Swimming with a dog can be one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. What could be better than you and your dog swimming in the sun? Swimming is also a great way for dogs of all ages to get some healthy exercise, and it can help to cool down those with thick coats on hot days. Swimming, however, is not easy for all puppies. Not all breeds are suited, and care should be taken not to traumatise them to one of life’s greatest pleasures.

In this article, we’ll be giving you a deep dive on how to teach your puppy to swim. We’ll tell you what age is the best to teach a puppy to swim, the best places you should go to for your lessons, and the methods we use to teach puppies to swim that will hopefully show them their next favourite activity. We’ll also tell you what dog breeds are the best for swimming – they’re just naturally talented at it. No offence to the rest!

If you’re craving more dog information, you bet you’ll find everything you need to know inside the Zigzag puppy training app. We’ve got plenty to offer – a programme designed for your dog’s breed, and loads of lessons that go hand in hand with the important developmental milestones of your puppy – so each one hits perfectly at the right time. Oh, and our expert puppy trainers are always available to answer your questions, doubts and worries. They’ll help you figure things out and they’re much more than great listeners.

golden retriever swimming
Photo by Marcia Soligo on Unsplash

What age should I start teaching my puppy to swim?

You should start to teach your puppy confidence around water during their socialisation period. The goal is to get them to be comfortable with water, and that it’s nothing to worry about. Oh, and when we say water, we mean bodies like lakes, to rain, to water for their baths. 

As puppy owners, we want our little ones to feel happy under every watery circumstance. In fact, baths are a great way to start their relationship with water prior to teaching them to swim.

Older dogs can certainly be taught how to swim. You can help them build water confidence and learn how to swim safely, although it might take a little more time if they’ve had unpleasant experiences with water previously. But everything is possible with plenty of treats. They’ll help turn water into fun!

Where can I teach my puppy to swim?

You can teach your puppy to swim at a few different places, like in a kid’s paddling pool or at a dog hydrotherapy pool. If you’re lucky enough to have your own pool, use that! You can also teach a dog to swim in a shallow lake or a stream.

For safety reasons, we recommend starting your dog swimming training in a body of water your puppy or dog can stand in so that they’re not out of their depth. If you think it’s necessary, consider using a doggy life jacket! It might bring you some peace of mind. 

A children’s paddling pool

A paddling pool in your back garden is a great place to start teaching your puppy some confidence around water. Our suggestion is to use a hard-sided one rather than a t’s inflatable one as, unlike children, dogs have claws and teeth that can burst like a balloon. Nobody wants that, right?

A canine swimming pool or hydrotherapy pool

Many doggy swimming pools used for physiotherapy also offer sessions where they will teach your dog to swim. Some allow you to get in too!

Your own swimming pool

If you have your own swimming pool, hats off to you. Besides getting your laps done, you can also use it to teach your puppy to swim. In fact, it’s pretty important that you do so in case your puppy falls in, they know what to do. Otherwise, make sure the area is well-fenced off or doesn’t get themselves into trouble by walking on top of the covers.

Lakes and streams

If you enjoy swimming in open water or simply relaxing in lakes and streams, you should definitely introduce your dog to it here. You’ll eventually have the most incredible adventures together that your friends will be envious of.

The beach

Teaching your puppy to swim at the beach can be a great way of habituating them to different surfaces at the same time. You can find pebbles or sand at the beach, so it’s important for them to get used to it. It will be a problem if they love water and hate the sand. 

If you have a dog breed that loves to swim, be sure they don’t get a bit giddy and swim out too far!

corgi swimming
Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

How to teach my puppy to swim

Teaching your dog to swim is a step-by-step process that takes time and patience. Please note that you shouldn’t expect your dog to swim straight away! There seems to be a logic that ‘all dogs can swim’, which can be dangerous (and actually lacks logic, if you ask us).

1. Take them somewhere shallow

You want your puppy to feel safe when you teach them to swim. Therefore, you want to choose somewhere they can easily stand up in. This will allow them to explore the water’s edge and familiarise themselves with it. 

You can drop some treats around for them to find, but letting them learn and experience the water at their own pace is the best you can do. They might tap it with their paw, give it a lick, or a dig before paddling in themselves.

2. Go in the water yourself

Getting into the water yourself will help your puppy understand that it’s safe. Encourage them to come into the water with you by calling their name and gesturing them in.

As you do, remember to stay calm and use an encouraging yet mild voice to let them know you’re not in any danger.

3. Use floating toys for them to play with and retrieve from the water

You can do this from the water’s edge or in the water itself. Play is always great, but especially when trying to get a dog to like new experiences. Try to have fun by the water with your dog so that swimming turns into something they think of as fun, and not a big deal.

4. Encourage them to swim deeper if they want to

You can do this from the water’s edge or in the water itself. Play is always great, but especially when trying to get a dog to like new experiences. Try to have fun by the water with your dog so that swimming turns into something they think of as fun, and not a big deal.

5. Use a life jacket and support them in the water

Holding them up in the water encourages them to kick their legs and swim naturally. If you need to, we recommend using a dog life jacket to help your puppy stay afloat. Don’t let go straight away and pay close attention to their body language. Not all dogs enjoy swimming, and we need to respect that! 

PRO TIP: Just like with children, never leave a puppy alone in the water! It can be too easy for them to get in trouble, and you need to be with them to keep them safe. It’s also important not to allow them unsupervised access to pools, so if you have one, make sure it’s fenced in to prevent accidents.

golden retriever swimming
Photo by Jennifer Barnes on Unsplash

Best dog breeds for swimming

Some dog breeds were literally born to swim. These breeds have traditionally worked as water retrievers and often have webbed feet, like ducks!

Here’s a list of some of the best dog breeds for swimming: 

  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Labrador, Golden and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers 
  • Portuguese and Spanish Water Dogs
  • Cocker, Springer and Irish Water Spaniels
  • Newfoundlands
  • Standard Poodles
  • Cockapoos and Labradoodles

Swimming can be a great form of exercise for these breeds. Bear in mind that dogs swallow a lot of water when swimming and can get into trouble due to water intoxication and drowning if they’re left to swim for a long time. Sorry for the harsh message, but better safe than sorry!

If there’s something you remember from this entire article, it’s that you don’t force your dog to swim if they don’t want to.  Never throw them in or expect them to know how to swim by default. That’s a surefire way to make a dog NOT want to swim and hate the water and make them feel terribly scared and unsafe to be around you.

Breeds such as Bulldogs, Frenchies, Basset Hounds and Dachshunds will often not choose to swim due to their body type. It’s no secret they’re quite unique. They can find it hard to keep their head up out of the water, and their bodies are quite heavy for their little legs to keep them afloat. However, they will often love cooling off in the water, so do keep them safe if you’re near water.

We hope that’s given you confidence in teaching your dog to swim. If you don’t have a dog that’s specifically bred to swim, you can still teach them to be comfortable around the water. They might waddle before they go for a full doggy paddle, which is totally fine!

If you fancy teaching your dog some more fun things, check out our article on how to teach a dog to come, or how to teach a dog tricks. There’s always something new to learn.

If you haven’t already, download the Zigzag app. We don’t mean to brag, but you’ll definitely like it – especially chatting with our professional dog trainers and getting the best puppy training tips.