Start by showing your dog how to enter and exit. Use a small children’s pool to introduce your dog to the water. While on leash toss a special toy into the water. If she is still reluctant you can take a high-value treat and lure her in, placing the treat by her nose and praising and rewarding for any attempt to step into the water. If it is a small dog who can’t step over the sidewall, provide a way for the dog to get out of the pool.
Find a quiet, clean body of water without currents. It should have a gentle slope for ease of entry and exit and not a steep drop. Be prepared to join your dog in the water and bring a favorite toy. If teaching in a pool there must be steps leading into the water. Enter the water first and, once stable and facing the dog, patiently encourage her to descend the steps as done with the wading-pool example above.
If your dog is cautious about entering the water, spend some time on shore and shallow areas and praise and treat with every step in the right direction. Take your time and be patient. It may take several visits. Also, recognize that some dogs will never be at ease in water, and may prefer games on solid ground.
Consider using a life jacket to help reluctant swimmers. It will add buoyancy and create a bridge as they test their water skills. Acclimate your dog to the jacket in short sessions over the course of a week, putting it on and treating her for wearing it.
Working with a partner or a friendly dog who loves the water can encourage your dog to relax and venture further.
Go pro. Once your dog gets the hang of swimming, consider doing a water sport with him. As of June, you can earn an AKC title for your dog in the sport of dock diving, which makes a competitive sport out of taking a long leap off a pier into a body of water. For more about dock diving, see the most recent issue of AKC Family Dog.
If you are unsure about doing any of this, consult a training professional. Before beginning any exercise program with your dog, be sure to consult with your veterinarian.
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