Teaching MaMaG.'s Zachary to swim


TFP Expert
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LifeTime Supporter
Jul 15, 2007
Eastern Pennsylvania
MaMa G. said:
Sorry to hear about the hip displasia. I have a rotty named Zachary and he has bad hips too but he doesn't swim. He sinks! I pushed him in a couple years ago only to have to jump in and save his butt, shoes and all.

I moved this to the Coffee Bar from the Introductions section.

Some dogs need to learn how to swim. Not all do it instinctively, especially if they didn't have a chance to meet water when they were between 10 and 16 weeks old. For the medium to large breeds that seems to be the window of time when they go through something called a 'fear period' and need to be taught to overcome it.

You can teach an old dog new tricks :)

You'll need a pool noodle and a motivator, either food or a toy, something he'll want as reward. Toys are better because food treats dropped in the water by accident tend to make it messy. We use cloth Frisbees to teach dogs how to swim. The swim lesson assumes you have steps leading into the pool, not a ladder, because Zachary is going to learn how to get into the pool and, especially, how to get out

Put a nylon webbed collar and a lead on him, lure him with the toy and gently tug on the lead while calling him. You're trying to get him to come into the water voluntarily. If he comes in, have someone slip the noodle under his belly while his rear end is still out of the water. Zachary will float, and hif he's motivated by whichever reward you're using, he'll paddle with his front feet to get to it. You want to stay out of reach of those feet because there's a whole lot of power in them and when it gets translated to your skin, OUCH!

If he doesn't want to come in on his own, pick him up, have your helper slip the noodle under his belly, and lower him into the water.

Zachary's first session in the water should be no more than 30 seconds of paddling. Then he gets the reward and you lead him to the steps. Dogs most often get out of a body of water the same way they went in and, if you do have steps, getting out will be easy. Lots of verbal praise but make him give up the toy. You keep that with you in the pool. In fact, when we teach new dogs to swim we insist that the reward is used ONLY for the swimming lessons, not at any other time, until the dog knows how to swim. It makes the reward more desirable to the dog.

You can have several lessons in a half hour period. In our experience, dogs learn to like the water and swim within four very short lessons. Initially, it's just teaching him to get in, paddle in a small circle, get his reward, get out. Do that a couple of times, then make him work a little harder for the reward and let the helper lower the noodle just a few inches. If Zachary starts to sink, the noodle is still there to give him a sense of security. His brain will make the connection required to co-ordinate front and rear paddling in a very short time.

Always give him the reward while he's in the water and always praise him verbally when he gets out. Dogs do what's best for dogs :)

Have fun!



LifeTime Supporter
May 8, 2007
Glendale, AZ
The use of the noodle sounds like a wonderful technique. I am very lucky that my terriers love water, we built our first pool because of their love of water.
We used a doggie life-vest to help our youngest out when he was a pup, that made him more confident to get off the beach step and into the main body of the pool.