With Sydney temperatures peaking in an early Summer heat wave, what better time to teach your dog to swim? Not only is it cooling, but it can be great exercise and have health benefits for weight loss in our overweight pals, and  is a great alternative to walks for older dogs experiencing sore muscles, arthritic pain or minimal movement.

 Testing The Waters

Will your dog like the water? The best way foreword is to throw them in the shallow end.. a very shallow end! Try them out on a ground level pool that they can easily step in and out of, like a children’s clam pool, to gauge their reaction to the feeling and temperature of the water. Most dogs will have had a bath before ( we hope!) but they need to see the difference between the experience of cleanliness and fun.

Try to encourage them to enter the pool themselves by leading them with a treat or verbal praise, rather than plopping them down into the water which could cause a big shock to some dogs! Keep the pool in the shade as the water will heat up very fast in the sun, and be sure to fill the pool to the appropriate height for your pup so they can splash around, but be safe. You may even like to sit in the pool with them to encourage them in, build their confidence and give them pats and cuddles when they make the leap of faith.

*Tip from the experienced: If you are using a child’s clam pool, be sure to place it on a hard even surface before filling it. If your dog (or yourself) shift your weight on an uneven surface, the pool is likely to crack and leak. Store the pool out of the elements (especially the sun), in an upright position so that rainwater cannot catch in it and become a haven for mosquitoes!

A Deeper Experience

You dog likes the water? Yay, great news! The next step is to introduce your pup to deeper water. Choose calm, slow moving water with easy access… like a lake or secluded bay.  If you are lucky enough to have your own pool, this is perfect, but use the end you can stand up in easily.  From experience, waves are the biggest deterrent to a dog learning to swim. Also the feeling of having to leap off a high edge (or not being able to easily climb out again), are the main factors that put dogs off the water.

Hop in the water yourself, and again coax your dog into the water slowly with treats and praise. Once they are in water deep enough to start paddling, assist them by holding them under the abdomen and helping them float (like with a small child). If your dog is not a particularly strong swimmer, or is quite heavy in the water (but loves it) think about investing in a dog life vest to assist them.

Safety 101

– Always supervise your dog’s play in water. Drowning can occur if your dog tires or gets out of their depth

– Never let your dog swim out too deep, into dangerous currents or water that you cannot enter to assist them

– Avoid areas known for boating or watercraft that may collide with you

– Avoid water know for having submerged objects (like tree branches) that could injure you or your dog. Also avoid water with poor visibility

– Be careful of sharp oyster shells and rocks if swimming near the ocean – these can slice your pup’s paws and cause a painful infection!

Let the Games Begin!

Here are some fun and easy games to play;

– Ball Bob

Much like bobbing for apples, ball bob is challenging, fun and entertaining for you too! Throw your dog’s favourite ball in the pool and watch him bob to grab it

– Fetch

This one is a no brainer, and a dog’s great instinct! Play fetch with a safe and buoyant toy, like a tennis ball or specially designed water toy. Be careful with sticks as they may splinter or get caught in your dog’s mouth

-Follow Me

Most dogs like nothing more than to chase their owners on dry land. Try this by running in the water (aqua-aerobic style), for fitness and fun with your pup!

– Tug O’ War

Test your dog’s strength and endurance by upping the anti and playing tug o’ war with a rope toy in the water

– Floatin’

Add puncture proof pool toy or paddle boards to the mix… It will teach your dog a new skill, including balancing on a moving surface! It can also be a good resting spot mid-swim

Health Restrictions 

– If a prior condition exists in your dog, or he or she has recently had a surgical procedure performed- consult your veterinarian before letting your dog swim

– Don’t let your dog swim if he has cuts, wounds or post surgery dressings (they need to stay dry)

– Some skin conditions are exacerbated by pool chemicals, so avoid chlorinated water-  on the other hand, some skin conditions may improve with salt water swimming. Check with your vet to be sure it is safe

– If your dog has breathing difficulties due to health conditions, breed or obesity, swimming should be kept short, gentle and closely monitored

More Tips to Succeed

– If you have another dog that is a good swimmer, bring them along to demonstrate and encourage your pup too

– If possible, make the water play a family event so you have more than one pair of eyes and helping hands should you need it

– Rinse your dog’s coat thoroughly with cool fresh water after swimming, particularly in pool water as the added chemicals may cause skin and eye irritation

– Be mindful of flea control- Being submerged in water can cause your topically applied flea treatments to either deactivate, wash off or lose effectiveness. Check the label of your particular product for advice regarding bathing and swimming


I hope this has inspired you to take up a new Summer Sport with your dog.  Good luck with this fun new adventure!

As always, give your pup a kiss from me X

Lolly- Happy Paws Fitness Co-Manager, Resident Vet Nurse and Dogblogger