You would think that most dogs are complete naturals when it comes to swimming and that they love the water. After all, the unique way in which dogs paddle around in water is where humans get their “doggy paddle” swimming stroke. Yet, the opposite is true; not all dogs like water, and not all dogs are comfortable swimming in water. For whatever reason, they just don’t want to do it.
If you have a dog that is hesitant to get into the water, or it is hesitant to swim longer than a minute, you can get him or her to like water and like swimming. Like all things with dogs, it takes patience and training. Here is how you can go about getting your dog into the water more often.
Start Small and Gradually Increase
Dogs that are afraid of water may fight you just to be bathed. A bad experience when they were puppies is often the cause. Start small and gradually increase the amount of water and the size of the container in which the water sits. If you bathe your dog in the family tub, make it about an inch of water and then praise your dog and give a treat if he/she actually climbs in and stays in during the bathing process. Just make sure to keep their nails groomed in case they overreact to the situation and frantically try to get out!
If you bathe your dog outside, buy a kiddie wading pool (you know, one of those plastic round ones you can buy for a few bucks?). Put a little water in the bottom. Every three or four days, increase the amount of water another inch, and provide encouragement, praise, and maybe even treats when your dog gets in the pool.
When your dog tolerates a full tub or full kiddie pool, graduate to something larger. The family pool is good. Get into the water before the dog does. Hold up a favorite toy or treat to encourage him/her. It may take several tries or it may only take one try; it depends on the dog. Eventually, you should be able to get your dog to go into streams, ponds, and small lakes and paddle around like it’s nothing.
The Use of Toys
Another approach is to use toys. Dogs will play fetch without blinking. If your dog will literally fetch anything you throw, this is a good way to get your dog to swim.
Stand near the middle of the pool. Hold up a toy to get your dog’s attention. Get your dog excited about fetching it. If he/she doesn’t automatically jump in the pool to play with you, toss the toy within a foot or two of the edge of the pool near your dog.
Your dog may momentarily forget that he/she doesn’t like water and immediately jump in to get the toy. Praise your dog and give him/her lots of pets, then take the toy back and continue to play fetch in the pool. Eventually, your dog will come to associate swimming and playing in the water with things he/she loves to do and enjoys because you are part of the game.
Always Coax, Praise, Pet
Dogs always want to please their people. That’s half their charm. To get them to do anything, you always coax, praise, and pet. They understand these actions to mean that you love them, and then they are more apt to repeat the actions that got them the praise and the pets. Try to remember this with every approach you attempt to get your dog to love being in the water and love swimming with you.
Joyce is a small business owner and currently lives with her husband and two kids. During the summer, she volunteers as a swimming instructor for various summer activities.