Beach Time: Teaching your Dog How to Swim
A lot of people believe that dogs are natural born swimmers. After all, you might have heard of “doggy paddle”, a swimming style that comes from imitating the way dogs paddle their paws to stay afloat.
But the truth is, just like our 2-legged kids, most dogs need to be trained to harness their innate instinct for swimming. A lot of dogs simply thrash their front paws around which can be tiresome. Some breeds such as bulldogs or pugs find swimming even more difficult with their small necks struggling to keep their head above water. So it’s up to us, as pet parents, to teach them how to make their whole bodies float and swim so they can enjoy the water, get some exercise, and not be afraid to get their paws wet.
However, you don’t need to be worried. It’s quite easy to train dogs to swim, perhaps even easier than it is to train kids! Sure, your dog might resent you and pout for a little while, but pull through, have fun, be patient, and your dog will be grateful for it, especially on those scorching Summer days.
Some DOs and DON’Ts
Lead the way: You might already know this, but dogs are insanely intuitive and read your body language. If you’re anxious they will be too. So go for the swimming lessons properly prepared to get wet yourself. Put on your swimwear and take off your shoes. When you’re in the water, be confident and your dog will learn to be confident as well. If you run from every wave coming towards you, your dog will follow suit.
Patience goes a long way: You can’t be impatient with this. Some dogs learn to swim almost immediately and some are slow learners. Don’t try to speed up the process by pulling and pushing your dog to do something it doesn’t want to.
Keep your eyes open: First impressions are hard to shake off. As such, make sure that your dog doesn’t have a terrible experience to start with. For example, some swimming pools are so clear and reflective that they look like hard ground. Your dog might run to it and accidentally find itself drowning. That will be a pretty harrowing experience to shake off.
Use a Leash and a Life Jacket: Life jackets can be purchased at most pet stores for as little as $50. Speak with the sales assistant to help you pick the right size taking into consideration your dog’s length, body, and neck girth. Here’s a handy guide to get you started. Life jackets can be bulky, especially for those that aren’t used to getting dressed up, so let them wear it around the house to familiarize them with it.
Don't forget to slip, slop, slap: Like you, your dog is also prone to sunburn on their exposed skin, such as their nose. You’re more than likely going to be teaching your dog to swim outside so make sure you have some sunscreen on hand. But be sure to check with your veterinarian on what they’d recommend. Canstar recently published an article on sunscreens safe for pets which you can read here.
Location is key: You need to find the perfect spot to teach your dog swimming. It’s ideal to do this at shallow lakes, or a pond, or the beach. You can even start with a kid paddling pool in the backyard to get them accustomed to the water. Avoid water bodies with currents like rivers and always be sure to read the signs to ensure 4 legged swimmers are permitted.
Familiarize your dog with the Environment: Take some time to show your dog around the perimeter of the pool or beach. If there are any steps or ramps, guide them to climb up and down them several times so they can become accustomed to them and feel comfortable while also ensuring there’s no slippery surfaces.
Do your Research: Different dog breeds respond differently to water and swimming. You need to understand your own dog’s strengths and weaknesses so you can best understand how to train them.
Pawsitive Reinforcement: Like any dog training, positive reinforcement is key. Start off on the shallow side where they can still touch the ground. Toss a ball over to the shallow end of the beach and allow your dog to retrieve it. Keep repeating the exercise, tossing the ball just a little further. Every time your dog retrieves the ball, give it a little treat.
Carry your Dog: Once your dog is beyond the point wherein it can simply stand, you’ll have to start carrying your dog further. Wade into the water till you’re waist deep. Now hold on to your dog’s underbelly and place it on the water. They should naturally want to move their legs as a reaction – much like running.
Let it Start Paddling: Hold on to the dog’s underbelly for support. However, don’t do anything else. Allow your dog to start paddling or thrashing around on its own. Eventually, it will get familiar with the necessary rhythm.
Release: Let go of your dog once it seems confident, and start walking back towards the shore. Your dog will likely seem panicked and it will start following you. Keep watch of your dog from the corner of your eye. If you find that it’s struggling too much, carry it back to the shore.
Take Breaks: If your dog failed in the previous attempt take a break. Give a small treat to your dog. Sessions only need to be 3-5 minutes long. Then go back into the water and repeat the previous steps until your dog follows you on its own.
Safety First: Once your dog has taken like a duck to water still practice safety as even the best swimmers can find themselves in trouble. If you’ve got a pool in your backyard always keep the gate closed, and if you’re at the local beach be sure to keep a watchful eye on your dog.
If you follow these simple methods, your dog will be a pro swimmer in no time, and you’ll be able to enjoy all those beach holidays splashing around in the water with your pooch!