QUESTION: One of my dogs loves to swim in any kind of water, while the other one hesitantly swims a little at the lake, but hates all pools. What can I do to keep both dogs happy and safe in the water this summer?

ANSWER: The good news is that all dogs know a little about swimming—at least they can do the doggy-paddle. Now whether they are good at it and enjoy it is another question entirely. Enjoy water fun this summer with your dogs by remembering these two main points: be a great swimming coach and stay safe.

Be your dog’s best swimming coach
Stay positive about your dogs’ water experiences. Novice water dogs may need a lot of cheering, coaxing, toys or other dogs to help them understand how to handle the new water adventure. It’s common that different water sources require a different coaching method from you. That’s because the two water sources are completely different to your dog. Not being able to see where a paw lands versus having a gradual entrance is a big deal for dogs. No, this does not mean you should toss your fur-friend into the pool. When introducing dogs to pools, encourage them to step into the pool’s first landing and then encourage them to jump out. Also of importance: every dog should be very familiar with how to exit any water source, pool or beach.

A good swimming coach knows the balance between getting your dog out to play in the water and knowing when your dog needs a break. Dogs new to water may need a break after 5-10 minutes, while the expert swimmer needs rest after 20-30 minutes.

Master of the dog paddle
What does a good swimmer look like? Good swimmers move smoothly in the water, keep their snouts just above the water’s surface, and have all legs paddling under the surface of the water. If your dog causes a big splash with both front paws, it means that the body isn’t parallel to the water’s surface. This is where a canine lifejacket really helps. Use the jacket’s handle to bring the dog’s top-line even with the surface of the water. A canine lifejacket adds buoyancy to a new swimmer and can help keep a water-savvy dog from exhaustion.
We are fans of the quality and bright colors of Ruffwear’s K-9 Float Coat. The higher quality materials they use mean it will last for many seasons of water play.

For the water enthusiast
For your dog that can handle pools, beaches, rivers, lakes—you name it, and he or she has jumped in it—then it may be time to look at the fun water sport of dock diving. Here is a quick rundown of what your dog can learn to do:
Big Air: Air is the most popular of the three disciplines available to compete in. It is the long jump for dogs. Dogs are given the option to use 40 feet of the dock to run and jump into the pool. Yep, all those summer nights where it was just you and your dog jumping in the water—now it’s a sport!
Extreme Vertical (EV): This is the high jump for dogs. The bumper hangs 8 feet away from the dock and starts at 5 feet above the top of the dock, increasing in 2-inch increments. The dog is given the option to use 20 feet of the dock to run, jump, and either grab or knock down the bumper. Big splashes here  – bring a change of clothes.
Speed Retrieve: This is the sprint for dogs. A Dead Fowl Trainer (fake duck) is hung at the end of the pool 2 inches from the surface of the water. After marking the bird, the dogs’ front paws are placed in a painted box at the 20-foot mark on the dock with handlers behind them. When we say speed, we means fast!
Iron Dog: This is the newest Dock Dogs sport. It combines Big Air, EV and Speed Retrieve, and your dog competes for points. So if you love them all, this is for you.
If you are interested, two of the larger dock-diving clubs in the area include Chesapeake Dock Dogs and Delmarva Dock Dogs. These clubs offer plenty of information on practice times and tips on introducing the game to your dog. But be warned, as the Delmarva Dock Dogs posted: “You are about to enter into a sport that is extremely addictive. Once you get started there is no way to fight this addiction, and you might as well jump in with both feet.  And, just in case you are wondering….YES, YOUR DOG CAN DO IT!” ND

Lisa Tudor is the founder of KissAble Canine Training & Behavior. She is a certified dog trainer and behavior specialist with a passion for getting dogs learning new things. KissAble Canine also offers private swim lessons for dogs of all swim abilities. Learn more at