A great deal of how much or how little your dog enjoys being in the water does depend on their breed tendencies and traits, but how they experience being in the water the first few times can also make a big difference in their attitude towards swimming and playing in water.
First it is important to realize puppies should not be encouraged to get into any type of water, especially if they are younger than 4 months. Very young puppies should never be in water as they cannot regulate their body temperature and can inhale water, resulting in the likelihood of pneumonia developing. Older puppies, 4 plus months, should be encouraged to wade into the water but only to their comfort level. This is perfect if you have a lakefront home with a little beach area that allows the puppy to play along the shore.
Gradually as the puppy or dog becomes more comfortable and confident they will wade out further. Most dogs prefer to be able to walk out into deeper water so avoid pools or
other areas where there is a sudden drop off. Dog floatation devices, similar to
human lifejackets can be used, but you can also simply support your dog by forming a cradle with your arms and helping them stay buoyant. After a trip or two experimenting with the leg movement of swimming your puppy or dog, if they are a natural water dog, will be off and swimming on his or her own. Dogs under one year of age should be carefully monitored in the water as they may become quickly tired and need assistance.
Dog breeds that don’t enjoy the water may need a bit more encouragement. Offer treats and lots of praise as they gradually move into deeper water. Play along the edge of the water and encourage but don’t force the dog into deeper areas. If the dog refuses to go any deeper never push or pull the dog forward, this is likely to result in the dog panicking and possibly scratching or biting the handler. Lifejackets and floatation devices as well as having supporting the dog as he or she gets into deeper water is the best option.
Never throw the dog into a pool or body of water to get them to swim. Not only will this terrify the dog but it will absolutely mean that they will never go into water voluntarily again. In addition if this happens your dog may no longer respond to your calls to “come”
since it resulted in a real trauma for them.
Sometimes pairing a hesitant dog with a capable and comfortable swimming pooch in a playful outing can help. Often in playing with the other dog the non-swimming dog overcomes his or her fears and will splash around and play in the water, even swimming in some situations. Lots of praise and rewards for going into the water, even with another dog, will also help reinforce that this is a desired behavior.
Monitor your dog in the water and watch for any signs of fatigue or exhaustion. If your dog is tired or has been swimming a lot, take them out of the water and have them relax for a while before heading back out again. Most dogs don’t monitor their own energy levels and some dogs can be at risk for drowning if they become overtired in the water.