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How to Teach a Dog to Swim

Teaching a dog to swim can seem daunting, but we've got tips from an expert to make it a little bit easier!

Written by Lauren Ogg
 
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Photo Credit: juanngomezz
 
One of the best parts of heading out to the cabin for the weekend is the promise of being on the water. However, there’s no worse feeling than heading out into the lake, looking back up at the cabin, and seeing your precious pup’s nose pressed against the window, watching you have fun on the water.

In order to have the cabin weekend of your dreams, teaching your dog to swim is essential. That way, you can spend as much time as you’d like on the water and not feel guilty about leaving the dog behind.

Teaching your dog to swim doesn’t have to be difficult, and to help you out, we’ve talked with an expert.

Dan McCarthy is the owner and head trainer of Triumphant Canine Dog Training, based in Centennial, Colorado. He is IACP, AKC, and APDT certified, and boasts a list of gleaming reviews from clients whose dogs have benefited from his training style. His training philosophy is coined as attention-control-confidence, and he applies this philosophy when teaching a dog to swim.

We’ve got all the details below, and with a little patience, some treats and a good life jacket, your pup will be swimming in no time!

First Steps in Teaching Your Dog to Swim

McCarthy states that the most important part of getting your dog in the water is the conditioning stage. Dogs often have fear based reactions to new stimuli, and water is a new stimulus that many dogs fear. In order to create a good relationship with water, the conditioning step is essential. If not done correctly, the dog may associate fear with water and refuse to get in the water.

Please note: McCarthy strongly recommends never simply pushing your dog in the water in hopes that it will get them used to it. This is traumatizing for the dog and creates a negative association.

To begin the conditioning process, McCarthy laid out some guidelines. Dogs are highly food motivated, making treats essential to this process. Make sure to have treats at the ready when you begin introducing water.

See also Dogs at the Cabin

The lake is not necessarily the best place to start, as it’s too deep for a first time swimmer. Instead, McCarthy recommends beginning with something as simple as rain, sprinklers, or a shallow baby pool. This allows the dog to quite literally get their feet wet before moving on to a deeper body of water.

McCarthy does recognize the benefit of starting early with your dog. At around six months, they are ready to start the introduction process, but only with the simple examples listed above. Avoiding any type of negative association is essential to getting your dog out on the water in the future!

However, if you’ve got an older pup who you want to teach, McCarthy denounces the myth that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.". That’s simply not the case. Teaching an old dog “new tricks”,  such as swimming, is completely within the realm of possibility! It may take a bit more time, but is achievable with a bit patience and a plethora of treats.

After you’ve gotten your pup used to the idea of water, you can begin to move to deeper bodies of water. McCarthy strongly advises the use of a life jacket. McCarthy states that the buoyancy of the life jacket makes the dog feel more comfortable in a new situation as well as offering additional warmth in cold water.

If you’re lucky, your dog may immediately love the water. McCarthy is clear in his statements that this is usually not the case, but sometimes happens. If it’s not the case, begin to slowly lure your dog into deeper water with the promise of treats or a favorite toy. You can begin by holding it and having your dog swim to you, and then begin to throw the toy farther and farther away. Dogs are highly motivated by food and even toys, so the allurement of these items is often enough encouragement for them to take the first step.

Once you’ve got the dog in the water, it becomes instinctual. McCarthy explains that dogs naturally know how to swim. Once in the water, it triggers an instinct for the dog to begin kicking and swimming.

See also Dog Drinking From Lake: Is it Safe?

However, some dogs may still be fearful and want to climb on to you in order to feel safe. To help them feel protected, McCarthy recommends gently holding your dog at the base of the spine right before the tail begins (called the tail set), and under the neck. This gives support while still allowing comfort at the beginning of the kicking and swimming process. It’s important to not let your dog to continue to climb all over you. Instead, use the described holds and encourage and assure them that they can do it!

Some dogs take longer than others to get comfortable swimming, and unfortunately, some dogs just really don’t like to swim altogether. If your dog doesn’t like to swim, McCarthy is adamant on the fact you should never make them. Instead, put a life jacket on them and allow them to sun themselves on the boat. They might enjoy that even more!

Throughout the process, McCarthy reiterates the importance of patience. Dogs can sense their owners feelings and can easily detect a change in anger or frustration, which will not result in a successful swim lesson.

Teaching your dog to swim takes time , but will be well worth it when they have been trained correctly and feel confident out on the water. Through McCarthy’s steps, you will instill trust in your pup that will result in confidence in the water. That confidence will allow you to achieve the perfect cabin weekend at the lake!
 
 
Contact Dan McCarthy at info@triumphantcanine.com (303-287-8364) or find him on Facebook