It is an erroneous assumption that dogs are natural swimmers. It is simply not true. In fact, some dogs really have no fondness for the water. If you live by water or engage in activities near water, you may want to teach the dog to be comfortable in the water and to swim. It can be a matter of safety for the dog. However, it is also a wonderful source of exercise and fun for your pet.

Teaching the dog to swim is best started early with pup. This does not mean that the older dog cannot be taught. The mere smaller size of pup just makes it that much easier. – It is necessary to preface these suggestions by saying that this is not a one-day process. Teaching the dog to be comfortable in the water may take days, if not weeks. If your dog it not bold, the small steps indeed may take weeks. However, it will build the dog’s confidence to be able to swim and be with you. And the lessons will have a positive benefit on the dog’s boldness.

Remember that the focus of the lessons will be to teach the dog to enjoy the water and, ultimately, to swim. The dog, upon seeing the water, may think that it has discovered the biggest water bowl ever seen. It may start lapping up and drinking the water. Ignore this. You want to avoid saying “no” and having any negative associations with the water experience. Just remember, however, that fluid “in” means fluid “out”; and govern yourself accordingly.

In this situation, you want to try to be as calm as possible. Any anxiety will be detected by the dog and, as stated previously, you want to try to minimize any negative associations with the water. This method of teaching the dog to swim leaves much of the decision making up to the dog. Your role is to encourage, praise and reward with treats. – The dog will set limits and let you know when it has had enough. – Your task is to recognize that. – The lesson begins with you walking into the water. You do not have to be in very deep water. Even if it is ankle depth, that is fine. When you are in the water, ask the dog if it wants a small treat. Show the dog a small piece of wiener and when your dog approaches for a treat, praise and give the treat. Now turn so that the left side of your body faces the shore and begin walking along the shore.

The reason that you want your left side facing the shore is that the left side of your body is the dog’s comfort side, if you have been heeling the dog on the traditional left side. Therefore, this is the sight picture of you with which the dog is familiar. The next task for you is simply to walk along the shore. Allow the dog to become use to the water. At this point, the dog’s paws still touch the ground. All you want to do is walk along the shore, praise your dog for being with you and be a source of treats. You are creating positive association to this water experience. – You are not going into deep water and having the dog’s paws off the ground. That will come later.

If you have progressed as far as having the dog with you in the water, that is progress. Praise and stop for the day. That is enough for the dog for one day – and it is important that you end on a positive note. The association that you want to create for your dog/pup is that good, fun things happen in the water.

Catherine Forsythe

[tags]dogs, pups, swimming, confidence, boldness, safety, exercise[/tags]