How to teach your dog to swim and feel comfortable in the water

Phoebe Cooper · Jul 8, 2022 · All

Author: Abbey Harris

You can lead a dog to water, but you can’t make them swim... 

Did you know that swimming doesn’t come naturally to all dogs?

Of course, some dogs are bred for water—like Labradors, Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, and the Water Spaniel. These dogs, and some others, take to water right away, while some others just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

However, even though not all dogs are bred to swim, most can with a little training (and check out our treats and chews which offer the perfect training companion!). You can start the process when they’re between two and five months old. Swimming is a wonderful activity for your dog because it’s a great way to offer your best friend exercise that’s also enjoyable!

Important Notes

The first step is to fit and purchase a life vest. This will help ensure that the first swim is fun and safe no matter the place. It should fit snug, but not tight, and have a handle on the back. It should be durable and made of waterproof materials. Bright colors are a good idea, too.

Critically, and hopefully this goes without saying, but you should never just toss or push your pup into the water to figure it out. This could ruin off-land water play for good.

Before beginning lessons, you should check the temperature. The AKC recommends making sure that the water and air temperature combined equal at least 100 degrees (F). If temps are too cold, your dog could risk hypothermia or cause injury or damage to their tail. If it’s hot and sunny, consider using a pet-safe sunscreen on their noses. 

The AKC also suggests keeping swim sessions around 10 minutes to avoid over consumption of water. Start with shorter times and work your way up, making sure your dog isn’t vomiting after the shorter sessions before increasing time. Always have fresh drinking water available so your pup doesn’t feel the need to drink from the swimming area (which can contain harsh and dangerous chemicals or pollutants). This also helps them to beat the heat and stay hydrated!

Be certain to research and analyze the bodies of water you plan to expose your dog your dog to first to ensure they’re safe to interact with. For example, blue-green algae (which is actually a form of cyanobacteria), is a very dangerous threat for your pup that can result in severe brain and liver damage, potentially resulting in death. Blue-green algae can be present in many bodies of water, especially stagnant freshwater.

Keep an eye out for menacing critters, too. Water snakes, snapping turtles, and even alligators, depending on your location, can lurk in the depths and possibly harm your dog if encountered. 

How to Begin Lessons 

Regardless of the body of water, the steps to get your dog comfortable are the same. The only thing that really changes is the way you protect your pup (and, thankfully, that will coincide with the methods you use to protect yourself).

  • Baby steps: Begin by gently introducing your dog to water. Maybe that’s in a kiddie pool, shallow stream, or a water sprinkler in your backyard. The bathtub can work, too, but it’s best to differentiate play spaces from care spaces.
  • Get their feet wet (and legs, too): Once your dog is comfortable with water play, leash-lead them into shallow water that allows them to submerge their paws and legs without losing footing.
  • Doggy paddle: As you move deeper to where they can’t touch the bottom, make sure your dog feels well-supported in their trunk so they can comfortably paddle their front and back legs.
  • Solo swim: When you feel confident your dog is moving (and floating) well, let them try it on their own. Stay nearby in case things go wrong.
  • Play time: If things are going swimmingly, you can introduce lightweight, mouth-friendly toys (like frisbees, sticks, or tennis balls) to up the entertainment levels for your pup.

Remember: swim training is like all other training – repetition works best. Push your dog to go outside of their comfort zone, but never to the point of anxiety or physical discomfort. Also be aware that perhaps swimming isn’t right for your dog, and that’s OK!

It’s important to note that each step can take time and may need to be adapted to your pup’s particular needs. Be patient and encouraging. Natural Farm treats and chews are a wonderful way to express praise and reward positive behavior and improvements. We have options for every dog, so browse our range using the button below to discover your pup’s new favorite chews!

View All Treats

Supplemental reading for outdoor activities with your dog

Are you looking for a destination to explore with your dog this summer? Check out this blog to view some of our favorite suggestions from around the country!

Are you thinking about hiking or camping with your dog this summer? Check out these helpful blogs:

Also, learn whether you should shave or trim your dog to keep them cool!

Good luck, and happy swimming! Be sure to tag us using #LetsChewNatural so that we can follow along with all your swimming adventures! :)