10 Tips For Teaching Your Dog To Swim (Or At Least To Stay Afloat!)

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All dogs go to heaven, obviously. But not all dogs can swim. For some pups, swimming is so much a part of their nature that they start paddling their legs if you hold them over a kiddie pool (though that’s not recommended). With other canines, well, it seems they have water confused with molten lava.

Even if water won’t be a big part of your dog’s life, all dogs should know how to swim in case of emergencies. With these tips, you can ensure that your water-loving dog stays safe around water and that your water-averse pup can be safe if push comes to shove. Try these 10 tips for teaching dogs to swim and be safe in the water:

1. Throw a stick, not your dog

You wouldn’t throw a child into the water without teaching them to swim, and while a dog may survive a sudden dunking, she may very well be traumatized from being pushed in the water too quickly. The idea is to introduce your dog to swimming slowly so that she learns to enjoy it on her own. Trying throwing a toy into shallow water, and then throwing farther and farther as your dog feels comfortable. You can also wade in with your dog so she has you by her side. The idea is to get your dog comfortable with the water and have her associate water with fun.

2. Know that your dog may not be meant for water

Some dogs won’t be able to swim. Heavy, short-legged dogs may not be able to stay afloat—think bulldogs and Basset Hounds. Lean dogs may also have trouble swimming because they don’t have enough body fat to provide buoyancy—think breeds like greyhounds and dobermans. Be sure to ease your dog in and watch him carefully so that you can see if he is having trouble or simply not enjoying himself.

If a dog has to work too hard to keep their head above water, swimming probably won’t be enjoyable or safe.

3. Consider a Life jacket

Yes, dog life jackets exist, and just like canine shoes, dogs can get used to wearing them (especially if bribed). Life jackets can be used to make swimming a safe and more pleasant experience for older or heavier dogs, and they should always be used on boats or in dangerous water. If a dog falls off a boat, he can’t call for help and may not know which direction to swim for shore. If your adventurous pup goes with you to the ocean or any water with strong currents, he should always wear a canine life vest. It will keep your dog safe, and he’ll look adorable!

Photo: Courtesy Shannell Keck

Photo: Courtesy Shannell Keck

4. Make your exit strategy

If you have a poolside pup, it’s important to teach your dog how to get out of the water in case she should fall in by accident (if she gets dizzy after chasing her tail or something). Ideally, a pool would be fenced off, but at least make sure your dog knows where the stairs are if she finds herself in the pool by accident. A nervous dog may panic and not know how to get out and keep struggling at the side. If she’s not strong enough to pull herself up (and it’s hard when you don’t have hands), she could tire and drown.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.