into the water. Give them treats each step so they connect the water with good things. Take your cupped hand and pour water over the dog's back. Get your hand wet and pet the dog's muzzle, so they can see the water isn't dangerous.

8. As the water gets deeper your dog will get lighter. Pick the dog up and bring them further into the water. Let them dog paddle for about thirty seconds then bring them back where they can stand. Do this a few times. If the dog seems to like it, continue. If he is fighting you let him get out of the water and try again the next day. The first lesson should last about twenty minutes. Never force your dog to swim.

9. The ocean can be scary for a dog since the waves tend to knock them off their feet. Bring the dog just to where the waves touch the beach. Let them get their feet wet and give them treats. Always go in the water with your dog for the first time and be sure he is wearing a life vest. Treat your dog with every step they take at least at first. After the dog has gotten his feet wet lift him by the handle on the life vest and carry him a little further into the water. Let him paddle back to where he can stand. Try this a few times and then let him go. He may paddle back to shore but that is okay. He is getting use to using his swimming feet. A favorite toy can sometimes coax your dog into the water and before long you will be playing a fun game of catch in the surf.

Not every dog has an inclination to water, but every dog can learn not to fear it. The key is taking your time and being patient. There are some dogs that really don't like water and would prefer never to swim. If you have one of these types please don't force them. There are plenty of other activities that are equally as rewarding for the both of you.

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