Many dogs love water, from romping in mud puddles to swimming in the pool, but some dogs are afraid of water, sometimes to the extent that they won’t walk on wet grass. Paying attention to how your puppy initially responds to water is very important because if there is any indication of fear, you need to ensure you don’t put any pressure on your pup to ‘get over it’. Always be encouraging, understanding, and patient when training your puppy to swim and help her feel safe at all times.
Choose a warm day and bring along some of your pup’s favorite toys and treats. Put pup in a harness to avoid pressure on her neck while she’s getting used to water.
Don’t begin your puppy’s introduction to water before she’s 8 weeks old. Cheap little kiddies’ pools with a few inches of water are a great starting point. Avoid murky water with weeds and plants, so steer clear of your garden pond.
The first step is to get your puppy comfortable with wet feet. Put some toys and treats in the pool encourage her to walk around and nose the water and start to play and around.
When your pup is comfortable in the little pool, you can introduce her to a proper swimming pool. Make sure they start on the stairs and can find the stairs no matter where they are in the pool. It helps if you provide a visual cue, like a pot plant, where the stairs are.
Regardless of whether your puppy can swim or not, if you have a pool, fence it off. Only let her in when you are there to supervise swimming lessons. Getting a life-jacket is a good idea, especially if you plan on trips on rivers or around lakes or on boats.
Have a sturdy pool cover and make sure that the material allows rainwater to drain away.
Always check the water temperature before swimming lessons. Only a few breeds (Golden Retrievers, Labradors and border collies) enjoy cold water and will enjoy swimming in big lakes or ponds.
Keep your puppy on the leash in the big pool to start off with, so if swimming lessons go pear-shaped you can reel her to safety. Get in the water with your pup and support her weight so that she doesn’t panic. Keep it all positive and totally stress-free.
Swimming out and about
When pup is happy swimming in the pool, you can introduce her to other bodies of water. Use a long line (washing line or rope) instead of her usual lead so she has some distance to play with, but you can still reel her in if necessary. You can toss her ball into the shallows to encourage her to run in and test the water. Gradually increase the distance so that she has to swim to fetch it. Only continue if she’s having fun. If she’s reluctant to go into the lake or sea, don’t force the matter.
Don’t let her drink the water, especially sea water. Carry fresh water and a collapsible bowl or dog-friendly water bottle with you. Try not to let her eat anything yucky, like dead fish, birds, and rotting plants. (Work on your recall and leave it training.)
Always rinse off your pup after she’s been in any type of water. Salt, minerals, chlorine, algae and pollution can irritate and damage her fur and skin. Depending on the type of tick and flea prevention you use, you may have to reapply treatment after a swim.
Dry her properly, especially her ears, otherwise she could get an infection.
If you want a canine swimming companion, consider taking a canine CPR course before you begin swimming lessons. You’ll learn how to do mouth to nose resuscitation and chest compressions to improve your pups chances of surviving an emergency.