Dogs that swim regularly are stronger, fitter and less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. But while pooches are born with the natural ability to “paddle like dogs,” staying horizontal in the water can be a challenge, and introducing your canine friend to water is an important step in his life.

Starting
Choose a nice warm day for your dog’s first swimming lesson. Enlist a helper your dog is familiar with and visit a beach or river that isn’t too intimidating. Avoid big waves, noisy jet skis, and areas where there is a lot of yelling and splashing.

If you’re teaching a puppy to swim, they may be eager to get in the water right away. Young puppies haven’t learned to fear water and swimming will seem like another fun trick to discover. Older dogs may seem scared or reluctant to go in the water, but don’t mistake this for an aversion to swimming. Your dog needs to experience swimming in a safe and controlled environment to gain confidence and feel comfortable in the water.

the swimming lesson
Take your pup or dog several feet into knee-deep or waist-deep water. Place one hand under your dog’s belly and hold his rear up by gently holding his tail so that it is level in the water. Face your helper on the bank and lower the dog’s torso into the water. You will notice that his feet begin to move as soon as they hit the surface. When paddling vigorously, remove your hand from under the belly and briefly hold the butt by the tail to keep the animal level.

Your helper should clap and give you words of encouragement as you let go of your dog’s tail and watch him swim straight to shore.

Similarly, you can also teach your dog to swim in a pool, if you are prepared to clean the dog hairs from the filter! First, let your dog get comfortable in the pool environment with you and show him the pool steps. Then, holding the dog, back up a few steps from the edge and submerge him while holding his belly and lightly holding his tail, and let him swim back to the steps. Repeat this exercise several times.

Canine swim instructors are another great way to introduce your dog to the water. Take another dog, ideally a friend of your dog who is already confident in the water, and you will find your dog eager to imitate his friend.

Under no circumstances should you throw a dog into a pool or over the edge of a boat. Your dog will panic and you will have a hard time getting him to the water again.

water safety
Many dogs love to pull sticks and other floating objects out of the water, but keep in mind that, just like us, they are susceptible to cramping or exhaustion. Puppies, older dogs, and smaller breeds will tire easily, so make sure you don’t let them overexert themselves, especially if you’re exercising with a fitter, fitter dog.

Teach your dog to swim and both you and your canine companion will enjoy hours of frolicking in the water, not to mention top-notch socialization opportunities!

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