March holds National Puppy Day! This magical day was created in 2006 by Colleen Page—the Editor of Pet Home magazine—to celebrate the wonder and unconditional love that puppies bring into our lives daily. What better way to honor man’s best friend than by teaching him how to swim?

Many dogs are born with the ability to swim, but we shouldn’t assume all dogs can. Most will do the basic doggy paddle, but this can tire them out quickly as they are vertical rather than horizontal, which uses a lot of their energy. Pool owners especially should make teaching a dog how to swim properly a priority, so their dog knows what to do should he accidentally fall into the pool.

Introduce your dog to the pool slowly. Let him walk around the perimeter of the pool and sniff around. You could also start with a kiddie pool so he can get in and out of the water by himself. With an inground pool, carry a smaller dog into the water and hold him while he gets comfortable. Back bigger dogs into the water. Most dogs can’t see where the steps are, which scares them.

Speaking of pool steps, it is vital to teach your dog how to get in and out of the water, whether it involves going up and down steps or even climbing the pool ladder. Place his front paws on the ladder steps and then help him up with his hind paws. You can provide a treat for added incentive.

Once he knows how to get in and out of the pool, start teaching him how to swim in the pool’s shallow end. Speak to him in a reassuring voice to assess his comfort level. If he is rigid or shaking, he may need some extra TLC. Take your time, and offer him a treat. As he gains confidence, move into a deeper area while supporting him under his belly. Then, show him again where to get out of the pool. You can also use a doggie swim vest or life jacket to make him more confident. Again, a treat may help the cause!

We teach our children to swim with the buddy system, so why not our dogs? Find a dog who loves water to help your pooch relax and gain confidence. Seeing another dog swim around the pool with ease—and enjoying it—will be reassuring for your dog.

Besides keeping dogs safe, learning to swim is a great form of exercise for Fido. You can make it more interesting for him by having him retrieve submerged items or tow a swimmer on a life ring. He won’t be dirty when he is done with his workout, either! Perhaps the two of you could even swim together.

Teaching your dog how to swim is an important life skill that will keep him safe and healthy. It’s another way for you to enjoy the outdoors together, and further strengthen your bond!