Although some breeds are natural swimmers, almost all dogs need to be taught to swim.
Do not even think of putting your dog in deep water without first acclimating him. “Flooding” (as it’s termed among dog behaviorists and trainers) is wrong; it can traumatize the dog and make him fearful.
Even if your dog is a water retriever (such as a Labrador, Golden, or Chesapeake), or a water spaniel (such as a Springer, Irish, or American), acclimate him to water, step by step, and eventually stroke by stroke.
First, encourage him to walk along a gently sloping shoreline, and then venture into shallow water if he’s ready. If going to a lake or the ocean with your dog isn’t available to you, consider coaxing him toward the shallow end of a pool. If possible, have another dog that is already a good swimmer accompany your dog’s swimming lessons.
More water safety tips. Always supervise your dog in the water. In a pool, make sure your dog learns the exit: steps or (better) a ramp. When going on a boat, always use a lifejacket that is designed for dogs and that allows his head to stay above water. Swimming can be dangerous for dogs with short snouts (brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, and the 2012 Westminster champion, named Malachy, a Pekingese).
If your dog likes to go in the water, teach him to go in only with your permission. Our book, Training the Best Dog Ever, has detailed lessons for boundary training. Having a solid ability to recall your dog will keep him safer.
First aid knowledge is important. If your dog goes in cold water on a cold day, he could get hypothermia from prolonged exposure. Wrap your dog in warm blankets. Breathing resuscitation on a dog is performed mouth-to-nose while sealing off his mouth so that air does not escape. Chest compression, Heimlich, and back slaps are done similarly to that ways they are on humans. Consider taking a dog first-aid and CPR course, or at least view a DVD or internet videos.
Thanks for strengthening your bond with your dog by keeping him safe. Good human!