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How to teach your dog to swim in 5 steps

Swimming is the perfect summer activity for your dog!  

When swimming, your dog gets a full-body strength and cardio workout. Swimming is also gentle to your dog's body and an ideal activity in warm temperatures as the risk of overheating is smaller.  

It's very individual how much dogs enjoy the water - some you can't get out of it, and others are uncomfortable or even afraid of water. 

 Dog physiotherapist and world champion in bikejoring Linn Beate Sinding-Larsen share her best tips on introducing your dog to water for the first time and teaching them how to swim. 

1. Prepare the body for activity

Warming up is recommended before any physical activity to help prepare your dog's body to work and prevent injuries.  

- I warm up for about ten minutes, says Linn Beate. 

You can start with walking, then gradually increase the intensity by jogging, playing, and activating the body through tricks. 

A good warm-up routine also makes the whole experience of training more pleasant for your dog. 

During the warm-up, your dog will most likely have a toilet break, meaning less risk of accidents at the beach. Dogs usually have to pee or poop straight after swimming, so always carry dog waste bags to avoid leaving traces. 

2. Use a life jacket

When introducing a dog to water for the first time, a life jacket will give them a positive experience with the new element by providing extra support and stability. This helps lay the foundation for lots of fun in the years to come!  

For safety, you are advised to always use a life jacket for your dog when in or by the water. Accidents can happen even to the best swimmers. The risk increases with colder temperatures, when your dog swims longer distances, or when swimming in deep or moving water.  

In distress, a dog will often drop their back end, causing them to quickly disappear under the surface of the water. A life jacket, such as the Protector life jacket or the Safe life jacket 2.0 will help keep your dog afloat and reduce the risk of drowning.   

Your dog’s life jacket should be equipped with a handle to aid in lifting, supporting, or guiding your dog whenever needed. You can also attach a line to the life jacket for positive control of your dog in the water. A line can also be used to adjust direction and resistance. Make sure the line does not get tangled in your dog's legs.

3. Be in the water with your dog

Linn Beate likes to be in the water with her dog. 

- Then I have better control and can support them if something should happen. 

If you lead by example, it is also more likely that your dog will follow you into the water. 

Safe Life Jacket Orange Setting 3 (1)

If your dog tries to climb on you, move back to shallow water to build more confidence. You can also support your dog in the water by holding the handle on their life jacket, or guiding them to swim around you or away from you with a treat or a toy.  

4. Start in shallow water

A quiet beach is excellent for making your dog comfortable with water, as they can control how deep into the water they go. Starting by jumping off a dock or steep edge might surprise and scare them! 

Temperature and conditions also play a role: cold water or high waves can feel uncomfortable. 

5. Focus on having fun!

Having fun together should be the main priority when introducing your dog to the water.  

- Reward your dog with treats or toys for any progress. Don't expect too much from them or force your dog into the water. 

If your dog is scared about the water, approach gradually and let them explore it at their own pace. You can throw treats or toys by the water to make it a fun game. If your dog gets overly excited about toys, using treats is the recommended choice.  

As your dog gets more confident, you can encourage them to go deeper into the water until they eventually start swimming. Many life jackets, such as the Safe life jacket, are equipped with a handle you can hold to support your dog when swimming for the first time.  

Frequently asked questions about swimming with dogs 

When can I teach my dog to swim? 

Exposing your puppy to a wide variety of sounds, surfaces and environments, such as water, is recommended from an early age.  

- Puppies can play in the water on their own terms, of course, but you are advised to wait till your dog's body is fully grown before including swimming as a part of a physical training program. I introduce my young dogs to swimming at one to two years of age, Linn Beate says. 

How can I make my dog like swimming? 

The key is not to try to make your dog like the water. Allow your dog to get familiar with the new element at their own pace. Praise often and show them that swimming can be great fun! Bringing their favorite treats and toys is recommended!  

Can you teach an old dog to swim? 

Dogs of all ages can learn to enjoy the water if you adjust to your dog and set them up for success. With senior dogs, keep an extra eye on the water temperature and prevent them from getting cold. Swimming is an excellent way of exercising for old dogs as it is gentle to their bodies. 

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