Pit-mix sits in the pool with their tongue hanging out of their mouth.

Health & Wellness

How to teach your dog to swim

Cue the splishing and splashing

Swimming is an opportunity for dogs to cool off on a hot summer’s day and is great exercise, too. Veterinarian and pet health expert Dr. Aliya McCullough shares how to safely introduce your pup to water, so they can take on pools, lakes and beaches. 

When can dogs start swimming? 

Before the swim training begins, check with your vet about any conditions that may interfere with your pup’s doggy paddling. Your dog’s breed, age (it’s generally safe to introduce your dog to the water between 12 to 16 weeks) and activity level may impact their swimming ability, too. 

Safety tips for teaching your dog how to swim

Always check with your dog’s vet before diving in, but here are some quick steps for when your pup is ready to get started: 

  • Use a life vest
  • Start slowly
  • Let your pup explore the pool on their own (under your supervision)
  • Practice with a kiddie pool at first
  • Give lots of praise and positive reinforcement when they show good swimming behavior
  • Stay in the pool with your pup
  • Encourage them to jump in using a toy

However, there are some things you should never do when introducing your pup the pool: 

  • Rush your dog
  • Throw them in the water, they could drown or sink
  • Leave your dog unattended in or by the pool (even if they’re a good swimmer)
  • Let your dog drink the pool water

How do I make my dog comfortable in the pool? 

Your pup made it into the pool, congratulations! Here are some tips to help them feel comfortable swimming: 

  • Swim with a buddy — your dog may feel more confident if there’s another dog with them
  • Keep it fun and positive (reward with praise)
  • Play games in the water

Are certain dog breeds better at swimming than others? 

Some dog breeds are naturally built for swimming, like retrievers, setters, spaniels, standard poodles, Newfoundlands, Portuguese Water Dogs, German Shepherds and Schipperkes.

However, dogs with short snouts, like pugs and bulldogs may struggle more. Dachshunds' short limbs can make swimming challenging, too.

What if my dog doesn’t like swimming? 

If your dog resists getting into the water, don’t push it — their comfort is most important. You can always try other water activities, like playing fetch through a sprinkler. 

Whether your pup is poolside, chilling by the lake or beach-bumming, these tips will help them feel comfortable swimming.

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