First, you need to be aware that some dogs are natural “sinkers.” These breeds include stocky breeds and dogs with short legs, such as bulldogs, Dachshunds, Pugs and Basset Hounds. That does not mean they cannot enjoy water play! Get them a doggy life jacket. Let them get accustomed to it out of the water first. They need to be playing and relaxed while wearing it so it does not become a stressful distraction during the swim training process! Also, please be aware that just because a dog is born with webbed feet does NOT mean he is born knowing how to swim!
Throwing a dog into water with the “sink or swim” idea is the absolute worst idea ever! This can create such a traumatic association with water that it can never be overcome.
Be prepared to get into the pool with your dog! Many dogs die every year because they don’t know how to get out of the water! If you are using a pool, teach your dog where the steps of the pool are. You can use orange cones as visual markers when training. Teach the dog to target on the orange cones outside of the pool.
Once you have acclimated the dog to swimming and see he is enjoying it (in shallow water), lead your dog to the deeper end gradually, using a light leash, and teach him to turn in figure eights, left turns and right turns. Most dogs will swim in a straight line and this can cause serious problems. They get to the edge of the pool, can’t get out, and panic. Lead him to the steps with the leash! Go with him!
If your dog is reluctant, do not force him to venture into deeper water with you. Try to coax him with a favorite toy. As with any dog training, always remember that your dog is a dog first and foremost. Do not get frustrated or lose patience with the process, and never lose sight of the fact that every dog learns at its own pace. Keep your tone calm and use gentle coaxing (as with any other training). Do not use excited or loud tones!
A lot of dogs will naturally begin to paddle with their front legs. It is very important that you teach them to use their back legs as well because using only the front legs will tire them quickly. Place your hand underneath their belly, close to the hind legs and raise the hind quarters up so that they are parallel with the front shoulders. This encourages the dog to be in it’s natural position and use it’s back legs.
Teaching with a targeting stick can help in a chlorinated pool since you don’t want to be throwing treats that float into chlorinated water and letting your dog ingest those chemicals.
It is always good to start with a kiddie pool first! Get the dog into the mindset that water is fun by playing fun games in the water. You can use floating treats in clean water and start the targeting training there!
Also, be aware that the top of a dog’s nose/ snout and ears are highly susceptible to sunburn. Use some sun block. Keep some ear drying solution handy or get your dog an ear wrap. Water in a dog’s ears is no better than water in our ears! If water gets into your dog’s ear canal, consult your vet!
If you need help, please feel free to sign up for some private training sessions with us!