How to Introduce Your Dog to Water for the First Time
Days at the lake, ocean, and river are more fun when your furry best friend can jump in the water and cool down with you. Many dogs are naturally good swimmers and are eager to join you for a splash or swim. However, introducing a dog to water can have a large impact on how your pet feels about swimming now and in the future.
As with many dog training tactics, it’s best to familiarize your pup to the water slowly and have a reliable plan in place. This guide will provide simple steps to a successful introduction as well as advice on how to measure your pet’s progress and common mistakes to avoid. It's time to stop leaving your furry pal on the shore and start swimming.
Steps for a Fun and Successful Start
Introducing your dog to swimming requires time and patience. Follow these steps progressively and slowly to help your pup feel comfortable — and eventually reduce all hesitation — with jumping right in the water:
Start by entering a shallow body of water with your pet. This should be easy because most dogs do not enjoy being left on shore while their handlers are wading in the water. Start in the shallows without any expectations of swimming. Continue with this step until your pup is comfortable in shallow water.
Next, bring your pup’s favorite toy into the water. This can be a ball, stuffed animal or any item with which your pet often plays or retrieves. Be careful to avoid any areas that have steep drop-offs that could cause your pet to lose footing and become scared.
As your pet gets comfortable with each throw, start tossing the toy slightly farther each time. Each toss should be only 1 or 2 feet farther than the last.
Eventually, start tossing the toy far enough that your dog has to swim to retrieve it. The first few tries may involve leading your dog toward the object, but pups often catch on quickly.
Encourage your dog with verbal rewards as well as other treats or toys. This allows the dog to associate the water or swimming with a positive experience. Even if it doesn’t swim during the first attempt, your pup will be more interested in going back for another try with positive reinforcement.
Throughout the process, remember to limit other distractions. It’s best to introduce your dog to the water where there aren’t any kids, boats, additional dogs or other distractions nearby.
It’s easy to get frustrated during the slow process of teaching your dog to swim, and those vexations often lead to mistakes. These are a few faux pas that should always be avoided when introducing your dog to water:
Don’t toss your dog into the water. Many dogs have a swimming instinct, but throwing them in and forcing them to swim immediately can be traumatic for the pet. It can also cause your dog to inhale water in an unhealthy or even fatal manner.
Similar to the previous tip, it’s important not to ever drag your dog into the water. You may feel inclined to tug your dog’s leash or collar to coax it in, but this can cause anxiety that it could later associate with any body of water. Tugging your pet in with you can make the process of water introduction much more difficult down the road.
Don’t forget about the weather. Not all dogs are comfortable swimming in cold water or inclement weather. Spring and summer generally offer the most comfortable weather and water temperatures for dogs to swim.
Don’t expect your dog to be a swimmer. It’s true that many dogs can swim without any teaching, but that’s not the case for every breed. You must always be prepared to jump in the water and save your dog if it is unable to swim. Some dogs just never learn to like the water — that’s OK, too.
Don’t cause anxiety with other water experiences. An easy way to steer your dog away from enjoying the water is by bathing it in uncomfortable ways, such as with a high-powered nozzle or extremely hot or cold water. A shivering dog is a sign that the water is too cold.
One day your pup may be having a blast retrieving its favorite ball in the water, and the next it doesn’t want to go near it. It can be difficult to judge whether your pet is improving at swimming or not, especially when it can take several days in the water to get your pet comfortable.
Keep in mind that swimming for dogs is a gradual buildup, and it’s best to have your dog wade into the water with you at first. Later, you’ll be able to throw an item once you’ve waded into the water together. Eventually, you can throw an item from shore for your pet to retrieve.
In addition to measuring progress, it’s essential to note that some dogs simply cannot or don’t want to swim. Retrievers, Newfoundlands, poodles and other aquatic breeds will likely take to swimming quite quickly.
However, bulldogs, corgis, greyhounds, basset hounds, and several other breeds tend to have much more difficulty learning to swim. Some simply don’t learn at all.
A dog life jacket can be an excellent solution for pets that have difficulty swimming. This tool can put you, as an owner, at ease when aboard a boat, on a dock or near a body of water.
It’s Time to Get Wet!
Teaching your dog to enjoy the water is an activity that can be exciting and productive for both of you. Make the process a gradual one, bring a favorite toy to toss, and don’t forget plenty of treats and rewards for a job well done. A positive first experience in the water for your pet means you’ll be enjoying lakes, rivers and the ocean together in no time.
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