Teach Your Puppy to Swim

Puppies learn to swim easiest if you teach them sooner than later.  Puppies go through several fear stages.  The first is from about 8-11 weeks of age.   The second starts at around six months.  The best time to teach a puppy to swim is either before he’s 8 weeks old or between these two stages.  If your puppy happened to be born in the fall and you want your puppy to swim, I’d teach him before he was six months even if it was cold.  Your puppy won’t mind the cold even though it won’t be comfortable for you to get in the pool with him.  I’ve had dogs choose to swim when the temperature was close to freezing.

To teach swimming, begin by luring your puppy with food and toys into a small kiddie pool filled with a few inches of water.  Get them gradually used to walking around in the water and then gradually jumping in and out.  For a timid dog, you may need to feed them their whole meal as lures in the pool.  Work daily with your puppy in the kiddie pool until they are playing comfortably in it.  While working with your puppy in the kiddie pool acclimating him to water, order him a life vest with a handle for when it's time to move to a real pool.

Once your puppy is enjoying the kiddie pool, go to the area around your real pool. Put the life vest on the puppy and you get in the pool with a few favorite toys or a ball. Get your puppy's attention by playing with him with the toy while you are in the pool and he is out. If he should fall in, make sure you catch him and put him back on the side. The last thing you want is for your puppy to spook. Almost all dogs know instinctively how to swim. The main thing you are teaching is confidence and enjoyment of the water so make sure everything stays positive and fun.

After playing for awhile with your puppy with you in and him out, you can try luring him to the first step with preferably the toy, but if the toy isn't enough to make him want to step down to the first step, try food. Again, make sure everything stays positive. If the puppy wants to jump back out, let him. Show him the toy or food again until he decides on his own to step in. If he doesn't step in on his own, you can pick him up and gently put him on that first step and reward and praise. If he gets out, let him. Try luring him in again. Continue this process until you are either having a fun game with him on the steps or he is standing there while you feed him one treat after another.  If your puppy won’t take a treat because he’s too stressed, don’t push it and go back to the little pool for a few more days.  If he’s a little stressed on the step, but still eating, then you’re ok. Continue re-inforcing the step. Work with your puppy on the first step for a few days until he is comfortable and even enjoying the water.

When your puppy is comfortable on the first step, it's time to try to lure your puppy in the water (with his life jacket on). Stand no more than a foot or two from him and see if he'll swim to you. If he comes hold him and reward him. If he won't come off the step with either food or a toy as an enticement, then sit on the step with your puppy and gradually get him in your lap and when he is comfortable, carry your puppy into the water.  Feed him while you are holding him. Walk around with him in the water while feeding him. Take him back to the step. Try luring him to swim a couple of feet to you again.  Keep walking around with him and putting him back and trying to get him to swim to you again. Keep trying to lure him to swim a foot or two to you and heavily reward and praise when he does swim to you. Do this a few days until he is comfortable. If your puppy is too stressed to eat, go back to spending time on the steps and try moving him off the steps another day.


Once comfortable with you holding him in the water and swimming a foot or two to you, try getting him to swim from you to a second person who is at the steps. Have him swim back and forth between you and the steps several times a day for several days.  Then after putting your puppy on the first step, try throwing a ball out just a couple of feet away from the step and see if your puppy will swim to get it.  Gradually increase the distance you are throwing the ball, always making sure that you are calling your puppy back to the steps to get out.

Once your puppy is swimming comfortably with the life jacket, the final step of taking off the jacket is easy. Make sure you are with him for support, play, and reward. He should be swimming within a day. Don't leave him in a pool without someone in there with him until he knows very well how to get to the steps to get himself safely out.