Summer is here! It’s hot and the best way to cool off is to go for a swim. Even better if your furry buddy can join you in a cooling dip as well. Most dogs like the water. Some prefer to stay in the shallows with their feet on the ground while others dive in with gusto. But, a few are not enamoured with the idea of getting wet at all and need encouragement.
Rule number one for teaching your dog to swim, DO NOT simply take your dog into deep water and throw him in to force him to swim. This only serves to terrify him and you may never get him in the water again.
To make this process easier, we have provided some tips and tricks to help introduce water to your dog and allow them to become a comfortable and confident swimmer.
Getting your dog comfortable with water
Puppies who are exposed to water at an early age tend to be more comfortable with swimming later on. Offering them a little paddle pool with only an inch or two of water in it is a good way to start getting them used to pottering around in the water. If your dog is older with an aversion to water, start him off the same way and lure him in with a treat. As soon as his feet touch the water, reward him. Never ever force your pup into the water as that is a sure way to failure. Once he has gotten his feet wet, have him jump back out of the pool. Lure him back in again with a treat, but this time wait just a little longer before you reward him. Continue this process until he is comfortable with getting his feet wet. Once he is jumping into the pool willingly and looking for his treat, you can move on.
Enter the water with your dog
Now that your dog has gotten used to the feel of the water, it’s time to graduate. You will need to find a quiet, dog-friendly body of water with little or no current and no large waves. (A word of caution if you choose a lake or pond with very calm water. Make sure the water is clear of blue-green algae, as this is toxic and can be deadly for your dog. It is also toxic for people). You should be prepared to enter the water with your dog once you’re at this stage. The slope into the water should be gradual. If you are in a swimming pool, there will need to be steps to enter.
It’s a good idea to purchase a flotation device for your dog and get him used to wearing it beforehand. This is especially true if your dog will be travelling with you on a boat or if he will be swimming in your home pool, or if he is of a breed not usually meant for swimming such as a bulldog. Keep your dog leashed in case he gets into trouble and until you are confident in his swimming ability.
You should also have a reliable recall. Tales abound of dogs who take off into the water after a duck or some other distraction and because they do not have a reliable recall, they refuse to return to the shore. Exhaustion can take over and they can easily drown. So, every time your dog returns to you in the water, make sure you praise him profusely and treat occasionally.
Practice makes perfect
Now that you are all ready, begin by walking into the water and coax your pup to come in after you. Try enticing him with a favourite floating toy. Sometimes this is enough to make up his mind that this might be fun or it may take a little more time, patience and treats. If your dog has come in chest deep, but still seems hesitant to take the plunge, try supporting his body from underneath to make him feel more secure. This is also useful to help teach the dog to bring his body level in the water and use all four of his legs to propel himself.
Usually once he has figured out he isn’t going to drown, and understands how to use his legs, you are well on your way. If he still seems unsure or panicked, just support your dog’s body in the water and bring him around in small circles back to the shore and try again. Repetition should build confidence. Be patient and upbeat, give lots of praise and keep the sessions short.
One other word of caution. If your dog decides he is crazy about being in the water, that is great, but there is a condition called water intoxication where your dog could take in too much water for his body to handle. It is a fairly rare, but often fatal condition, and most often occurs in dogs who play in the water for long periods of time and ingest large amounts. So, like many other things in life, everything in moderation.
If you have trouble convincing your pup of the joys of swimming, there are lots of pools which cater specifically to canine clients. They offer therapeutic and conditioning swims with qualified personnel, but they can also teach your pup the joy of swimming. Once dogs get used to being in the water, it is so much fun watching them enjoying themselves.
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