By Karen A. Soukiasian
Many but not all dogs can swim. The best time to encourage a dog into a swimming pool is when they are young, and have little, or no negative experiences with water.
The experience of swimming in a pool should be fun with positive associations.
With some dogs, they take to it immediately. With others, it takes time and patience. Unlike the ocean, a lake or pond, a swimming pool has walls, and your dog may sense they will be trapped.
Never force or throw your dog into the swimming pool. It is always better when the dog thinks getting into the pool is their idea.
One more thing to consider, if you let your dog use the pool, be sure to keep it clean. Regularly monitor the chlorine and pH levels and check filters and drains for dog hair.
6 steps to dog swimming pool success
Step 1: Stay calm
Calmly leash your dog. Talking in a cheerful and confident tone of voice, casually lead them to the pool. Do not drag them! If they balk, unleash them and try again at another time.
Step 2: Praise and treats
Without tugging on the leash, encourage him/her toward the pool, with your voice. Each time they step forward, reward them with praise and treats. They should associate by walking with you toward the pool, good things such as getting praised and receiving treats happen! Consider this the goal for the day. This has been a positive experience with positive associations.
Step 3: Sit at pool’s edge
At this point the objective is to simply get him/her to the edge of the pool. Stand at the edge of the pool, petting him/her and continue to praise and give treats. Put your feet in the pool, have your dog sit at your side. Continue to talk to your dog in a normal tone of voice. Use lots of praise and treats. Consider this your goal for the day. This has been a positive experience with positive associations.
Step 4: Repetition
Repeat steps 1 and 2. Get into the pool, walk down the first two steps. Now, call your dog to follow you while gently pulling the leash. Each step they take should be rewarded with praise and treats. He/she should come forward however, they may try to retreat. Only when he/she comes forward, should you reward with praise and a treat! You may have to help them by putting their front feet into the water on the first step. Reward him/her with lots of praise and treats. Consider this your goal for the day. This has been a positive experience with positive associations.
Step 5: Show them how to get back out
If you can get your dog through steps 1-3, now, swim out into the pool calling them by name, giving the command “let’s swim!”; while gently pulling on the leash. As soon as their whole body is in, immediately show them how to turn around and find the stairs to get out. You did it! Reward your dog with lots of praise and treats. Consider this your goal for the day! This has been a positive experience with positive associations.
Step 6: Eliminate the leash
Repeat steps 1-4 often enough that your dog will willingly get in with the leash slack. Try calling them without the leash! They should get in readily. Use lots of praise. Instead of food treats in the water, reward with a tennis ball or squeaky toy. Teaching your dog to get into the pool has been a positive experience, with lots of positive associations.
Bottom line: Use highly motivating treats. The value of the reward must be worth the effort they make. Also, make sure your dog knows where the ladder, steps or shelf is located, so they can exit the pool without panicking.
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