If you’ve ever watched a French Bulldog in the water, you know that the ability to swim is not innate in every dog! Some breeds, like Retrievers, are more predisposed to picking up the doggy paddle naturally, while others will always have a harder time due to their physiology (sorry again, French Bulldogs!) However, most dogs can learn to love swimming when they learn to do it correctly from the start.
The right gear is critical for water safety. Life jackets are very important when dogs are learning to paddle. Wearing them instills confidence in the dog, and helps put owners at ease, too. Dogs are quite perceptive to our feelings and moods, and if you are unsure about teaching your dog to swim, they will be unsure, too. Don’t forget to be ready to swim, yourself: being in the water with your pet is ideal, to help them feel safe and secure.
In Florida, we have many bodies of water to choose from when picking a location to teach your dog to swim. There are dog-friendly beaches nearby, which are a terrific choice as the zero-entry shore can help ease more nervous dogs into the water slowly; they can go at their own pace. It’s imperative to avoid swimming in water that is home to any alligators or other dangerous wildlife. We suggest avoiding fresh bodies of water in Florida altogether, as you can never be sure if it contains a gator.
To introduce water to your dog off shore, try filling a kiddie pool (hard-sided, dog nails can perforate an inflatable pool) or bath tub with just a few inches of water to let them get used to the idea of getting their feet wet. Then you can move on to the steps of a pool until they’re ready to fully get in. They will thank you for the gentle introduction. If your dog is nervous about getting in the water, you can bribe him or her with some treats or a floating toy, but don’t force them into the water, and don’t throw a toy out too far at first.
Once your pet is okay with being in the water, support them under their stomach and tail to help them stay level. Tickling their back paws will help encourage the kicking/paddling motion if they haven’t started to do it themselves. If you’re at the beach, keeping your dog on a floating long line is a good idea to make sure they don’t paddle too far. This can be especially important in dogs that have a strong prey drive and/or are inclined by breed to be a swimmer.
Teach your dog a simple phrase for when it’s time to get out of the water. Make it exciting by introducing a special toy or treat when you want them to exit. If you want your dog to swim in a pool, teach them where the steps are, for safety. When they use the steps to get out, be sure to give them a strong reward, like food, a favorite toy, lots of exciting praise, or the ability to get back in the water.
Remember to rinse your pet off when you’re done swimming to remove any irritating salt, sand, or pool chemicals. And, even if your pet has proven to be a champion swimmer, always supervise your pet when they are around a body of water. Any pet can become confused, distracted or too tired and require their human to step in for help. Happy paddling!