Props and treats can also help. I always recommend leaving your dog’s leash on (preferably attached to a harness rather than a collar) when he’s first learning to swim. First, a leash prevents him from running away from you, as you can quickly step on it if he tries to hotfoot it in the opposite direction, and second, it’s familiar to him, so it may help him feel more comfortable.
Never shy away from using a life jacket or some other form of flotation device, either—it may just make those first shaky moments in the water more bearable. If your dog loves tennis balls, they can also be a great way to lure him into the water. Toss one just a few strokes out and encourage him to swim after it. Don’t be shy about giving him treats, either; they can help coax him deeper into the water.
You took lessons, wore water wings, and were always supervised by a grownup. It took months for you to feel truly comfortable, so don’t expect that your dog will become an expert in mere minutes.
When you do dip toes—and paws—in, here’s how to proceed. Keep walking with your dog further into the water until he begins to paddle with all four legs. You may need to support him by putting your arms under his belly, and that’s fine. What you don’t want is for him to paddle using only his front legs, since that will wear him out.
Stay with your dog until he’s back on dry land, praising him every step of the way. If your pup has to climb onto a dock or into a boat, he may be a little wobbly, so be sure to support him so he doesn’t struggle and fall back into the water. Learning to swim may take time, but you might be surprised to discover that you have a canine Michael Phelps on your hands in no time flat!
Remember when you learned to swim?
What to Look for When Choosing a Pet Flotation Device
You’ve dreamed of floating next to your dog in the pool—you reclining on a raft with a drink in your hand, your dog lying proudly on his own raft—but he’s just not ready for that. Your pup needs a sturdy flotation device. (Perhaps he’ll soon feel confident enough for the raft you’ve dreamed of.) What should you look for?
Be sure that a canine life jacket fits him snugly. You should be able to insert two fingers between it and your dog’s body, and under no circumstances should the jacket be able to go over your dog’s head.
The safest jackets have easy-release buckles. Your dog could get snagged on something when he’s out of the water but still wearing his life vest, so you want something you can get off him quickly.
Look for a jacket with a harness that allows you to lift him out of the water. Your dog might be having so much fun that he doesn’t want to come out, so this may be a necessity!
My favorite is the K-9 Float Coat by Ruffwear. Besides being a great safety device for swimming at the beach or in the pool, it’s also useful for dogs who love to raft, kayak, boat, surf, and paddleboard. The K-9 Float Coat is designed for dogs of all shapes and sizes and includes thoughtful details, such as a strong handle that’s optimally positioned for lifting dogs out of the water and reflective trim for enhanced visibility.