Poodles are natural-born swimmers.
The first Poodles were bred about 500 years ago. They were used as retrievers, swimming out into shallow lakes and ponds to bring back ducks their owners shot with a bow and arrow.
Poodles have webbed paws. Actually, all dogs have webbed paws, but Poodles have more webbing between their toes than almost all other dogs.
Poodles have water-proof coats. They have tufts of hair on top of their heads that make them easy to locate if they get in trouble in the water.
They have fluffy hair on their chests, heads, and ankles that keep them warm in cold water.
But not every Poodle likes to swim, and not every Poodle is born water-safe. You need to train your Poodle to swim safely, and provide your Poodle with fun swimming opportunities.
You may not have to work very hard to get your Poodle in the water, but every Poodle parent needs to make sure their pet swims safely.
Why Poodles Make Great Swimmers
In our time, Poodles are the iconic dog of Paris.
They originated, however, in the lowlands of northern Germany. If a peasant family lost its cow or its pig or its chickens, they faced malnutrition if they could not find food to supplement their rye bread and turnips.
Poodles, the breed of dog that could “Pudel,” or swim in a puddle, helped German families find food in hard times.
As small dogs, they were easy to maintain, and as hunting dogs, they earned their room and board.
Poodles were evetually imported into France, where they became known as Caniche, or duck dogs.
The French nobility that became enamored of the German import, however, didn’t use them for duck hunting.
They fussed over their double coats and bred them to be even smaller, creating the Miniature and Toy Poodles of today.
In English-speaking countries, we use a variation of the German term Pudel as the name for our Poodles.
We tend to treat them as if they were really meant to be carried around in our purses as we shop on the streets of Paris.
Poodles are more than just loyal, intelligent, beautiful small dogs. They can also be great fun at the pool with a little training.
Will My Poodle Like the Water?
If you were to ask Poodle owners about how their dogs took to the water, you would probably get a variety of answers like these:
- We introduced our Toy Poodle to the water when she was a puppy. Now she likes nothing more.
- My Poodle is not a fan of the water. We had to work to get him in the kids’ wading pool.
- At first my Poodle refused to get into the water. Then I got her a life vest, worked with her for about 30 minutes, and she’s OK. As long as she has her life vet, that is.
- My Poodle LOVES the water. She is always eager to go swimming, and has been since she was a puppy.
- Our Poodle is 11 years old. He has cataracts. But he loves to retrieve water wiggles we put in the pool when he can see them.
- My Standard Poodle is very shy. It took months of getting her in the pool just a minute or two at a time for her to decide it was safe and might be fun. But now she loves it.
- The key is starting your Poodle in the water when they are very young. We put our Poodle in shallow water at the age of eight weeks. Now the pool is her favorite place to play.
Poodle owners report that Standard Pools, Miniature Poodles, and even Toy Poodles can have fun in the water.
Swimming is fun even for Poodles with disabilities, especially if they get to exercise their natural urge to retrieve things from the water.
Poodle owners say that the earlier you start your Poodle on the water, the more easily they will take to swimming as a fun activity.
And Poodle owners tell us that if your dog somehow knows it needs a life jacket, give them one!
How to Train Your Poodle to Swim
If you are ready to train your Poodle to swim safely and have fun in the water, here are the steps.
Expose your Poodle to water in happy situations
The first step in training your Poodle to swim isn’t getting your dog in the water. It’s getting your Poodle near the water.
Take your Poodle on walks near shallow ponds or streams. Give them a chance to get their paws wet.
Play with your Poodle next to a kiddie pool. Get your Poodle a canine life vest and take them with you the next time you go out on the lake in your boat. (Do NOT throw them in!)
Don’t get in a hurry to persuade your dog that swimming is safe and fun. Let them get familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of the places where you will want to go swimming with them.
Poodles are naturally competitive with other dogs, even the dogs they live with. This process will go more smoothly if you take them on water-familiarizing outings on your own.
Start swimming in shallow water
Deep water can be intimidating for humans. Deep water can be intimidating for Poodles, too.
Your Poodle’s perception of “shallow” water is probably paw deep. It’s best to start your dog in a situation in which it literally gets its toes wet but is under no stress.
You don’t want it to have to swim for its life the first time it is ever in water.
Gradually introduce your Poodle to water up to its nose, and then to water in which it can begin to dog paddle its way across.
Make sure there are no strong currents where your dog is first beginning to swim. And be absolutely sure that your dog swims in water where there are no snakes or hungry reptiles or fish.
There weren’t any alligators in the duck ponds of northern Germany where this breed originated.
But every year there are Poodles that have tragic encounters with alligators in natural waterways in the southeastern United States.
Help your Poodle feel the water is safe
Poodles are fine-tuned to their owners’ emotions. If you feel anxious about the water, they will feel anxious about the water.
If you feel the water is safe, they may initially be skeptical, but they will be aware that you think the water is fine.
Show your Poodle that you think the water is fine by going out and having your Poodle swim to you. Be there to meet your Poodle half-way if Poodle panic sets in.
Once you have a few successful experiences in water that is knee-deep to you, wade out to deeper water and have your Poodle swim to you. If you are having fun, your Poodle will have fun, too.
Use good judgment about weather conditions and water training.
Poodles can stand relatively cold water because of their coats, but if the water or the air temperature is too cold for humans, you can always save water fun for another day.
Use your Poodle’s retriever instincts to train them to swim
If you play fetch with your Poodle on land, you can play fetch with them on the water.
Choose a ball that floats, and toss it into shallow water so your Poodle can bring it back to you.
Gradually increase the distance you throw the ball, so your dog will have to go into deeper and deeper water, but do not toss the ball into water over your Poodle’s head until you are sure he can swim.
It usually takes about 10 to 15 training sessions for a Poodle to feel comfortable going into deep water.
Train your Poodle in the water the same way you train your Poodle outside the water
When you are training your Poodle to obey commands or to perform tricks, you use treats and praise to reinforce desired behaviors.
Use the same approach on the water. Have a few doggie treats with you when you are coaxing your Poodle to swim out to you in shallow water.
Lavish your dog with praise when he braves deep water to swim to you.
Every Poodle is just a little different. Some will start swimming as if they had done it all their lives. Others will need months of coaxing.
Let your Poodle take to swimming at its own pace, and it will be a fun activity for you and your dog for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions About Poodles and Swimming
Q. Where can I get a life vest for my Poodle?
A. Outward Hound makes life vests for dogs. Their life vests come highly rated because of quality materials and breathable mesh.
Standard Poodles need a medium-size life vest. Miniature Poodles may need a small or an extra-small. Toy Poodles wear size XXS. If you are unsure which life vest to order for your Poodle, consult their sizing chart.
It’s always best to help your dog feel comfortable in a life preserver before it’s needed. Put it on at home and make sure it fits comfortably. Give your dog a treat for wearing it.
Q. What is the best time to get my Poodle used to swimming?
A. The ideal time to introduce Poodles to water is when they are still puppies. Between the ages of seven and sixteen weeks, a puppy’s brain is developing the connections that help it recognize friends and safe situations.
Exposing a Poodle to water in puppy-safe situations will help it be comfortable in and around water the rest of its life.
If you don’t do this training before the age of sixteen weeks, your Poodle will be developing the neurological connections that help it recognize dangerous situations.
During the second six months of your Poodle’s life, you need to be very careful to avoid scary experiences around the water.
After the age of one, training a Poodle to have fun in the water is matter of being there to prevent anxiety, and gradual, patient teaching experiences.
But there will always be some Poodles that seem to have been born to swim.
Q. Are there any differences between Standard, Miniature, and Toy Poodles for swimming?
A. Miniature Poodles tend to suffer greater separation anxiety than other Poodles.
They need to keep their humans close to have a good experience in the water.
Q. What about Doodles?
A. Doodles are crosses between Standard Poodles and Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers.
Since Poodles are natural retrievers, crossing a Poodle with a Lab or a Golden Retriever makes a Retriever on steroids.
Owner surveys show that Goldendoodles:
- Prefer to swim alone. They become aggressive with other dogs in the water.
- Are also more likely than other Doodles and Poodles to be afraid of the water.
- Need more physical contact with their humans to feel safe in the water.
Q. Are there other breeds of dogs that make good swimming buddies for my Poodle?
A. Australian Shepherds and Poodles usually get along well in the water.
Q. How do you give a Poodle CPR?
A. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR for dogs, is performed on dogs that are no longer breathing and do not have a heartbeat.
CPR on a healthy dog can cause serious injury. The procedure for giving CPR to a Poodle is as follows:
- Place your Poodle on its side. Either side is OK.
- Place one hand on either side of the chest in the general area of your Poodle’s heart. You can cradle a Toy Poodle in your hand between your thumb and fingers.
- Compress the chest about 1/3 of the way across to the count of one, and release to the count of one. Repeat compressions 100 to 120 times a minute.
- If you can, provide your dog with two breaths into its nostrils for every 25 to 30 compressions, about four times a minute.
- Continue CPR until your dog starts breathing on its own, or regains consciousness.
- Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
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