Teaching your dog to swim

Teaching Your Dog to Swim

12 year old “Wolf” enjoys swimming and it is great therapy for his weakening back legs.

Teaching your dog to swim is a great idea, not only for its enjoyment and exercise but also for safety. Just like people, pets can drown in the sea, lakes and pools. When playing near a pool it can accidently get knocked into the water or become tired quickly while swimming.

Not all dogs can swim and some are afraid of water so great care must be taken to carefully introduce a dog to the water and be very sure he knows how to get out when he has had enough. Most dogs cannot climb out the side of a pool or make use of a ladder.

Among the dogs that swim naturally and gladly are water spaniels, setters, retrievers, akitas and poodles amongst others. Other breeds are not as water-friendly and have to be taught to swim, in some cases with great difficulty. Heavy dogs with short legs are not built for swimming.

Sadly, a while back, “Monty” my neighbour’s young bulldog drowned after having fallen in their swimming pool. According to petMED some breeds (like bulldogs) are completely unable to swim, and will literally sink to the bottom if thrown into the water. Having a short or no tail also makes it more difficult to stay afloat.

Dogs with flat noses have a hard time breathing in water. Breeds that do not swim well include: Basset Hounds, Bulldogs, Corgis, Dachshunds, Greyhounds, Pugs, Scottish and Boston Terriers. Without the bright orange canine flotation devices, found in pet shops, they will drown.

Other dogs like the Maltese, which are capable swimmers, but are susceptible to rheumatism, arthritis and chills that can be worsened if taken swimming should perhaps not be encouraged if they do not want to swim.

Taking a puppy to the beach for the first time usually finds them not keen to enter the water. Having another dog happily playing and swimming will encourage the pup to get its feet wet. The movement and noise of the sea makes them unsure at first. If your pup is hesitant, take a break and try again later. Never pick up a puppy and try to get it swimming while it is struggling. This will only increase its anxiety and will have the opposite effect to what you are aiming for.

When teaching your dog to swim for the first time you want to avoid bad experiences. Make sure the water is not too cold, and never push or throw your dog into the water. Start in shallow water with your dog, preferably, on leash where you too can enter the water. Wade in a few steps and encourage your dog to follow with some tasty treats. Reward him when he steps into the water, even if he only gets his toes wet.

Try starting with an empty baby pool in your yard. Get your dog comfortable stepping in while the pool is empty before slowly adding water. Reward your dog for getting in and soon he’ll be happy to jump in every chance he gets.

Swimming pool

To introduce your dog to a swimming pool you need to be prepared to get wet. Enter the pool and call with a happy voice while floating a ball near the shallow top step and coax the pup to get it. This may take some time before he will allow you to touch him while in the shallow end.

The dog’s swimming stroke is like his walking movement, known as doggy paddle. Once he allows you to touch him and play around you can attempt to guide him deeper with your hand under his chest to get the feel of the water.

Most dog swimming schools make use of leash pressure as an easy way to guide the dog into the shallow end or onto the steps or down a ramp and into the water.

The first few sessions should be kept short and aimed at teaching the dog the way out of the pool. The dog must know where the steps are and be guided to only use the steps to get out. That is why it is so important to actually be in the pool when the pup is learning to use it. Once he can swim and is in deeper water, turn him around to face the steps and let him swim out on his own. Leash pressure can best be used to guide the dog to the steps.

Wolf” knows where the steps are!

If he has been swimming in salt water, rinse off his coat with fresh water. Salt water dries out the hair and can cause itching and scratching. The same applies for chlorinated water because chlorine also dries the coat and can make a dog sick if he licks himself.

Older dogs tire more quickly, even if they are good swimmers. When dogs become exhausted, swimming and keeping the head above water becomes more difficult.

Do not allow your pet to swim in stagnant water or algae, and make sure your dog does not drink the water. This applies particularly for the dangerous blue-green algae. If it is not safe for people it is not safe for dogs.

A well-fitting life vest is important in the ocean because pets can easily be pulled under by strong tides and currents. Drinking salt water can make a dog sick so after a swim offer your dog some clean water.

Note: For safety, never allow your dog to swim unattended!