How to get your Dog to Love Swimming

You see them at the dog beach, on boats, at the lakefront—dogs running in and out of the water—having a blast.

But your dog just stands at the shoreline, barking, or quivering. It’s so hot; you just want your dog to cool off in the water. The cool water is so inviting—but not to your dog.

You jump in and call your dog to follow. He stands there and whines. What can you do?

I’ve probably done all the things you shouldn’t to train your dog to swim.

Buffy waits for her ball to come back to shore.

Don’t do these things or your dog will Hate Swimming

  • Don’t pick up your dog and toss him into the lake so he learns to sink or swim
    • My dad did this with my first dog, a border collie mix. Penny never learned to like swimming, even though we took her whitewater canoeing a lot. If the canoe came too close to shore, she’d jump out—abandoning ship.
  • Don’t use a leash to drag your dog into the water.
    • On a really hot day, I dragged my current dog, Buffy, a cocker spaniel into Lake Michigan. She ended up walking under the water. I had never believed my mom when she told me one of her dogs had done this, but it actually can happen for a few seconds. Buffy learned to tolerate water up to a depth of about six inches. That’s it—no more. Her long floppy ears didn’t like the water either. She got ear infections every summer that took months to clear up. It’s been two years since I last took her to the beach and she hasn’t had an ear infection since.
  • Don’t let your dog fall or jump into deep water when they’re not expecting it.
    • Chipper, my senior cocker who died last year, walked out on to a pier used for launching boats with my husband. I walked on to an adjacent pier with Buffy. Chipper must have decided to visit Buffy. Next thing I heard was a loud splash when he fell in, sinking down about six feet. My husband reeled in Chipper’s retractable leash and led him to shore. I don’t think Chipper ever voluntarily entered the lake again.

 

Okay, now you’ve heard all the things not to do, what should you do to get your dog to love swimming? Remember, even a dog bred to love water, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, or springer spaniels, can still develop a fear of water if they have a bad experience.

I have had success with my springer spaniels—by letting the dog decide to enter the water.

Tips to encourage your dog to love swimming

Remember, your dog’s first experience is critical. If it goes bad, you’ll have a lot more work to do to get him to at least tolerate swimming. And he’ll probably never love it.

  • Have your dog play with other dogs in the water—this is the best way. Your dog will be too engaged to get scared.
  • Go into the water yourself. Often your dog will follow you.
  • Encourage your dog into shallow water with treats and / or toys. Tennis balls work well.
  • Gradually enter shallow water, by wading in when there is a gentle slope. With a pool, make sure there are steps.
  • Always allow your dog an escape route if they want to get out of the water.
  • Get your dog used to water when the water is warm or slightly cool compared to the outside air. Your dog is not going to love cold water.
  • Use a lake or pond or a pool with a gentle slope for your dog’s first few experiences. Do not use a river since the current may sweep him away or cause him to panic.
  • Praise, praise, praise. Make it a positive experience.

Additional tips:

My Cassie loved her pool!
  • Use a kiddie pool with a few inches of water to get your dog used to water. Throw toys into the pool or use treats to encourage him to step into the water.
  • A life jacket may give your dog confidence and provide extra support. Some dogs, like bulldogs, have a very dense body and may sink. A life jacket can help.
    • Get a life jacket with at least one handle. If you have a very long or heavy dog, get a longer life jacket with two handles.
  • A recent article in Dogster Magazine, suggested not to do anything to your dog that you wouldn’t do to a toddler (like toss your dog into the water).
  • Use an indoor dog swimming pool if you have access to one. I just found one within driving distance and may use it in the winter once I get a springer.
    • This video is very cool. The dogs are so enthusiastic about the indoor swimming pool—and it involves springers—my favorite breed. It will make you smile! https://youtu.be/gzwDFdSEP-4

Above all, accept your dog as he is. Some dogs just do not like water or swimming.

Additional water safety tips:

  • If your dog loves to swim, don’t let your dog swim too far from shore. I’ve seen some ambitious owners lob a tennis ball far into a lake. Rip currents or an undertow could catch your dog and drag him out farther from shore. If your dog is pulled into deep water and struggling to get back to shore–don’t go after him! We’ve all heard stories of caring owners that drown trying to rescue their dogs, while their dog survived. If there is a rip current walk along the shore to encourage your dog to swim parallel to the shore instead of straight back. That should help him get out of the rip current.
  • Beware of hypothermia. Some water can be quite cold even while the beach is warm.
  • Read more about beach safety at my blog.

The more often you expose them to swimming and water, the better. Time and exposure helps alleviate their fears. Happy swimming!

25 thoughts on “How to get your Dog to Love Swimming”

  1. Unfortunately, we did some of the best things at my parents’s dog. Our purpose originally was to keep him away from the pool because we were afraid he would jump in when we were watching. However, we ended up turning him against water.

  2. I used to have a couple of mixed breeds who loved swimming in the lake. I think the key was they were able to explore it at their own pace. Theo loves to be on the raft in the pool, and although he can swim, he doesn’t leave the raft. I’ve never taken him to a lake, but I think he might like swimming in one.

  3. I don’t own a dog however have observed enough dogs at the beach to know a lot of dogs love the water, but you are right, there are exceptions . These look like very useful and practical tips. If all else fails, there’s always the dog park, right? 😉 We have to work with our pets limitations and take it in stride.

  4. The water play place at Carriage Hill Kennels looks really cool! Almost a good reason to move back there… Thanks for sharing this.

    • They also breed springers! So I’ll have to check them out once Buffy is gone. Carriage Hill actually did my dream. Back when Kaylee first broke her leg in 1993, I thought of opening an indoor dog pool. I was just afraid my location would not be good enough to attract enough people to keep it in business.

  5. These are excellent tips. I’ve been trying to get my dogs to enjoy the water by taking them into shallow slow moving water at an ocean inlet nearby. Icy will go in up to her belly but doesn’t seem to want to go in further. I will try going in too, maybe that will help. Sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  6. Reminds me of Jasmine’s journey to loving swimming. The first time she swam was entirely not on purpose. She was playing in the water (which she always loved) and found a spot that was deep. Her body started swimming and she immediately turned back to the sure as if “what the heck is my body doing?” For a year after that, she just continued to play in the water but not swim. Then, on one walks, there was a colorful leaf floating in a little bay. She decided she wanted it and knew how. She got it, swam to get it and loved swimming every since.

  7. Am chuckling here as I have tried everything plus and Madam will not get her feet wet. We were at the beach one day and the kids were running, she following and there was a puddle, she put one paw in and looked at me as if to say what ?? Turned around and ran back to the towel LOL

  8. We have done various posts and videos for our Fit Dogs Rock TV episode on the benefits of swimming and how to safely teach dogs to swim. Very similar tips thanks. My 2 previous dogs Isabelle (part Lab part Chow Chow) and Cookie (mainly Lab) loved water but Kilo the Pug is not a fan. We have lured him into a kiddie pool with treats and comfy very shallow water at home on hot days- he stands there miserable like when he has his occasional bath or shower. At the dog beach he will go to the edge and seems to enjoy looking at water but does not like his feet wet. He hates other dogs so them playing nearby makes it worse. He has a life jacket if we are near a lake in case he falls but he hates wearing it.

  9. Last year was Jack’s first trip to Florida with us. There was a man with his black lab at the beach. The man three the ball, the lab flew in the water after the ball, and Jack took off after the dog. He thought it was a great game! Not sure he’ll remember that next visit. We’ll probably need to refer to your tips. Thank you.

  10. I have yet to have a dog that likes to swim! Mind you, my little puppy is showing some water potential 😉 We even had a Golden Retriever that refused to swim! But like you say, accept them for who there are, whether they like to swim or not 🙂

  11. I love watching dogs play in the water, they always seem to be having such a blast. I can’t get Jack near the water, he’s never liked it which is crazy considering we live a 2 minute walk to the beach. Perhaps your tips will help, although I’m pretty sure he’s just one of those dogs that hates the water. Who knows perhaps he had a bad experience with water in his previous home.

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