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Teaching your dog to swim

Many dogs love to swim and tend to be naturals when it comes to paddling in the water. However, it is important to not assume that all dogs automatically know how to swim, or even like swimming for that matter. All dogs are different and getting them used to situations around water can help prepare them in future.

Why should I teach my dog?

There are many reasons why you may wish to take your dog swimming but a big reason is to help keep them fit, healthy and active. For a dog, just one minute of swimming is the same as four minutes of running!* Swimming also helps to decrease inflammation in the joints, improve circulation and increase their metabolism. As well as this, it is also an excellent strength exercise as they will use all the main muscles in their body to help carry them across the water.

Benefits of swimming:

  • Reduces pressure on joints and tendons. If your dog suffers from stiff joints then swimming is a great alternative exercise to walking or running. The water takes the majority of your dogs weight giving them a completely different range of motion, thus taking pressure off their joints.
  • Relieves stress. Swimming is a fantastic exercise which can improve your dog’s physical health and mental wellbeing. It is mentally stimulating and keeps them thinking sharp. It is also great for assisting sleep!
  • Aids weight loss. Exercising and walking on pavements can sometimes be painful or difficult, especially if your dog is slightly overweight or approaching their senior years. Swimming can help your dog lose weight without overworking their stressed muscles or joints. The likeliness of injury through swimming is also reduced.
  • Safety! We hate to talk about doom and gloom when it comes to a fun activity like swimming, but you never know what may happen on your walks. Your pup may lean forward to lap up some fresh water from a lake and then accidentally lose their balance and fall in. Teaching them how to swim will prevent panic setting in if they were to find themselves in this situation. Plus, on really hot days, and in safe environments, it will be really nice for them to confidently cool down in the water.

Things to be careful of when taking them swimming:

  • This can irritate their nose and eyes. Once their swim is over, ensure you wash them thoroughly to get all the chlorine off their skin and fur.
  • Drinking too much of the pool water. It may be tempting for your pooch to lap up some of the pool water, especially if it is a hot day, so try to prevent this by giving them plenty of fresh water before they get in.
  • Ear infections. Reduce the risk of your dog getting ear infections by ensuring you clean and dry their ears thoroughly after swimming. Dogs have sensitive ears and the bacteria and germs that may be found in lakes, or sometimes even in public pools, could cause infection.
  • Dogs should ideally swim no longer than 30 minutes at a time as swimming for longer can cause fatigue. We have gone into a bit more detail on timings further below.
  • Stay safe. It is important to recognise a good swimming area and a bad one. Avoid water with algae bloom or pollution as these could cause serious side effects for your pet. If you opt for swimming in open water, ensure your dog is wearing a life vest. Always look out for hazards in the water such as broken glass bottles, small pieces of plastic or anything that you feel they can easily mistake for something else, or easily swallow.

When should I take them swimming?

Dogs can learn at any age but if you have yours from puppy, you may wish to get them used to the water early on.

You should be able to find companies who offer swimming lessons for all ages, from puppy to senior. Some places will also offer combined classes where your pooch can practice swimming with other dogs to help the more timid to get braver when watching the perhaps more adventurous dogs! There will also be the option to solo swim if they’d prefer to have the pool to themself, or if your dog is a bit nervous and unsure if what to do. Some places will even let you get in the water with your pup and some places have puppy pool parties where they can enjoy playing with toys and learn to jump in.

Are all dogs good at swimming?

Not necessarily. Some dogs are better suited to swimming than others. Some breeds are naturally more comfortable in the water. There are also some small breeds that ideally shouldn’t swim or would prefer not to swim, such as Yorkshire Terrier, Pug, Shih tzu and chihuahua. This is because some of these breeds have breathing problems and generally do not like the feel of the water. Also the Shih Tzu’s fur is not suited for swimming and can take days to get completely dry.

Dogs that love swimming, and that tend to be great at it, include the Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Portuguese Water Dog and Lagotto Romagnolo. These types of dogs are generally bred to be water dogs as they are big and strong and confident in water. Labradors may even be able to retrieve things in frozen, icy conditions! Poodles may also make good swimmers as they are originally bred to be water retrieving dogs.

How long and how often should I take my dog swimming?

As with any form of exercise, it is recommended to not overwork your dog as it may cause other issues. Swimming is a very tiring sport for them and prolonged sessions can cause lethargy, fatigue, soreness and stiffness as well as behavioral changes. Your dog will let you know if they are not feeling up to exercise through their enthusiasm to move, so be sure to look out for the signs in their body language.

10 – 30 minutes is a good time for a swim session depending on their level of fitness, stamina and familiarity with swimming. This is because just 15 minutes of swimming is the equivalent to a four minute fast run outside.

If you are ever unsure about whether you should teach your dog to swim, or their ability to swim, you can contact your local vet for advice. Remember, all dogs are different so never force yours to do an activity they are not feeling confident or sure about. If they are happy, it can be a very fun experience for them!

*Source: Outdoor Dog Fun.