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Swimming is an ideal form of low-impact, socially engaging exercise for both humans and their furry companions. Because it doesn't place excessive strain on joints or tendons, it is an activity dogs of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy. However, not all animals instinctively know how to swim, including dogs--even sports breeds such as Labradors. Here’s how to help your pet learn to keep his head comfortably above water while reaping those health and playtime benefits safely. It's not difficult, but it may require a little patience and practice from both of you.
If you are swimming in a pond or lake, invest in dog-friendly life vest for safety’s sake. Gradually guide your dog on a leash into the water and observe his initial reaction. Some pups will instantly enjoy it, but others may be timid or take longer to acclimate. Don't rush him through this process; let him take his time in the shallows to get comfortable. Once he is clearly receptive, relaxed, and playful, wade in and pick him up under his torso so he's secure in your arms. Proceed to walking along the shore line at a waist-deep level. At this juncture, nature will intervene, and your dog will start to kick his legs instinctively.
Once this begins, walk around in small circles and watch his paws. Once he’s paddling at a rapid pace, it will be safe to slowly release your arms and allow him to strike out on his own (much like gradually releasing your grasp from the bicycle seat of a child learning to pedal solo). It’s advisable to keep your hands on his leash and continuously offer verbal encouragement as he’s gaining the confidence and skill to navigate the waters safely.
Teaching a dog to swim in an above-ground pool requires the same techniques, but be sure his nails are clipped and keep him away from the sides of the pool so he doesn’t accidentally puncture the lining. You may want to consider purchasing a doggy dock, a floating stair that allows the dog to safely exit the water on his own. Teaching in a below-ground pool is slightly easier because the stairs lead from the water to the ground surface. Guide the dog to the stairs via leash and have him walk on to the first step. As you enter the pool, cradle the dog and repeat the swim lesson as before. Once he's swimming on his own, guide him to the stairs so he can learn to calmly walk out.
Even when your dog becomes an accomplished swimmer, always keep safety in mind and never leave him unattended near any body of water. Happy paddling!