Most dogs are not born knowing how to swim. Even the water retrievers, such as Labradors and Chesapeake Bay retrievers, must learn how to swim as puppies or young adults. Training a dog to swim is not necessarily a difficult task, but it does require a willing dog and water deep enough that the dog cannot touch bottom with his feet. Given their physical capability and mental capacity, many dogs can learn to swim in a lesson or two.
Select your location carefully. If your dog’s only interaction with water is the bath tub, he may not be enthusiastic to approach the water at first. Introduce your dog to a small, quiet body of water with no waves or currents, such as a kiddie pool or a pond. A stream with a grassy bank is alright, as long as there is no discernible current.
Allow your dog to approach the water gradually. Let him sniff the water and lap at it as he desires, as long as it is not chlorinated pool water.
Encourage your dog to put his front feet in the water. Lure him in by taking several steps into the water ahead of him and offering him treats. A floating toy, particularly one stuffed with treats, works well.
Put your dog’s life jacket, collar and vest on him. Allow him a few minutes to walk around with his jacket on until he is relaxed and wagging his tail.
Walk your dog into the water gradually, leading him and coaxing him as needed. If he stops, allow him to relax again. If your dog is uncomfortable with the experience, his posture will be rigid, his head will be low and forward, and his tail will be down and possibly between his legs. He may grimace and whine, as well. If he takes this posture, speak quietly to him, but do not allow him to retreat from the water. Stroke his head, neck, and chest until he relaxes his posture and begins wagging his tail.
Prepare for your dog’s reaction when his paws leave the bottom for the first time. Hold your arms under your dog’s midsection. Place one hand at the base of his ribcage and the other on his stomach. Hold his hips as close to level with the high point of his shoulders as possible. Raising his rear end will encourage him to kick with his hind legs and will prevent him from attempting to swim with only his front paws, which will tire him very quickly. If necessary, lure him with food or a toy to encourage him to extend his neck forward and to keep his head parallel to the water (See References 3).
Walk along side your dog as he makes forward progress, supporting his ribcage and stomach. Hold his hips as close to level with the high point of his shoulders as possible. Keep supporting him until he is relaxed and is kicking purposefully with all four legs. If he begins to swim without encouragement or nervousness, remove his leash from his collar.