Some dogs take to swimming straight away while others may seem very nervous at the idea of getting into the water. Breeds, such as Labradors and Novia Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers were specifically developed to retrieve birds from water and are natural swimmers. Others, for example, Bulldogs and Dachshunds, are clearly not an ideal shape for water activities, and although they can swim, are far less likely to enjoy it and, apart from having the occasional bath, may never go into the water unless it’s a hydrotherapy pool where they would be supported by a life vest.
Then there are other dogs who may not immediately leap into every body of water they pass but, with encouragement, can learn to enjoy keeping you company in a pool, fetching a ball from a pond or even joining you on a surf board.
So, for many of you, knowing that with some encouragement your dog may learn to love swimming, it’s worth taking a little time to introduce them to the concept.
As with any training, you may need patience to get your puppy or older dog comfortable with water at all. Don’t rush the process, encourage but don’t force them to go further than they want to, and be sure to make it great fun!
If you’re near the sea, regular walks when the tide is out will give you the opportunity to gently introduce your dog to the water as they can happily paddle and splash about without getting out of their depth. Inevitably, they’ll try drinking the water, which is when they’ll discover that some fool poured salt into it!
Another way to start is with a paddling pool in the garden. Find some treats that will float on the water, or your dog’s favourite toy (so long as it’s waterproof) to encourage them in. If they seem very concerned and won’t approach even to get a favourite treat, try introducing them to the pool without any water in it first.
The next step is, of course, to add some water, just a little to start with. If your dog hesitates, make sure the potential reward for getting their paws wet is really tempting. Maybe stand in the pool yourself and encourage them to join you. Make it a game for your dog to find some treats you’ve thrown into the puddle in the pool. Gradually, add more water to the pool. Depending on the size of your dog and the size of the pool, it may even be possible to have it deep enough for them to practise swimming in it.
Wherever you take your dog to learn to swim, make sure it’s safe, that there isn’t a current that could take them further away than they can cope with, and don’t let them swim too far out.
Whether it’s a swimming pool with steps or a lake or pond with banks, make sure you’re at a spot where it’s possible for them to get out on their own. Show them the sloping bank or the steps in the pool and monitor them carefully. If your dog can’t get out of the water they may begin to panic and be put off the idea of swimming altogether.
Some dogs, even those breeds you expect to swim, simply don’t like it however patiently you try and introduce them to it. That’s fine – there are plenty of other games and activities they can enjoy instead.
Swimming is, of course, great exercise for a dog that enjoys it, especially in hot weather. Whether you join them in the water, simply watch them having a great time or play games of fetch from the side of a pond or stream, it’s a great way to spend time together.
For more training advice, please visit our dog coach Vicky Carne's website.