One of the best things about summer is cooling off in your local swimming hole, especially if you can have a swimming buddy! If you live near a dog friendly lake or beach, or you have a backyard pool, you should definitely encourage your dog to join you for a swim. But you may want to teach her a few basic lessons first, especially if she has never been swimming before.
Just because you have a dog doesn’t mean she’ll be a natural swimmer. In fact, some breeds—the bulldog, for example—cannot swim at all and will sink right to the bottom if tossed in the water without a flotation device holding them above water.
Dogs that are lightweight, have short legs, or will be spending time out on the boat in deep waters with you should be outfitted with their own life vest or jacket. Too much noise and activity can be distracting. Begin with a quiet area of the lake, river or pool, and keep your dog leashed at all times in case she gets into trouble—and to keep her from swimming too far out. The leash should not come off until she is able to swim unassisted and is consistently returning to you when called back.
Never (ever!) leave a dog unattended in the water, not even for a minute. And for goodness sake, don’t throw your dog into the water for her first swim. It’ll only frighten her to the point that she’ll never want to swim again.
When teaching your dog to swim, it’s best to start in a shallow area where you can walk beside your pet. Put on the flotation vest if needed, attach the leash, and walk slowly into the water, letting her get used to having wet feet.
If your pet is reluctant, bring a toy or a few training treats to coax her in farther. Use a positive tone of voice and lots of verbal praise when she enters the water. Gradually take her into deeper water until she must start paddling to stay afloat. At this point, you can use an arm to provide support under your dog’s belly if she appears to need the extra support. This gives her the incentive to paddle her rear legs along with the front legs.
You don’t want your dog to use only her front legs to swim, as she will tire more quickly and splash around. Keep supporting her until she seems comfortable in the water and is using all four limbs to swim. If at any point she appears to be panicking, back up into the shallow water and let her calm down before trying again.
When the lesson is over, it’s time to get your dog out of the pool or boat. Take your time showing her the proper and safe way to exit the boat or pool so she can find her own way out the next time. A good final rinse with fresh water will help get rid of any residual chemicals or algae that might be clinging to her haircoat. Finally, give her lots of verbal and physical praise after the lesson, and maybe an extra treat. This will help your dog to associate fun and positive times with the experience of swimming.