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Swimming Lessons for Dogs

How, Why, and What the Dogs Say About It


Here is what six of my students had to say about learning to swim.

CISCO: “At first I thought you were mean to put me in the water. Once I learned how to move correctly I enjoyed it. The most fun was learning how to fetch my ball in the water. Now I am a good swimmer.”

TOAST: “I am old and my mom always thought I was scared of the water. I love to swim. It’s the best feeling in the world even though I need you to help me so my head doesn’t go under. On days I am disoriented, swimming helps me to wake up my mind.”

SUNDANCE: “My mom building a pool has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Not only is it fun, but it soothes my body.”

LEO: “I used to be scared of everything in life. Everything that moved. Now since I have been immersed in that body of water, and have learned to move in it, and to get out of it safely, I have changed. I look at the world differently. Nothing is as it appears.”

JASPER: “I am frightened thinking about getting in the water. I am learning to love it while I am in it. I even dream of going in it like Sunny. I am proud of myself. I think I have accomplished something extraordinary.”

ROXY: “Ever since I met you, youhave made me do crazy things. You make my mind stretch and crave more. I am scared when there are a lot of people splashing in the pool. I didn’t even know I could move in water. It is nothing like a bath. I wish you could come over and teach me some more. Can you teach me to keep the water out of my ears?”

WHY TEACH YOUR DOG TO SWIM & HOW: The pool can be extremely dangerous to dogs that do not know how to swim or to dogs that cannot find their way out. Older dogs or rambunctious dogs that are playing around the pool may fall into the pool by accident. Many dogs die by drowning. The good news is you can give your dog swimming lessons. (I also offer this as a service.)

The objective of swimming lessons is threefold: to teach your dogs to swim, to feel comfortable swimming, and to find the stairs so they can get out. Here is the basic training plan. (They will take several training sessions.)

1. Bring your dog to the top stair of your pool. Give him treats and stroke his body while gently holding his collar.

2. See if you can let go of his collar and let him explore the top step. Most dogs will jump out.

3. Carry your smaller dog into the shallow end of the pool. Either pull your larger dog into the pool from the steps or drop him in from the side.

4. Support your dog’s belly with one arm and chest with the other. Your dog may try to swim with his front paws out of the water. Keeping your hand on his chest will support his legs into the water for a successful dog paddle.

5. Once your dog is swimming he will try to go to the side of the pool. DO NOT ALLOW YOU DOG TO PULL HIMSELF OUT AT THE SIDES. The reason for this is if that if he is exhausted he may slip back in and drown. If he tries to scramble up the side tell him “NO” and pull him back into the water. Holding his collar, see if you can manipulate his body to swim along the side of the pool. This is very important because you want him to be able to find the stairs in any pool. Guide him around the side of the pool to the stairs.

6. Once he finds the stairs. Let him get out and give him lots of praise, clapping, singing, and running together. It is very exciting that he just swam! (Do 1-6 at least four times in one session and then call it a day.)

In between the sessions do not be discouraged if your dog goes and hides. He may need time to process what he has just done.

You may also want to towel, cuddle, and nurture.

7. At the next session, on another day, repeat steps 1-6 two to three times.

8. You want to push or drop your dog into the pool at different locations. Let his head go under. You want to mimic a chaotic situation where he fell into the pool by accident. Do this stage several times over, for three different sessions, graduating to your dog being in the pool alone.

Some of the dogs may learn to love to swim and others will still dislike it, but they ALL will feel confident enough to find their way out. Too many dogs die from drowning each year.

Here my friends are hiding from me before their third swimming lesson. They are secretly excited!

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