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Enrichment Lessons: 5 Steps to Teach Your Dog to Swim

by Dennis ODonnell on April 29, 2020

Despite the pervasiveness of the myth, not all dogs can swim.

For those who do enjoy swimming, it can be an enriching activity that lets them express an instinct–especially for dogs born to retrieve from the water–and it can just be plain-old fun!

Since not all dogs know how to swim, and not all dogs are comfortable swimming from the get-go, here are five simple steps to get started.

Gauge your dog’s interest: Allow her to approach the water on her own terms. Never force your pup in. Instead, lead her to the water’s edge, giving praise and encouragement along the way. Of course, some dogs may dive in paws first! But, let her decide.

Consider support: A life jacket can go a long way toward helping your dog feel more secure–and buoyant–when swimming is still new. If your dog is swimming in open water, a life jacket is a non-negotiable.

Up the interest level: Offering treats near the water’s edge can be a great way to create positive associations about water and swimming for a dog that may be hesitant. Even tossing treats into the shallow end may encourage your pup to dip a toe or a nose into the water, gaining confidence as she goes.

Work slowly: If your dog seems interested but either unsure or nervous, teach your pup to swim just like you would a kiddo new to the water. Keep a hand under her belly. Show her where to get in and out safely. Encourage and praise along the way, and stop the session before she’s too tired.

Finally, follow the“pet-iquette” rules: Whether you’re at a pool, beach, lake, pond or Slip ‘N Slide, clean up after your pet. If it’s an on-leash area, keep your dog on leash. If it’s a no-dogs-allowed area, don’t take your dog. Dogs aren’t allowed in many public swimming areas because of past transgressions. Make sure you and your dog are ambassadors for pet-friendly swimming spots!

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