Whether you’re an avid boater, kayaker, or swimmer, bringing your dog along to enjoy your adventures adds to the fun. While some dogs are natural-born swimmers, all dogs should be introduced to water slowly so they can get used to it. Rivers, lakes, and oceans can be enjoyable for our pets but also present genuine dangers.
The best approach is slow and steady to give your best friend the chance to get appropriately acclimated and minimize fear. When introducing your dog to water, avoid crowded beaches or areas where there are a lot of distractions. Being startled by a loud motorboat whizzing past during the learning phase can create an aversion to the water that will be difficult to overcome.
Shallow Water to Start
Most dogs want to be with their humans and will naturally follow them wherever they go. Start by wading in shallow water to keep your dog comfortable. Although she may be willing to follow you into deeper water, if she’s not used to it, she’ll be stressed. Make sure she’s comfortable wading before moving on. Be sure to check the area so your dog won’t wander onto a drop-off.
For this initial phase, it’s a good idea to keep your dog on a waterproof leash so she feels secure. You’ll also be able to direct her easily to safe areas of the water if she is leashed.
Associate the Water with Fun
Splash around gently at first, then introduce your dog’s favorite toy to the scene. If your dog enjoys playing fetch, toss the toy a short distance so he can retrieve it without having to go into deeper water. Be sure to give lots of praise and attention. Once he’s confident in fetching in shallow water, you can gradually increase the depth. Give him time at each level to gain confidence before moving on to deeper waters.
Introduce Swimming Slowly
Most, but not all, dogs can swim to a greater or less degree. If your dog can swim, he’ll do it instinctively if you give him the opportunity. His enjoyment of it will depend on his comfort in the water, your presence, and whether he feels secure. Done correctly, your dog will quickly discover the joys of romping in the water and look forward to watery adventures with you!
Invest in a Doggy Life Jacket & Waterproof Dog Gear
If your dog can’t swim or would have difficulty with it, he can still enjoy water fun. Stay in the shallow end of the water and, if you’re going out in a kayak, on a boat, or participating in water sports, invest in a properly fitted dog life jacket. These keep your pooch buoyant and enjoy his safety even if he stumbled into deep water. Even if your dog is an excellent swimmer, a life jacket is a good idea if you’ll be in deep water or far from shore for long periods.
Don’t remove your dog’s collar to put on his life vest. You always want your dog to wear a waterproof collar with an ID tag attached so that others will have your contact information in the event your dog gets lost while on an adventure with you.
Know Whether Your Dog is Suited to Swimming
A few breeds have serious difficulty swimming and should never be in the water over their shoulders without a life jacket. These include Pugs, Maltese, Bulldogs, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Corgis, Chow Chows, Boxers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and Shih Tzus. Among the signs your dog won’t do well swimming are short legs, a large, heavy chest, or a short (brachycephalic) snout.