How to Safely Teach Your Dog to Swim

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As the temperature climbs, you're probably on the hunt for ways to keep yourself and your four-legged friend cool. You know nothing refreshes you quite like a dip in the water, but you've never gone swimming with your dog before — you're not even sure whether they know how to swim! Luckily, teaching a dog to swim isn't too difficult. Here's everything you need to know to be your dog's summer swim coach.

Is Your Dog a Natural Swimmer?

Before you rush into the pool with your pooch, you'll want to do some research. Start by learning as much as you can about what genetics predict about your dog's relationship to the water. Read up on their breed (or combination of breeds) to find out the likelihood they'll take to the water. Some breeds are more eager to swim than others for a variety of reasons, ranging from size to build to temperament.

Play dog in the water, beautiful Newfoundland catching a stick from the water.

Some breeds, such as Labrador retrievers and Newfoundlands, are as comfortable in the water as on land. These dogs were bred for working in water, so they're ideal swimming companions. Other breeds, however, such as dachshunds and Scottish terriers, are weaker swimmers by nature. Brachycephalic dogs, such as pugs, are also typically unable to swim, says the ASPCA.

How to Teach Your Dog to Swim

You don't want to start your dog off in deep or dangerous water. Any body of water with little to no current and plenty of shallows, like a quiet lake, is a great place to start teaching a dog to swim. However, your best bet is to begin with a kiddie pool.

Follow these steps to get your dog swimming:

  1. Safety first: Before starting swimming lessons, find a life vest that secures your dog but doesn't constrict their movement. Get them used to wearing it.
  2. Encourage exploration: Set an empty kiddie pool outside. Guide your dog (with a life vest on) over to the pool, so they can poke around. Praise them for investigating the pool, encourage them to enter and reward them for going in. Keep practicing this. It could take some time!
  3. Just add water: Add warm water to the pool — not too much, just enough to allow one or two dog toys to float. Encourage your dog to enter the pool. Continue to practice this, adding more water each time, so they can gain confidence in deeper water.
  4. Consider flotation devices: As you're getting your dog comfortable to the water, consider rafts or lily pads that are able to hold your dogs weight. This helps keep them on top of the water, but get used to floating.

Once your dog is comfortable, you're ready to practice swimming! Be sure to head somewhere safe where you can quickly bring them ashore if they get overwhelmed or tired. Also, make sure to check any laws or restrictions for public areas. Some beaches and lakes don't allow dogs, and one of the quickest ways to ruin your fun day in the sun is to get turned away upon arriving with your pup.

Keep in mind that not all dogs love water. Pay attention to their reaction — if they clearly don't like it, then they're not meant to be your swimming buddy. Don't force your dog to swim if they don't want to.

Be Careful When Swimming With Dogs

If you've decided to join in on the fun and swim with your dog, make sure to use caution. Be careful of your dogs nails — a dog doing the doggy-paddle that swims up to you can easily unintentionally scratch you. Also, if you're planning on swimming with a larger dog, make sure that you always follow recommended swimming safety guidelines, like using appropriate floatation devices in deeper waters. A larger dog that wants to cuddle in the water can make it more difficult for you to swim, putting your own health at risk.

Get Splashing

The benefits of swimming with your dog are well worth the time it takes to teach them. Once your pooch has mastered the doggy paddle, you can try new activities with your water-loving pup, whether you're at the beach or by a pool. With a little patience and practice, your best (pet) friend will be ready for some splashy summer fun.

If teaching your dog to swim still seems overwhelming, professional swimming lessons are always an option. Dog spas, groomers, pet supply stores and veterinarians may be able to help you identify resources in your area. Talk to your vet if you have any questions or concerns about teaching your dog to swim. When in doubt, the kiddie pool is always an option for helping your dog cool off during a hot summer day.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at

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