Monday, July 2, 2012

Ask the Vet: Summer Adventures with Swimming by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM

With the weather warming up, I’d like to take my dog to the lake.  How do I teach him to swim?

Before putting your dog in the water consider his breed. Retrievers and spaniels were bred to hunt in the water and typically love swimming. Bulldogs have short legs with a heavy body making it impossible to stay afloat. I recommend a life jacket until you’re confident of your dog’s ability or if your dog is swimming in open water, regardless of his breed or ability.

The first step in teaching your dog to swim is how to exit the water safely. A dog unable to get out of the water can drown from exhaustion. Stand at the exit site and call your dog to be sure he knows how to get out. If needed, wade in and assist your dog out of the water until he gets the hang of it.

Second, practice swimming in shallow water where you can support your dog. Dogs should use both their front legs and back legs to swim. If your dog is just paddling with his front legs, provide support under his chest until all four legs are going. Use calm, positive reinforcement to encourage him to swim and develop confidence.

Third, build up his endurance by gradually increasing the amount of time in the water. As dogs get fatigued they drop lower into the water and pant harder. Encourage breaks and don’t push your dog to exhaustion. 

After swimming rinse your dog with fresh water. Chlorinated water, lake water or salt water can make them feel itchy and uncomfortable. Flush his ears with a drying ear flush to prevent ear infections.

In addition to teaching your dog to swim I have a few water safety tips: 
  •  Dogs should NEVER be in the water unsupervised.  It is tragic and devastating when accidental drowning occurs.
  • Extreme caution should be used when dogs and kids are in the pool together as they can climb on each other and hold one another under water.
  • Dogs that are swimming in lakes and rivers should be vaccinated for leptospirosis - a water borne bacteria that can cause liver and kidney failure.
  • Discourage your dog from drinking ocean water as it can give them an upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea.

With the right training and the proper precautions swimming can be a great activity for your dog and fun for the entire family.  If you think your dog will enjoy swimming, I hope these basic tips get him paddling safely!

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email


  1. This is very interesting. We all assume all dogs can and know how to swim. I am going to share this article with all my dog lovers.


    1. Thanks Denise! Some dogs may be natural swimmers, but others might need a helping paw - so to speak. Being informed and knowing water safety is the best way to enjoy swimming with your pet. The more people know the better!