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Water Paws: Introducing Your Chi To Swimming For The First Time

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The number of pet-friendly listings on Airbnb is rising constantly, and airlines are increasingly offering pet packages to tourists. As a result, more of us are able to take our beloved pets on vacation with us.

chihuahua swimming in pool

For those who don’t encounter water on their daily walks, suddenly being beside the ocean or a lake can present a dilemma: can your chi safely experiment with swimming on vacation?

The Advantage Of A Small Dog

Although chihuahuas aren’t natural water dogs like spaniels and poodles, they fare better in the water than pugs or bulldogs. Chihuahuas are the smallest purebred dogs in the world, and they were originally bred as lap dogs, but they can still be adept at swimming.

As you’ll already know from your own dog, chihuahuas like to be busy, whether with mental stimulation, playing or cuddles, so swimming can be a great activity for them.

If your chi is particularly energetic, there’s a high chance that they’ll take to the water well. Being lightweight works in your dog’s favor for swimming: even if they take a while to adapt, they won’t sink.

Gradual Introduction For A Nervous Chi

One of the most common behavior problems associated with chihuahuas is small dog syndrome (SDS): they will often yap at other dogs and passers by, seemingly trying to compensate for their small size when they feel insecure or frightened.

As they are so small, they can frighten easily, so introducing them to water suddenly can be very intimidating for them. If it’s your chi’s first time in the water, they may be overwhelmed and become stressed out, which will make them unsafe in the water. It’s therefore important that you introduce your dog to swimming gradually.

Ideally, you’ll do this before you go on vacation. A child’s paddling pool is a good idea: this is a small body of water, and you can introduce your chi to swimming in familiar surroundings.

For more nervous animals, start with the pool empty and slowly add the water as they become more comfortable.

Once you’re ready to introduce your dog to a larger body of water, let them sniff around the edge first and become familiar with the area. They can also paddle in shallow areas before you attempt a full-on swim.

man in pool kissing a chihuahua dog

Taking Safety Precautions

A chihuahua experiencing water for the first time should have a life vest. This will give you peace of mind, but it will also help if your dog panics, and will give them more confidence.

Most life jackets for small dogs have a handle, so if you need to pull them out of the water quickly, you can do so easily. To make sure your dog is familiar with the life vest before your vacation, they should wear this in the paddling pool too.

To safely train your dog to swim, start out by being in the water yourself. Call to your chi, coaxing them to join you, offering treats and praise. If you have another dog with you who is already accustomed to swimming, this can be helpful, too — dogs learn a lot from others, especially those they’re already familiar with.

If your chi seems stressed, take them out of the water and try again another day. With each practice, their fear will be reduced.

a little chihuahua swimming for meeting his owner

A Word Of Caution

The water is just one of the hazards associated with swimming. As we become more environmentally conscious, many of us take steps in our own lives to reduce ocean pollution, limiting our use of single-use plastics and making sure to dispose of litter appropriately.

Nonetheless, estimates suggest that the sea contains 150 million tons of plastic. This can be a problem for a small dog navigating the water for the first time, particularly with small pieces of waste. Before introducing your chi to the sea, check that the area is clean and will be safe for them. Watch out for sea life, too — an area with a lot of jellyfish won’t be a great introduction for your dog!

The success of introducing your chihuahua to swimming will largely depend on their personality. However, most dogs will adapt and enjoy a dip in the ocean while you’re on vacation, provided you’ve introduced them to the idea slowly and they feel safe.

Melanie Sloan

Monday 20th of July 2020

So I don't know where you got the picture of the whitehaired man swimming with the corgi but it looks EXACTLY like my hubby and corgi who LOVED to swim until he turned blind and deaf...we've had a lot of fun sending it to family and friends who think it's them... doppelgangers exist for people and dogs apparently! Here we were just trying to figure out our new pup...which btw must swim. Our deer Chihuahua refuses.


Monday 20th of July 2020

Actually that's a chi swimming towards the white haired man and I don't remember where I got it but probably bought it from a stock photo site. My chis son't like swimming either but I know some do.


Saturday 18th of April 2020

My chi is 4'1/2 lbs I found her an.adjustable life vest at pet smart. I thought she would hate it as she hates clothes but she doesn't mind it at all and can now go kyacking with me. Good luck in your quest.


Monday 20th of April 2020

Thanks for your suggestion. I’m glad your chi is okay with it as some of them hate it

Gina Marie Cavallaro

Saturday 18th of April 2020

Hello. My furbaby rescued me almost 3yrs ago now, and since I have had her I have been unsuccessful in finding a proper sitting life vest for her. She is a Chi mix - often referred to as a Shehuahua or ShepChi. Yes, obviously her mix is that of a shepherd. She's beautiful looks just like a baby deer but that Shepherd mix makes it very difficult for me to find anything that fits her I'm close to life vests. I have been to every website and pet store and have had zero luck. I can always and have taking in clothing that I purchased for her but it's very important that I find a life vest.. I live near a lake I have a dock and a boat. And since I've had her I have not taken her with me either down my dock or out on the boat because I do fear for her safety. The lake does have current and she will definitely take off after the first duck she sees. Can anyone please suggest where I might be lucky enough to find a proper fitting life vest for her. Even when I take her measurements and compare it to a sizing chart they are either too large or too tight. Any help would be so appreciated!! Thank you.


Saturday 18th of April 2020

I'm not sure what the answer is Gina Marie. I did go look on Chewy for adjustable life jackets and 14 results came up. I think having an adjustable one may be the only way to find one that will fit her. Here's the page if you want to look at them: