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You’re one of the lucky ones who get to live near an ocean. When you take your dog out for a walk it’s along the beach with a spectacular view. While other dogs splash around in the water though, yours is somewhat fearful of the cascading waves. You’ve tried encouraging him in before but with no luck. Alternatively, you go away on holiday for the week. You go somewhere with gorgeous weather and stunning beaches. You take your canine buddy with you, but no matter what you do, his paws stay dry.
If you can train him to swim in the ocean though, you’ll have a fantastic way to exercise him. Swimming is great for dogs' limbs, muscles and joints, keeping them healthy and fit into old age. Not to mention it will tire them out and leave them napping in the afternoons.
Training your dog to swim is surprisingly straightforward. The trick is to incentivize him to take the plunge. Once he knows what you want him to do and realizes there is a tasty treat waiting for him when he comes back out, he’ll take to ocean swimming like a duck to water. Be warned: you need to be prepared to get wet too!
If he’s a puppy, he’ll be keen to please and full of energy and confidence. Training him to swim in the ocean could take just a few days. If he’s getting on a bit and not quite the athlete he once was, it may take a couple of weeks before he’s confident in the water. Get it right though and you’ll be able to keep him fit and a healthy weight. Dogs burn far more calories swimming than they do running, especially when you throw in the battle against the tide.
Before you become a synchronized swimming duo, you’ll need a few bits. A bathing suit will be required, (for you, not the dog). You’ll also need his favorite food broken into small pieces or some delicious treats. Some toys to play with in the water and, of course, an ocean to practice in will also be needed. Be sure to choose an area where dogs are permitted in the water and that is safe for your dog's size and ability. Also, pack plenty of fresh water so your dog isn't tempted to drink seawater, which can be dangerous for his health.
For one of the methods, a pond or swimming pool will come in handy to build up his confidence before he dives into the big ocean. Apart from that, just bring a proactive attitude and you’re ready to dive in!
The Lead By Example Method
Get swimming ready
Put on your bathing suit, leash your dog, and head for the ocean. Make sure you have some treats to hand, or his favorite toy. As you go, keep things upbeat and jolly, you want to make swimming lessons a fun game.
Let him off the leash and head for the very shallowest part of the water. Get down on your knees and lure him over with a treat. You can also call him over and talk in an animated voice to keep it playful. Be patient, you may need to call for several minutes before he finally braves his way over to you.
As soon as his paws touch the water, give him a treat and lots of praise. At this point, you need to encourage any signs at all that he’s heading for the ocean. Really lay on the verbal praise thick. Keep practicing this for 10-15 minutes each day. Stay shallow and lure him in with you. His confidence will slowly build.
Slowly get deeper
After a day or two, when he’s confident in the shallows, it’s time for you to wade a bit deeper. Keep using toys, treats, and praise to lure him in and put him at ease. Also, stay close to him, that will make him feel more comfortable and confident. You need to really lead by example, dogs mirror their owners behavior, so if he sees you’re happy in the water, he’ll want to do the same.
Lose the treats
Once he’s confident swimming deep in the ocean with you, you can slowly give him more independence and lose the treats. By this point, he won’t need you with him to get swimming and he won’t need the promise of food.
The Extended Fetch Method
Make a toy his favorite
Chose a toy that can be later thrown into the water. Play with that toy and your dog for a few minutes each day for the next couple of days. Be animated, play tug of war, really get him excited by the mere sight of it. Also leave it in his bed so it smells like him and truly becomes part of his life.
Head for the beach
Have him on a secure leash and have a pocket full of treats. You’ll also need that absolute favorite toy. Once on the beach, start throwing it for him on the beach only and encourage him to bring it back. Each time he brings it back, give him a treat and lots of verbal praise.
Extend your throw to shallow water
After a few successful throws, he will have realized food is on the menu if he brings the toy back. Use this to your advantage and start to throw it in the very shallowest part of the ocean. Again, encourage him to go and get it if he seems unsure. You can even run with him the first couple of times to put him at ease. Each time he returns it, give him a mouth watering treat.
Once he’s confident retrieving the ball in the shallow water, start throwing it deeper. The trick is to build up the depth slowly to keep him comfortable. Because he’s so excited by this toy and with the promise of food on the beach, he’ll naturally start swimming to get to it.
For him to really get the hang of it, you need to practice every day. Just 10 minutes each day for a week or two will turn him into a mermaid. Be supportive each day and be encouraging. Once he’s properly got into the swing of it you can lose the treats. He’ll now be comfortable swimming of his own accord.
The Start Small Method
Take him to a pool or pond
The ocean can be big, rough, and scary, so ensure he’s confident in a quiet pool or pond first. Bring some treats with you and a toy or two to get him excited.
Dangle it at the shallowest part
To start with, just take a toy and play around with it in the water. Encourage him to come over and eventually he will. Be patient, it may take a while for him to pluck up the courage, but his owner speaking in a playful voice and his favorite toy will eventually tempt him over.
Put him at ease
Play calmly with him and the toy at the surface. You need to make him feel safe and show him it’s all fun. So regularly give him treats and verbal praise. As he gets more confident, start playing with the toy under the surface. It may help to get in yourself and show him how it’s done. This will make him feel more comfortable in the water. Continue to give him treats and praise. Practice this each day until you can both swim around in the water with his toys.
The big leagues
When you think he’s happy in the water at your local pond or pool, head for the ocean. You’ll need to follow the same procedure as before. Give him treats and praise as you head towards the ocean and play in the shallow end to start with. Keep it fun, keep him full of food and he’ll be keen to keep playing. Head to the ocean each day if you can and slowly take the play deeper and deeper. Do this until he’ll swim alongside you comfortably in search of his toy and treats.
If he gets scared, react
The ocean can be terrifying, so if a big wave crashes over him and he looks scared, take him out and comfort him. You don’t want him so frightened he never goes back in. Once he’s happy, gradually take him back in again. Over days and weeks his confidence will grow and then you can stop giving him treats altogether.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 10/24/2017, edited: 01/08/2021