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Teach Your Dog How to Swim

If you own a backyard pool and a dog, one of the most important things you can do to ensure your pet's safety is to teach him or her how to swim. Before embarking on water activity with your dog, however, it’s important to ask yourself: Is my dog in good health, and does he like water? Assessing these questions early on will help you during the training process.

You can tell whether or not your dog likes water just through simple observation. For example, whenever my dog Pumpkin (a Terrier mix) sees water, he turns away and heads in the opposite direction. As his best friend, his actions tell me he that doesn’t like water. However, if you have a dog that loves running through puddles, running through water hoses, and splashing around in the tub, you’ve got yourself a water loving animal.

Can all dogs swim? Well, while dogs will naturally doggy paddle when they are in the water, it doesn’t mean they like the water or can stay afloat for a period of time. Some dog breeds (like the bulldog) will sink to the bottom almost immediately and should never be near deep water. For other dog breeds, the process will require training and strength building to ensure the dog has the ability to stay above water.

Doggy Paddle Rules & Techniques

Start by showing your dog around the pool. Using a small child’s pool to get your dog familiar with water is a great way to start the training process. While holding your dog on a leash, toss a special toy into the water. If he is reluctant to go after it, raise the stakes and lure your dog through the water with a treat. It’s important that you place the treat by the nose, and praise and reward your dog for any attempt to step into the water. If you’re trying to teach a small dog how to swim and he isn’t able to get over the sidewall, provide a way for the dog to get out of the pool.

Safety First. Believe it or not, even Michael Phelps tires out, so don’t be overconfident that your pet can handle anything in the water. That being said, consider using a life jacket to help reluctant swimmers. It will give your dog the ability to float and create a bridge to test his skills in the water. Familiarize your dog with the jacket in short sessions over the course of weeks, and don’t forget to offer treats for putting it on.

If you see your dog struggling at first, remain calm. Your anxiety will only make him more agitated, which could result in a dog bite injury. If that happens and it’s your fault, then lawyers and insurance companies could have a field day with the case. The last thing you’d want during the training process if for your best friend to bite someone.

Partner up. Working with a partner is never a bad idea for a project, especially when it comes to learning how to swim. Staying afloat is no easy task—it’s tiring and requires you to use just about every muscle in your body. Having another partner or a friendly dog, however, who loves the water can encourage your dog to relax and venture further out into the open. This will help gain more confidence with the other animals, reassuring them that they are in a safe environment.

The perfect training environment. Begin with a quiet area of a lake, river or pool, and keep your dog leashed at all times in case he gets in trouble and needs help getting out of the water. Also try to keep your dog from swimming too far. Remember, the leash should not come off unless the dog is ready to swim without assistance and he knows to return to you when called.

If you have a toy breed, puppy, or small dog:

  • Go in the water with your pet and cradle him under his stomach while you assist him in the water.
  • Dogs that only use their front legs will burn too much energy and may sink.
  • Their natural head position should be relaxed, above water, and slightly forward.
  • If they only paddle with their front legs, try holding their rear ends up to assist them.

Even if your dog swims just as well as an Olympic athlete, you should never leave him unattended in the water, not even for a minute. It’s also a terrible idea to toss your dog into the water for his first swim thinking he will float. This will only frighten him to the point of never wanting to swim again and could result in him no longer trusting you.

Learn how to resuscitate your animal. Just like parents should learn CPR, dog owners who spend a lot of time in or near water should learn mouth-to-nose resuscitation. As we all know, a catastrophe can happen in seconds, and you only have a very small window of opportunity to save a life. Proper training in mouth-to-nose resuscitation, as well as effective chest compression techniques for an animal during a life threatening experience can make the difference between life and death. Even if the dog continues breathing on his own, it’s still in your best interest to take him to the veterinarian.

Teaching your dog how to swim is a terrific way to enjoy the outdoors together. With positive reinforcement, a life vest, and patience, you can make it a fun and safe experience for everyone around you. The success you build together will only make the relationship that much stronger.

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Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my article. I would like to know, however, what strategies worked for you when you tried to train your dog. Or did it work at all? I will be checking for comments, so feel free to express your thoughts on today’s topic.

Cody Hill loves exploring nature, and finds any excuse to get out and enjoy a good game of baseball. If you can’t find him online, you might be able to catch him walking his dog, or cheering on the Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @Cody_Hill777.


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