Before jumping in, know that getting your dog in the pool takes patience. It may take days or weeks to accomplish. Don’t force your dog to get in a pool and never resort to simply tossing him in. Stay positive, and let your dog set the pace.
Some dogs aren’t capable of swimming. Dogs with deep chests, barrel-shaped torsos, short muzzles or flat faces, and/or short legs have a distinct disadvantage. Breeds to watch out for include the bully breeds -- English and French bulldogs, bull terriers -- pugs, corgis, dachshunds, basset hounds, chow chows, Pekingese and Shih Tzus. Limit these dogs’ activities to wading pools.
Using a canine life jacket and ear wraps to keep water out of your dog’s ears. Even though drowning may not be a concern in a wading pool, put these items on your dog to get him accustomed to wearing them. If he objects, periodically have him wear the items outside of the pool so his negative perception isn’t associated specifically with swimming.
Starting with a Kiddie Pool
Start small by setting up a kiddie pool, sans water. Get in the pool and encourage your dog to come in with you. If she’s distracted or hesitant, attach a leash to her collar and gently walk her into the pool. Say “Let’s swim” or a similar command, and issue it consistently whenever you want your dog to get in the pool. Praise and treat your dog for getting in to create a positive association. When you want your dog to exit the pool, say “All done” or another command of your choosing. Just be sure to use the same command every time so your dog associates the words with the action.
Fill the pool with an inch or two of water and repeat. When your dog is in the pool, toss a few floating treats or a toy into the water and let your dog go after them.
Add another inch or two to the water and again offer treats. Help your dog become accustomed to turning right, left and in a complete circle by leading him with treats and the leash. You want him to be comfortable with changing directions while swimming so that when he’s in a big pool, he can maneuver to the steps or ramp when he’s ready to exit.
Continue to have play sessions in the kiddie pool, adding an inch or two more water each time until you reach the point where the pool is full.
Moving Up to the Big Pool
When your dog is comfortable and happy playing in the kiddie pool, it’s time to graduate to the big pool.
Start by encouraging your dog to take a few steps toward the pool. Reward each step with an irresistible treat and lots of praise. Sit at the pool's edge and dangle your feet in the water. Encourage your dog to come beside you.
With your dog on-leash, get in the pool and stand on the first step or near the top of the ramp. Encourage your dog to take a step or two into the water. Give the same entry command that you used in your kiddie pool training. You may tug gently on the leash or place your dog’s front paws in the water on the first step, but allow the dog to maintain control over how far he goes. Treat and praise him when he makes contact with the water and with each subsequent step.
Venture a foot or two from the entry point and show your dog how to get out. Once your dog immerses herself in the water, turn around and show her how to use the steps or ramp to get out. Help her turn with the leash or by holding her life jacket, and lead her to the steps or ramp.
In the coming days, continue to practice getting in and out of the pool, and encourage your dog to venture a little farther from the steps or ramp each time. Practice finding the exit from different points in the pool. Limit training sessions to five minutes, and allow your dog to rest, go potty and get a drink of water between sessions.
Your dog may become more enthusiastic about swimming, but he won’t always know when he’s reaching his physical limits. Never let your dog swim alone. Keep an eye on him at all times, and call him out of the pool to rest as needed.