Life in the Shallow End: Teaching Dogs How to Swim

Updated On: Tuesday, August 15, 2023 16:33:38 PM America/Los_Angeles

Whether you have a pup just itching to dash into the lake or just want to make sure your fur baby will be safe if they fall into the pool, swim training can be an important part of a dog’s life. Learn how to teach your dog to swim below.

Photo by Murilo Viviani

Can All Dogs Swim?

Some canines breeds are magnetically drawn to water, while others may seem downright afraid to even step near a puddle. Though not all dogs are natural born swimmers–especially breeds with short legs like Dachshunds–they can at least be trained to maneuver in water safely.  

That being said, making sure your doggo is fully prepared before launching into the river is essential. Here are a couple of important notes:

  • Life jackets: A dog life jacket is a must for canines learning how to swim. A brightly colored jacket with a handle is advised, just in case your doggo has trouble staying afloat. A loud color makes it easy to spot a dog and a handle lets you either guide or pull a dog out of the water if needed. 
  • Weather: There’s nothing like a cool swim when the sun is out. But appearances can be deceiving. Check the water temp with your hand before letting your dog hop in. The American Kennel Club recommends that dogs only go swimming when the water plus air temperatures equal at least 100° F.
  • Water and potty breaks: Provide fresh water before swimming so your dog isn’t tempted to spend their time in the water drinking instead of playing. And then, take them for a potty break. Don’t be a party pooper! Make sure your pooch uses the dog bathroom before heading into the water. Keep water free of pet waste by making a pit stop at the pet potty or a pee pad prior to swimming. 

Where to Take Your Dog Swimming

A pool is the ideal place for dogs to learn how to swim, because it lets you control the situation as much as possible. There are no dizzying distractions like at the local lake during summer, and there are no scary currents like at the beach. But since not everyone has the luxury of a private pool for doggie swimming lessons, your furry one may have to learn how to swim outdoors. If that’s the case, select a still body of water like a pond or lake rather than an ocean or a river, which has currents that can quickly become dangerous for inexperienced swimmers. In either case, keep beginning sessions to roughly 10 minutes so that it isn’t overwhelming and remains an enjoyable experience. 

How Do You Teach a Dog to Swim?

Lead a dog gently into the shallow end of the pool. Even better if there are steps they can stand on while getting used to being in the water. For a nervous dog, you might even pause at this point to just hang out and provide some encouraging words and pets. 

Once they seem acclimated to the water, walk around in the water while carrying your pup. This will get them used to the idea of moving around in the water and get a better sense of how water works and how one should move through it. You might even notice a paw paddle already!

Repeat the above steps until a dog clearly demonstrates a willingness to swim around. Increased paw movement, a wagging tail, or attempts to move into the water on their own without your guidance are all cues that might mean they’re ready to test the waters independently. To give it a test run, try letting them “swim” on their own while you loosely hold onto the handle of the life jacket. And finally, don’t forget–just as you might with potty training, a good training sesh in the pool deserves some treats and praise!