Can you teach a dog to swim?

Labrador RetrieverAssuming the dog breed is physically able to swim – not all dogs can swim – how do they learn to do so?

Dogs will instinctively paddle when they enter water. Some dogs love water at first sight, plunge in, and might not want to come out again. Others are reluctant and even scared.

If your dog doesn’t take to swimming immediately, here are some tips that might help them along:

  • Encourage the dog by going out in the water yourself and calling for them. If they follow you, reward with praise.
  • If your dog likes to play fetch, they might follow a floating toy or tennis ball into the water. Start at a shallow depth and go gradually deeper.
  • Many dogs want to join in if they see people or other dogs having fun in the water.

As with all training it is important to stay calm. Some dogs will never like water. We might feel that they’re missing out, but should still respect it.

If your dog turns out to love swimming, it is still up to you to think of safety. Older dogs and puppies tire quickly, and they often don’t realize how tired they are until it’s too late to turn back. Watch out for strong currents and underwater debris that can ensnare the dog.

Many dogs who don’t like water still enjoy an outing to the beach. Non-swimmers should wear a life vest. This is particularly important for breeds such as Bulldogs who are physically unable to swim. If the sand is hot, protect the sensitive paws. Make sure there’s access to shade and cool drinking water, and be attentive for signs of heat stroke.

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