Teaching puppies to swim

Not all dogs are built for swimming, in particular the stockier built dogs like bulldogs, pugs, French bulldogs, and corgis will have difficulties with swimming due to their shape and are best just splashing around and cooling off in shallow water and in life jackets if you intend to take them out in a boat. But for other breeds, swimming can be a fun activity that they enjoy and they can become good swimmers in a short space of time. Most dogs won’t instinctively know how to swim so they need a careful introduction to swimming. It’s suggested that puppies need to be a minimum of 3-4 months old before you start and it’s important to pick the right place and day to start as otherwise a bad experience could put them off for life. Here are some tips on how to teach your puppy:

  • Start by introducing him somewhere with safe shallow water, preferably by a gentle stream (as he’s likely to try drinking the water) or the side of a shallow lake (with no algae). Avoid chlorinated swimming pools as it’s very difficult for dogs to get out of these and the chlorine can affect their coats. Plan to wade in with him and throw a soft floating ball around so he gets used to moving about in the water and enjoying the game.
  • If you have an over-enthusiastic pup, keep him on a long lead so he can’t go too far away and get into deeper water, if you keep calling him back for a treat or play with the ball this should help reinforce a recall for times when you need it.
  • Supervise him the whole time he’s in the water, even a short distraction could mean he gets into difficulty.
  • After a few sessions of paddling and when you think he’s ready for proper swimming, gradually take him into slightly deeper water until he’s paddling to stay afloat, be prepared to give him support under his stomach if he needs it and keep the session short so he doesn’t tire or panic.
  • Most dogs love it if you swim with them, so be prepared to get in with him on a few occasions.
  • If you’re not feeling confident about teaching him to swim, why not see if there are any local dog swimming classes, or alternatively you can ask your local dog training centre if they run any sessions or talk through different methods to try.
  • If he doesn’t look happy about the water and is reluctant to even paddle, then don’t force him in – swimming should be a positive, fun thing for dogs to do.
  • With some giant breeds like Newfoundlands for example, local breed clubs will run puppy swimming lessons where you can get expert help and advice as well as a manned rescue boat for any puppies that get into difficulty.

After the swim, be prepared for a wet, exhausted puppy. Rinsing  off with fresh water is a good idea, especially if he’s been in saltwater. All dogs love to shake the wetness out, so try and keep away from any families also enjoying the spot. Give him a quick towel dry, drink of water and rest before heading back after his swimming session.


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