The idea that all dogs can – and love to – swim is a dangerous myth because it’s commonly believed and widely spread. Yes, some dogs love the water and are excellent swimmers, but not all—even some water breeds aren’t swimmers!
To (safely) find out your dog’s swimming aptitude, allow him to come to the edge of the water. Show him the steps to get in the pool, or if you’re swimming in open water, walk him to the shoreline. Jump in yourself. Toss a toy. Make it fun, but ultimately let him decide! And have him wear a life jacket to be extra safe.
Once he jumps in and has found his own comfort level, try these three games:
Toss a floating toy or tennis ball into the water, encourage your pup to go after it, then celebrate when he brings it back.
Dog-friendly Marco Polo: Teach your pup on dry land to target (touch) your hand by holding your palm out and rewarding each time his nose touches your hand. Then you can take the skill to the pool and call “touch” from various spots, while your dog swims to target your hand. It’s great mental and physical exercise.
Dock (or Deck) Jumping
Have your dog get super excited to go after a toy like a flying disc. Then, from the edge of the pool deck, toss the disc and watch your pup sail through the air to catch it before splashing into the pool.
For dogs who are swimmers, time in the water is a rewarding and enriching activity. It’s gentle exercise for pups with arthritis. And for dogs whose breeds predispose them to water (poodles, retrievers, etc.) it meets an instinctual need.
One note: If your dog will be swimming in open water like a lake, check with your vet to see if any vaccinations or precautions are recommended for your area.