Teaching Dogs to Swim and Enjoy the Water

June 24, 2011  

We’ve been talking about swimming (and sinking) a lot this month, so we asked our Facebook fans, what’s your best advice for teaching a dog how to swim and/or enjoy the water?

Positive reinforcement, a life vest and patience all made for water-loving pooches. Thanks everyone for sharing.

I think the best way to get your dog to be comfortable in the water is to be right beside him the whole time, in the beginning. My dog can’t swim well (physical reasons) but when she does a brief paddle, she is reassured when I keep an arm under her torso for support.

~ Ashley Boone

Every dog is different. My Canaan took about a month of watching other dogs swim before she finally jumped in and started swimming. My Corgi can’t swim, he needs a life vest and even then, he’ll roll over. But he does like to get in occasionally, just to join the fun. And my bully just blasted into the water the first time and swims like a champ, she swam in the river with and against the current her first time. So, I think just go with the dog’s needs… let them tell you how ready they are and let them go at their own pace. I think forcing them has the potential to make them fear the water.

~ Laura Gilpin

Michael loves the beach! I knew he would, too, because like with every new experience, I have taught him to be more curious “dog” above anything else. So when he “met” the ocean for the first time, he did his usual sniff/play bow/chase/goofy grin, and then he was off and swimming!

~ Tanya Copeland

Yes every dog is different! Our AmStaff Rocco (85lbs) has a very hard time swimming. He is a very large, clumsy guy but our Staffie, Abbi, that is a lean, muscular athlete, swims like a fish! The most important lesson to teach any dog if you have a pool, is how to get to the stairs just in case they fall in. And, as always, never leave your pittie unsupervised in the yard!

~ Maryann Roti

Find what they love most and throw it in the water…and be IN the water to encourage them. For my blockhead it was a ball, but I’m always aware if she is getting too tired, she’s not exactly built to swim.

~ Karen Allies

I made it a game with my Lab when she was a pup. I put enough water in the tub for her to splash around in and then I’d throw toys in the mix. I let her get in and out as often as she wanted. Made for a wet house but a very happy Lab who can’t stay out of the water… even if it’s an ornamental pond!!

~ Dannie Gabbert

We started all our dogs in a shallow cool creek on extremely warm days. We would walk them out till they were comfy. After a few times my one boy started dunking his head and doggy paddling. They key for me was making the water better than the outside air. The way I taught my one to swim in deep water was a little different. We have an equine center (pool for horses) that allows dogs. It has a gentle slop into the water like a creek or a beach. We threw his ball out and he swam after it. We realized that he would keep going till he had no energy and sink (typical pitty), so I started using a doggie life preserver. He LOVES to swim and like I said before, he likes to dunk his head and sometimes dives under for rocks in the creek.

~ Kevin Klapac

My small terrier mix was afraid of the water for the first year of his life. We went to the dog park last summer and there was a Lab mix puppy swimming and splashing around in the water. My dog actually mimicked what the other dog was doing and started swimming! Now, all he wants to do is swim! We are hoping that our pit bull will want to go swimming this summer, too!

~ Marie Desrosiers

We have two bullies – one loves the water and is like the bratty kid doing cannon balls in the deep end. The other is a little more timid and is like the kid with his swimmies on in the shallow end. We got a kiddie pool and work with the timid dog alone to get him feeling more comfortable without having the other one splashing around like crazy.

~ Meredith Christman

My dog (a Lab believe it or not) was afraid to let his feet leave the bottom of any water source. We encouraged him to come in, but let him go at his own pace. We also tried various types of water (pools, rivers, ocean, lakes)…once he discovered the ocean, that was it! My poodle also was very wary of water initially. Again, we use positive reinforcement techniques and let him find his own way. If he gets in and swims, he usually swims to us and then wants to be held gently underneath (so he just floats there). This seems to be relaxing to him and that’s fine. Also, big steep underwater drop offs were scary to them before they became swimming pros; definitely avoid those kinds of surprises. Basically, I just think dogs need to feel confident and secure to learn to love water, and those experiences need to be treated just like any other new experiences.

~ Gemma Zanowski

I use a life vest if they are unsure and take their favorite toy in with us for their first swim. I try to make a game of it. My pit was afraid at first, but soon learned to love the water, and now I can’t keep him out of it.

~ Anita Elias

I bought a kiddie pool. I would sit in it with a toy or ball and let them know that it was a fun place to be. After they learned to like the kiddie pool, I transitioned them to the big pool. Now, my black Lab swims all the time and the others usually get on the sun shelf/fountain and play in the water. They swim sometimes and are getting more comfortable the big pool. I always teach them where the stairs are first thing.

~ Donna J. Griffin

As a puppy, my golden retriever fell in our pool and freaked out and has never learned to swim. She has a life jacket that she uses and we hold her up when we try to teach her. At 6 she rarely goes all the way in, but on her own but she will walk down the steps to play and moves her front arms like she’s swimming.

~ Meg Jones

My Lab literally taught my pit to swim and love the water. Dogs learn from each other. So, the buddy system worked wonders for us.

~ Jessica Korves

My big guy, Pantera, loved the water until he got in over his head, and then he didn’t know how to keep his back end up. Being all muscle, he didn’t float very well! I bought a RuffWear Float Coat for him — it holds a dog in the proper horizontal position for swimming. After a few sessions swimming with the float coat on, he learned to use his back legs properly, and now he doesn’t need the coat.

~ Lori Zimmer (photo below)

Diesel used to hate water so much that he wouldn’t even potty in the slightest sprinkle. But, he loved his stick and playing fetch more than he hated the rain. So, we “starved” him of fetch until the next rain and a few throws later he couldn’t have cared less! Used the same method at the beach! Now we catch him in the shallows using his front two feet to walk and letting his back end just kind of float along. It’s pretty funny!

~ Alyssa Edwards

I got in the water and let my dog develop enough confidence to follow me. A life vest for your dog is a good tool to use as well.

~ Benjamen Ortiz

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9 Responses to “Teaching Dogs to Swim and Enjoy the Water”
  1. woofslc says:

    We really didn’t know that Honey loved to swim, we found out accidentally when we went canoeing in Oregon and she followed us out the whole way! Luckily the water was 3 feet the whole way, because she wouldn’t listen to anyone on shore calling her back, we figured we better order her a lifejacket ASAP since she thought she was a flying Pittie fish. Since that day two years ago, Honey visits my mom and dads pool whenever she can, donning her life jacket. She gets very excitable so we play training games and work on calm behaviors near the water. She loves to swim and retrieve her toys. We have to be very careful she doesn’t over do it! Her life jacket has become the “green light” for it being OK to swim, and when it comes off, she knows she has to rest at the sidelines!


  2. StubbyDog says:

    @woofslc Honey looks like she’s having a ball! And she is one smart cookie. thanks for sharing.

  3. Her_Benjamom says:

    @woofslc Nice picture and great story! I love the description of “flying pittie fish”. LOL I wish my boys loved the water. It’s hard enough to get them to go outside in the rain!

  4. Oreomypuppy says:

    I have a black lab mix and he hates the water! I cant figure anything out that will make him comfortable! can you help?

  5. Oreomypuppy says:

    my black lab mix hates water tried almost everything suggestions?

  6. Oreomypuppy says:

    @StubbyDog@woofslc do you know how to get dogs to love water

  7. StubbyDog says:

    @Oreomypuppy Funny how some dogs, even retrievers, don’t like water. It’s best to try to introduce them to the water slowly, in shallow water, and perhaps have them chase a toy they love into the water. Here are two sites that offer some advice:



  8. Oreomypuppy says:

    @StubbyDog thank you so much ill try to get him in the shallows!


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