Teaching Your Dog to Enjoy Swimming


This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Gillian Hill, BVSc.

Teaching your dog to swim is not just a great way to have fun with your pet in summer; it can also keep them safe if they ever fall into a pool or other body of water. Swimming is also excellent non-weight bearing exercise, so for those dogs who are overweight, or suffering from arthritis, it's a very safe form of activity.

What Dogs Like to Swim?

Some breeds like the Border Collie, Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever can be impossible to keep out of the water! Other Retriever breeds along with Spaniels also tend to love the water.

Breeds such as the Leonberger and the Poodle, while not the typical breeds we may think of who love water, do tend to like swimming excursions too!

Can All Dogs Swim?

While certain breeds do love the water, other breeds and individual dogs may need a little more coaxing.

Some breeds simply weren't designed to be water wonders. Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, Boxers or Bulldogs can have difficulty due to the structure of their airways while Dachshunds and Bloodhounds simply have the wrong body shape. Take caution with these breeds in exposing them to deep water though any dog, regardless of breed or swimming skill, should always be supervised around water.

How to Teach a Dog to Swim

Dog Swimming Pool

To begin, we aren't even going to use water. Instead you'll need a kiddie pool or dog pool, treats, toys and your pooch! Get your dog used to being inside the empty pool and associate the object with positive thoughts by praising them, giving them treats and playing with them while in the pool.

Once your dog is happily settled in the pool, practice getting in and out of the pool on command. Use treats to reinforce the commands when they successfully step in and out of the pool. Once they have mastered this, you are ready to move to phase two!

NOTE: During training, limit each session to 3-5 minutes to prevent your dog from getting too fatigued or bored.

Best Pools for Dogs

An inflatable or shell kids pool can be a good option, though for more durable pools specific for dogs, the following products are recommended.

Add Water to the Pool

Fill the pool with water approximately 10 centimetres deep, if it's a cool day, consider adding warm water so that your dog doesn't get too cold. Direct your dog into the water using the commands previously learnt, you may need to use a treat or toy to entice them at first. Toss treats in the water so that your dog gets used to getting their snout wet - floating treats, such as Lamb Puffs or a paste on a spoon such as natural peanut butter or Kong Easy Treat Paste to tempt them into the water are best to begin with.

Once your dog is readily jumping in and out of the pool on command and happily fetching treats or toys in the water, add more water. Add water in increments of 5-10 centimetres and go through the same exercises as phase two.

If you've reached the capacity of your kiddie pool, it's time to move onto the real thing. Swimming pools are great except be careful of chlorine - it's best to put the treats away and use your dog's water toys as the incentive instead. Avoid going straight to the beach or other body of water with strong currents.

Wear swimming gear, you'll most likely be getting some splash time with your dog now! Give your dog the same command to jump or walk into the water as with the kiddie pool, you can throw your dog's toy in the water to give them a target. Alternatively you can jump in the pool first and hold out a treat that is just out of reach.

Once your dog jumps in the water, direct them immediately back to the steps or ramp where they can exit the pool. Depending on your dog's enthusiasm, you can repeat this a couple of times before finishing the session.

Dog Swim Vests

A doggy life jacket is a great tool while learning to swim as it allows you to easily manipulate your dog's direction and is their support as they learn how to use their paws in water.

Shop All Life Jackets Now

Learning to Swim

Once your pooch is comfortable with jumping into the pool and knows how to get out, you can do some swimming lessons! Teaching your dog how to turn in water is the next step. When you are both in the pool, use a treat or toy, bring it close to your dog's face and slowly move it past the side of their face. This is easiest if you are able to stand and walk around your dog.

Make sure you let your dog get the treat or toy once they turn, first at 90 degrees, then 180 and 360. Remember to keep training sessions to 3-5 minutes to prevent your dog from fatiguing and panicking. Practice turning in both directions, this is a huge part of swimming and a lot of canines don't properly learn this skill.

Tips to remember

Keep sessions short to prevent fatigue in your dog and don't force them to enter the water, gradually lead them in using positive reinforcement. Throwing your dog in the water is not only dangerous, they will likely develop a negative association to the water.

Your pet should be supervised at all times when swimming, make sure your pool is properly secured so your dog cannot access it at whim. Consider investing in a ramp for your pool that allows your pet to get out in the event they do fall in. And lastly, don't let your pet drink chlorinated water!

Further Reading

How To Choose A Dog Breed That's Right For You

Premium Pet Food: Is it Worth it?

How to stop your dog from inappropriate chewing

Managing Separation Anxiety in Pets

Essential Dog Walking Tips