Can dogs swim naturally? – Which dogs can, which dogs can’t

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Are dogs natural swimmers?

Many people assume that dogs are natural swimmers. Most dogs love the water and make a dash for the lake or sea.

I love the water, me!

However, not all dogs are natural swimmers. Some dogs don’t like the water and some dogs can’t swim.

In this article we’ll see which dogs do swim, which ones don’t, and if it’s possible to teach a dog to swim.

Doing the dog paddle

If they find themselves in water, most dogs will instinctively do a paddling motion – the dog paddle. The motion is much like walking so the dog is trying to walk in water rather than trying to swim.

But such is the build of a dog that this does become their swim stroke and they can get better at it over time.

However, the dog paddle may not be enough to enable the dog to swim, change direction or even stay afloat.

As you go through this article, please bear in mind that there are exceptions to every rule. We discuss breeds and body types but there will be dogs who were born to swim who can’t, and dogs who shouldn’t be able to swim who can, so don’t assume your dog is of a type until they try.

Which dog breeds can’t swim?

The type of dog that is usually not good at swimming includes dogs with a heavy chest and small hind quarters, dogs with short legs, and dogs with short muzzles.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some popular breeds that are not generally good swimmers:

  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Basset Hound
  • Boston TerrierCan't swim! Won't swim!
  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Chow
  • Dachshund
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • French Bulldog
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Siberian Husky
  • Shar Pei
  • Shih Tzu
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Dogs with short, stubby legs may not have the power to propel them or keep them afloat.

Dogs with broad or flat faces have to assume a more vertical position in the water in order to breathe which makes swimming more difficult.

Be particularly careful with short snout breeds. They may be able to swim but, because of their respiratory system, they may get tired quickly.

Just to disprove the ‘rule’ – perhaps ‘tendency’ would be a better word – here’s a video of a Pug swimming and enjoying it.

But don’t automatically assume your Pug will be as keen. There are videos out there of people trying to teach their Pug to swim and the dog is absolutely hating it. Don’t be a pushy dog parent!

Does that mean ALL other breeds can swim?

As discussed earlier, there is no hard and fast rule. While most people should be able to learn to swim, each dog breed is built differently and some don’t have a good build for swimming. In addition, some dogs just don’t like swimming and some don’t even like the water.

The dogs likely to be the best swimmers are medium-sized dogs with water-resistant coats. Many have webbing between their toes.

Breeds with ‘water’ in their name ought to be up to the task 🙂 but it’s not a given.

Some small dogs are often good swimmers but they can tire easily. Also, take care if the water is cold as they can lose body heat quite quickly.

Here’s a list of some common breeds that are usually good swimmers:

  • American Water Spaniel
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • English SetterDaley Thompson - catch me if you can!
  • Irish Setter
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Newfoundland
  • Nova Scotia Retriever
  • Otterhound
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Spanish Water Dog
  • Standard Poodle

Murphy the swimmer

While I was researching this article I was slightly surprised to see that Dobermans (yes, the plural of Doberman is Dobermans – strange but true :-)) are not great swimmers. Neither are Rottweilers although they do seem to be better than the Doberman.

Here’s a great little video showing how much this Doberman likes swimming, and towards the end you can see his dog paddle strokes beneath the water.

Although I don’t know Murphy’s heritage, between me and the vet, we reckoned he was a Doberman-Rottweiler cross. However, as far as swimming goes, he inherited the best parts of the two breeds!

Compress the Doberman’s lankiness and stretch the Rotti’s squatness and you get a build more like a retriever which is a great shape for swimming.

Murphy took to the water like a, er, Rottidoberdor. The hardest part was keeping him out of it and cleaning him afterwards!

Can you teach a dog to swim?Teach your dog to swim - lead by example!

It should go without saying but I’m going to say it anyway – never force your dog to do something it doesn’t want to do. This includes getting into any body of water.

Not only can this absolutely frighten and stress out your dog but it can also have a detrimental effect on the trust bond between you.

Yeah, you knew that anyway 🙂

Teaching your dog to swim

Playing by the water's edge is a good way to encourage your dog into the waterAs with all training, take it slowly. If your dog doesn’t make a bee-line for the water, encourage them slowly. Use treats, play with them by the edge, throw toys or sticks along the shoreline and encourage your dog to fetch them.

If this works and they are splashing around in shallow water, encourage them to go further. Wade in yourself and throw sticks and toys just a little further out so your dog needs to swim to get them.

Helping the wary dog to swim

If your dog is still wary, another option is to find a group of dogs playing in the water and see if your dog will join in. The reassurance of the pack sometimes helps.

Yep, I'm in up to my toes, that's fine!Don’t force them. It may take a few visits for them to become comfortable and you can keep trying with each visit. However, if you stress them or try to rush them, they may develop an aversion to water and be even more reluctant to go near it.

Some trainers advocate holding your dog in the water to give them the opportunity to dog paddle. Obviously this is easier with smaller dogs.

I’ve seen dogs freak out at this and personally wouldn’t recommend it. Far better encourage with treats, toys and praise so they do it of their own accord and associate it with fun times.

If they become stressed, they still won’t like the water or be able to swim and your job of encouraging them to do so will be ten times more difficult.

Head above water

Here’s another thing to bear in mind. In a pool or a calm lake, smaller dogs and dogs with flat faces will have a relatively easy time.

Yes, well above the water, well above...In the sea, waves can easily wash over them and you know what it’s like when that happens to you.

Also, be aware that all dogs have a more restricted view of their surroundings while in the water and can more easily get disoriented.

Both these can create stress and cause the dog to panic so you must always be nearby to help your dog if you think they are uncomfortable, disoriented or getting into difficulties.

My dog doesn’t want to swimI don't care if you don't want to swim - I'll just give you a hug!

In spite of your best efforts, it may be that your dog just doesn’t like swimming or the water, even if they like to splash about on the edge.

Well, heck, I know people like that. It’s just the way things are.

You can take a dog to water but you can’t make him swim.

If your dog is a non-swimmer, you can still play with them on the beach or lake shore.

Doggy life jackets

Every dog should wear a life jacket if they're playing near waterYes, you can get life jackets for dogs. If your dog is a non-swimmer and you have a pool, it’s a good idea to put one on so you can hang out together knowing they’ll be safe if they do fall in.

There’s also no harm putting one on if they’re a smaller dog or if you think it makes you dog safer.

Also, a life jacket should be mandatory on a boat, no matter how much your dog likes the water and no matter how sure-footed they may be.

The benefits of your dog swimming

The benefits of swimming apply equally to dogs and humans, although owners might get to see more of the side benefits.

Swimming is a great cardio workout and exercises all the muscles. It helps work off your dog’s excess energy which might otherwise lead to boredom and possibly destructive behaviour.

Swimming is fun. If a dog swims it’s because they enjoy it. It’s even more fun when you swim with your dog, and you can play fetch with their favourite toy – as long as it floats!

In hot weather, swimming can help keep your dog cool. Dogs don’t sweat as we do to keep cool. Instead, they cool off through the pads of their feet and by panting.

Out of the poolThis is my kind of pool!

When out of the poo, make sure they have plenty of cool, fresh water and a place in the shade to lie.

With all that said, swimming is not a substitute for walking and running. If you have a pool and your dog loves swimming in it, you still need to take him or her out for walks and running exercise, too. This exercises different muscle groups and helps keep their bones in good order.

Dogs, the sea and sea water

The beach and the sea are wonderful places to relax and go swimming with your dog, but the sea presents additional hazards over pools and calm lakes.

You don’t want to take your dog swimming in a rough sea. Waves washing over their head is both unpleasant and dangerous and can lead to disorientation.

Also, watch out for currents which might pull your dog out to sea or drag them under. These can occur even in very shallow water if there’s a strong undertow.

Dogs and boats

I could lie here all day...A lot of people enjoy boating and take their dog with them. Like any small child, you must keep your eye on them ALL the time.

That is difficult to do, of course, but even if your dog is an excellent swimmer, best practise is to fit them with a floatation jacket, especially when you’re in deep water.

It’s very easy for a dog to slip or jump overboard and they could easily tire before you notice they’re missing and find them.

Is chlorine safe for dogs?

You know what it’s like when you get swimming pool water in your eyes and accidentally swallow some. It has the safe effect on dogs. However, dogs’ noses and ears are more sensitive than ours and can be affected more.

Water! Water! And it's mine, all mine!A dog should suffer no more than we do for being in a pool and swallowing the water. Some dogs have been known to drink pool water and some vomit afterwards.

If your dog thinks the pool is just a big drinking bowl, do discourage them. Always make sure they have a good supply of fresh drinking water as swimming can be thirsty work. If you see them lapping at the pool, direct them to the drinking water.

There is now a movement towards non-chlorine treatments for pools such as bromine and salt water. They might be of benefit to humans as well as dogs.

If that’s not an option for you and the chlorine is causing a problem, try reducing the chlorine content. However, normal pool levels should be okay.

Dogs and swimming pools

There is much that needs to be said about dogs and swimming pools. Don’t worry, it’s not all bad!

A pool! A pool! leme in! Leme in! Leme in!If you have a pool, there’s a very good chance your dog has been in it already, with or without permission!

One of the problems with pools, especially home pools, is that most do not have a ramp sloping down from the shallow end, but rely on steps to get in and out. Obviously, not ideal for dogs.

We call them steps but they are usually vertical like a ladder and they are extremely difficult for a dog to use.

Even dogs who can walk up steps can struggle to get out the water using vertical pool steps.

If we enter the pool by the steps we usually come down backwards (as you do unless you’re on a submarine) which is not an option for a dog.

If a dog likes the water, they will usually jump in although some may prefer to enter through a shallow ramp.

The pool ramp

If your pool only has steps, the solution, of course, is to install a pool ramp.

This not the place to review ramps but check out some of the pool ramp options on Amazon.

The pool ramp helps your dog get out of the waterThe main problem with many ramps seems to be that they tend to sink under the weight of even a medium dog so do your research thoroughly before buying. Some dedicated pool stores may have ramps, too.

If you’re a handyman, it shouldn’t be too difficult to build a ramp that fits over the steps or the side of the pool. If you make one or have made one, please let us know in the Comments below.

Even if you have a ramp Do Not Leave Your Dog Unattended In A Pool!

Cleaning – the pool and your dog

There is a hygiene case for hosing down your dog before they go into the pool but if you sleep with your dog, that probably doesn’t figure terribly high on your agenda.

However, it would wash away any accumulated dirt and loose hair that will otherwise end up in your pool.

After a swim, there will be dog hair. Oh yes!

Your pool strainer basket should take care of most of it but do check your filter system periodically. Also, loose hair will settle on the top of the pool so you can skim it off the next day.

It’s a good idea to wash or hose your dog after they’ve been in the pool to get rid of the chlorine.

Depending on how often your dog goes in the pool and how long for, it’s worth applying a leave in conditioner to help detangle, moisturise and protect their coat.

Clean your dog’s ears

You also need to look after and clean your dog’s ears. Apart from any water which may have got in, there’s also the chance that germs may be in the pool, no matter how well-maintained.

However, many ear infections are caused by the moisture rather than bacteria.

So clean your dog’s ears thoroughly. You might also want to use an ear wipe.

And afterward, dry their ears, too.

If the worst should happen

We hope it will never happen, but it’s possible you may find yourself in a situation where your dog is in trouble and you need to rescue it.

Here is a Dog Safety Guide for Near Drowning in Dogs.

It’s not too long and well worth reading if your dog ever go near water.

Can dogs swim naturally -summary

If you thought that all dogs are natural swimmers – now you know 🙂

However, as we’ve seen, most dogs can swim and even dogs not built for the water may be able to swim, too.

It may be possible to teach your dog to swim but don’t stress them or make them anxious in the process. When you’re near the water, put a life jacket on them.

Swimming is a healthy, fun activity for both you and your dog so make the most of it when the weather allows.

Stay safe and have fun!

I hope you found this article interesting and useful.

You may also be interested in these features:

Should dogs eat ice cream? – What are the alternatives?

Can Dogs Eat Bacon? – Or other pork food?

Where should my dog sleep at night? – We explore all the options

Why my dog eats grass – The real reason revealed!

If you have any questions about dogs swimming or would like to share your experience or stories please leave a message in the Comments below.

I will reply to all Comments as soon as possible.

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4 comments on “Can dogs swim naturally? – Which dogs can, which dogs can’t

  1. how adorable is that pug swimming!

     You know I have never given this topic much thought,  always just assuming all dogs can swim. Now we have a jack Russell and she loves water. She runs straight to the sea but never allows herself to get to a depth where she would need to swim so now I’m thing that’s because she can’t swim. 

    • Hi Dianne – yeah, you gotta love the Pug! 🙂

      It’s difficult to know whether your Jack Russell can swim or not. They can be good swimmers and they don’t have to go in very far into the water to find out 🙂 Have you tried throwing a stick or stone for her? Throw them just a little out of her reach and see if she swims for them. Check out the section on teaching your dog to swim. However, as she has short legs, obviously be careful she doesn’t get stressed or anxious if she gets out of her depoth.

      Like humans, I think it’s useful if dogs can swim, just in case they find themselves in water.


  2. I was very impressed by you saying not to make your dog do something he doesn’t want  like teaching him to swim.

    My sister has dogs and she has a pool. I have to ask her if her dogs go near the pool or not. I’d be interested in knowing.I’s very interesting that some dogs can swim and some can’t.

    But it’s understandable that you can teach your dog to swim without rushing them. It’s kind of like teaching a child, right?

    And the good thing is that’s great exercise for the dog too.

    Dogs have water resistant coats? Does that make it easier or harder for them to swim?

    • Hi Rob – I can see you are concerned about your sister’s dogs. If they can’t swim they should not be left unsupervised for a minute! There should be a safety fence around the pool to stop them getting in.

      If they can swim, they should still not be left unsupervised, ESPECIALLY if there is no shallow-end ramp or dog ramp that they can use to get out of the pool. But even if there is, you need to supervise them, just like kids.

      When in water, most dogs will attempt a walking motion we call the dog paddle. However, not all dogs are successful at keeping above water and actually swimming. If you want to teach a dog to swim, follow the suggestions in the article. They are children in a sense and must be superivsed 100% of the time!

      Dogs with water-resistant coats were bred specifically for working in water. They should be good swimmers. However, as detailed in the article, it’s not a 100% guarantee that they will be able to swim or even like the water. The odds are in their favour but it’s not a certainty.

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