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  • Writer's pictureCaryl Wolff

Teach Your Dog to Swim

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Teach Your Dog to Swim

So, you’ve got a pool and a dog. What happens when the two get together? You can teach your dog to swim! It can either be a disaster or a lot of fun. Don’t assume your dog will intuitively know how to swim, even if it’s a retriever. He needs some help, and you can teach him so you’ll both have a great time. One cautionary note, even after your dog knows how to swim, NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG AROUND THE POOL UNSUPERVISED. Just as with a child, always be there just in case.

What dogs are not-so-great candidates for swimming?

Young puppies, senior dogs, overweight dogs, dogs who tend to overexert themselves, double-coated dogs, snub-nose dogs, short-legged dogs, dogs with large heads and barrel chests, dogs who are ill, have a medical problem, or are on medication.

Safety Tips for Dogs around Swimming Pools

  • Have a see-through pool fence with a self-closing and self-locking gate.

  • Have a pool alarm.

  • Have a ramp or ladder at the steps for ease of exit. Alternatively, especially if you have a small dog, put bricks on the steps so his little legs have an easy footing to help him get out.

  • Dogs can get sunburned especially around the nose, eyes, and ears. Ask your vet about a dog sunscreen. Light-colored dogs and dogs who have been recently shaved have a greater risk of being sunburned.

  • Don’t pair up swimming with meals – wait at least an hour.

  • Maintain control of your dog in the water by using a leash or long line attached to a dog life jacket, a flat buckle collar, a swimming harness, or a regular harness with the leash attached from the front rather than the top.

Teaching your Dog How to Swim


Put a large vertical marker that moves (such as a plant or a flag) by the steps so he can easily orient himself. As you are teaching him to swim, repeat each one of the following stages a gazillion times before moving to the next stage. You can reward your dog at each stage by giving him a treat or his favorite toy.

  1. Teach him to touch that marker before he enters the water.

  2. Show him the steps, ramp, or ladder from the deck and say “steps.” Then take him a short distance away and repeat.

  3. Gently place him in the water with his feet on the top step. If you have a helper, you are in the water and your helper is at the top of the steps. If you are by yourself, attach a leash or long line before you put him in the water and stay by the side of the pool. Say “steps” and let him gain his footing up the ramp.

  4. VERY GRADUALLY increase the distance from the steps/ramp, and let him swim to the steps and exit. Stay in the shallow end, and keep the lessons short – no more than ten minutes.

  5. To help your dog swim, position your hands so his rear end is up so he will use all four legs to swim. He should look like he is running in the water. You may need to help him by moving his rear legs for him. If he just uses his front legs, he will most likely sink. His neck should extend forward and his head should not point up. Use a food lure if necessary to get him in this position.

  6. Rinse him off or give him a shampoo after your session, and be sure to dry out his ears. Check his eyes because they may become irritated by the chlorine and need to be rinsed.

After he learns to swim, don’t let him overexert himself. Swimming is a physically taxing exercise, and he can easily become fatigued. Take breaks, and watch for signs of exhaustion.

Sometimes despite your best efforts, the unthinkable happens, and you find your dog motionless in the water. Get him out of the water. If he is not breathing, hold his rear legs up to let water drain. Put him on his side. Clear any debris from his mouth, close his mouth with your hand, and apply mouth-to-nose resuscitation and chest compressions. Take him to the vet immediately even if he begins to breathe on his own.

If you have taught him how to swim and also taught him where the steps are, you can avoid this tragedy. And you and your dog will have a fantastic time swimming together. Have fun!!!

This article has appeared numerous times in The Pet Press Los Angeles.

Thanks for visiting Teach Your Dog to Swim. I make a small commission on any products or books I recommend.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.

If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to . We look forward to working with you.


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