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Dog swimming in pool

Dog swimming tips and training

Don’t all dogs instinctively know how to swim? Don’t all dogs love water? You may be surprised to learn that not all dogs can swim and not all dogs want to be in the water.

Many dogs do love water, but if you have a dog who hasn’t been around water and you want him to swim with you, here are tips to teach your dog how to swim.

Make it fun. If your dog loves playing fetch, play a rousing game near a body of water. Slowly ease your way into the water so she will have to get wet to give you back the object you’re tossing. Coax her in by talking to her and staying close. Give her positive reinforcement when she comes out to you.

Make it safe. Let your dog walk in the water before you make him swim. Wives tales abound of parents in generations past who simply dropped their kids into the water off the end of a dock and let them “sink or swim” as a way to teach them to swim. Don’t do that to your dog. Let water be a fun time. If he can see the shore and easily get out, he will be more likely to follow you in.

A helping hand. When your dog gets into water that is deep enough for him to swim. Give him a helping hand by holding him up under his belly. Help him keep his head above water while he does the “doggie paddle.” He will appreciate your help and your closeness will help keep him calm. Better yet, put him in a life vest and keep a leash attached so he doesn’t float away and you can keep him close.

Where you swim is key. If you’re by a natural body of water and your dog can simply walk in and out it may be easier than trying to teach him to swim in a pool where there is no easy way to get in and out of the water.

If you have a swimming pool and want your dog to join you, invest in a safety ramp. This gives your dog a way to walk into and, more importantly, out of the water. Teach him where the ramp is and how to use it.

If you have a dog who isn’t comfortable around, or in, the water the first “lesson” in teaching him to swim is to not force him into the water. Let your dog slowly become accustomed to the water. Remember: A fearful dog will not be inclined to learn to swim.

Dog Swimming Safety Tips

  • Never leave your dog unsupervised around water. Just as you’d need to protect humans, so too do you need to protect your dog around water—especially the family swimming pool. Keep the pool fence closed.
  • If you’re in a pool, stay in the shallow end. Install the ramp in the shallow end. In natural bodies of water, don’t swim in water that is over your head.
  • Use a doggie life vest to help him stay afloat. Even when a dog knows how to swim, and loves swimming, a life vest is an ideal safety precaution.  
  • Be current on vaccinations. If you swim in natural bodies of water make certain your dog is vaccinated against giardia—this is a disease that can cause diarrhea and vomiting and can be transmitted to humans.
  • Stay away from water with strong currents. Be sure to monitor weather forecasts paying close attention to beach alerts banning swimming due to rip currents.
  • Make sure your dog can be identified. Keep your dog’s collar with ID tag on or have him wear a harness. Better yet, have your dog microchipped in case he gets scared and runs away.
  • Prevent heatstroke and sun burn. When you’re poolside, in any body of water or at any outdoor venue your dog can get a sunburn. Use a pet-friendly dog sunscreen on his nose, ears and skin, especially if he has a short coat or is white. Also, make certain you and your dog take breaks and seek shade to prevent sun- or heatstroke.
  • Learn CPR and pet first aid in case there is a water emergency. PetMD offers pet CPR instructions.

Our dogs love being with us and if you love the water, bring him along. See if he loves it as much as you do. No matter what you do, let your dog go into the water at his or her own pace and you just may have a swim companion who will welcome the chance to don his life vest and take a plunge!


Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words MatterMy Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.

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