My dog Kyra absolutely loves swimming. Any time we are near the water, she’s chasing frogs in the shallows or paddling around in her lifejacket.
It’s a common misconception that all dogs are natural swimmers. Some are made for the water, some can be taught to love it, and some should never be left alone near the water. Your dog’s swimming ability and comfort near the water will depend a lot on your dog’s breed, temperament and health.
The good news is that it’s possible for most dogs to learn to swim, or at least to get comfortable near the water, which will give you peace of mind and let you enjoy beach days and cottage time together. Read on to learn about water safety for dogs, doggie swimming lessons, and, of course, a run-down of the best (and worst) swimming breeds.
When she’s not paddling around in her lifejacket, my dog Kyra loves to hunt for frogs in the shallows.
There are some important water safety basics you should master before teaching your dog to swim. Whether you’re spending time at the beach, relaxing at the cottage, or cruising in the boat, there are steps you can take to make the experience fun and safe for your dog.
A lifejacket is a must for all dogs around water. Our dog Kyra always wears her lifejacket, and she loves that she can swim longer and farther with it.
A lifejacket is a must for your dog, even once they are comfortable in the water. Even the strongest swimmer can be surprised by a sudden fall into the water, overcome by a wave, or become exhausted. Always supervise your dog near the water, and make sure they wear a lifejacket – it will not only keep them afloat, but will provide some protection against hypothermia, and make them easier to spot for rescue.
Water intoxication is another danger to watch out for, especially with smaller dogs or dogs who end up drinking a lot of water while they swim. Ingesting too much water can dilute your dog’s bodily fluids and lower their sodium levels, which control blood pressure, nerve and muscle function. Call your vet immediately if your dog has been swimming and shows signs of water intoxication, like staggering, bloating, and dilated pupils.
Make sure your dog has plenty of water and a shady place to rest when spending time on the water. Dogs absorb heat through their feet, so a blanket is a must. Swimming is a great way to stay cool!
Sun and heat protection are important considerations when spending time around the water. Dogs can suffer from sunburn and heatstroke just like us – but unlike us, they can’t sweat it out to regulate their body temperature. Keep your dog safe and happy by providing shade and plenty of water, and use a dog-safe sunscreen to protect sensitive skin.
Dogs absorb heat through their feet, so make sure your dog has a blanket or patch of shade to rest in. Watch for signs of heat stroke in your dog – if they are panting and drooling excessively, have a rapid pulse or appear clumsy, make sure they get water and shade immediately. Luckily, swimming is a great way to help your dog cool down!
Teaching Your Dog to Swim
With some patience and a lot of encouragement, most dogs can learn to be comfortable in and around the water.
Some dogs are natural swimmers, others need a little more encouragement, and a few are just not cut out for the water. Whatever your dog’s natural inclinations are, it’s possible to teach most dogs to get comfortable near the water, if not become an outright swimmer.
Use the tips below to get your dog used to the water and start their swimming training. Always remember to go slow and avoid overwhelming your dog, and keep a close eye on them as they explore the water.
Start Young. The earlier you can introduce your dog to the water, the easier it will be for them to feel comfortable swimming. If possible, introduce your puppy to shallow water as soon as you bring them home. When it comes time to introduce them to the lake, they will already be comfortable and confident around the water.
Start Small. No matter your dog’s age or breed, always start small when introducing them to water to avoid overwhelming them. If the lake is too much, or your dog is very small, start at home in the tub or a kiddie pool and work your way up to bigger swims. When introducing your dog to any water, choose a quiet, dog-friendly area with few distractions. Walk into the water and have your dog follow you, giving lots of praise and encouragement. Once they seem comfortable, try throwing a toy for them to swim after.
If the lake is too much for your dog, start at home in the tub or a kiddie pool to get them used to the water.
Be Patient. Never, ever throw a dog into the water, even if they are a “natural” swimming breed. Some dogs take to the water right away, but others may need some more coaxing, and some will just never be comfortable. Rushing them will do more harm than good, so it’s important to take your time, be patient and slowly increase their exposure over days or weeks. Sometimes seeing other dogs enjoying the water can help your dog build confidence – find a local dog beach or get together with other water-loving dogs and their owners to plan a beach day.
Get the Right Gear. Every swimming dog should have a lifejacket, no matter their breed or swimming skills. Get your dog comfortable in the lifejacket before you put them in the water – have them wear it at home, give them lots of treats and praise, and even feed them dinner wearing it. Once they are comfortable in the lifejacket, you can take them into the water. A long leash will help you coax your dog into the water, and a floating toy can make swimming more exciting.
Choosing a Good Swimming Dog
Some breeds are more suited to the water than others, and some breeds are not meant for swimming.
Although there’s no guarantee that your dog will be a good swimmer or feel comfortable in the water, there are certain characteristics that make some dogs more natural swimmers.
Medium to large sized dogs tend to be more comfortable in the water, especially those with a water-resistant coat and webbed toes.
Some characteristics, however, can make it harder and even dangerous for your dog to swim. “Top heavy” breeds with large chests and small hindquarters have a harder time staying afloat. Small dogs may be good swimmers, but can get cold quickly and tend to be afraid of the water.
Brachycephalic breeds (sometimes called “smashed-face” breeds) and dogs with short snouts can struggle to breathe in the water and tire more easily because of the structure of their respiratory tract.
Read on to learn which breeds are natural swimmers, and which tend not to do so well in the water.
9 Best Swimming Dog Breeds
Some dogs were bred to work and live on the water. These breeds are natural swimmers, but never assume that your dog will take to the water right away. Be patient and take it slow.
The Poodle takes its name from the German word pudeln, which means “to splash”.
This breed’s name comes from the German world pudeln, meaning “to splash”. They are natural water-loving dogs, and their curly coat protects them in wet conditions.
English Setters were bred as bird dogs, and are at home chasing down their catch in wet marshy areas.
Labs are popular family dogs, and make a great companion to a water-loving family.
One of the most popular breeds, Labrador Retrievers were bred to retrieve waterfowl in tough, marshy areas.
Irish Water Spaniel
With “water” right in the name, the Irish Water Spaniel is right at home in the water, with their thick curly coat to protect them.
Goldens were built for swimming, and are great family pets.
Another popular breed, Golden Retrievers have a water-resistant coat and webbed toes that make them strong swimmers.
Another hunting breed, Irish Setters are energetic, water-loving dogs.
Newfoundlands are the ultimate water dog, having been bred for work in the cold North Atlantic.
Despite their huge size, these dogs are incredibly agile in the water, having been bred to work on the cold and choppy waters off the coast of Newfoundland. They’ve been known to tow lines for fishing boats and even rescue drowning people.
Portuguese Water Dog
Another water-dog by name, these dogs were bred to herd fish into nets and even act as boat-to-boat messengers.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Chesapeake Retrievers can’t get enough of the water, and have even been known to dive.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s waterproof coat makes them great in cold water. These water-loving dogs are even known to dive under the surface.
6 Worst Swimming Breeds
Some breeds are just not designed to do well in the water. You’ll need to take extra care to keep your dog safe near the water.
Bulldogs aren’t great swimmers, but they love to splash around in the shallows.
With a deep chest and short legs, Bulldogs struggle to stay afloat. Their short snouts make it hard for them to breath well in the water.
Due to their short legs and dense body, Hounds don’t generally make great swimmers. Their floppy ears are also prone to infection.
Pugs struggle to breathe properly in the water due to their short snout.
A typical brachycephalic breed, the Pug’s short snout, narrow nostrils and elongated soft palate can block their airways, making it hard to swim.
Boxers may look like they are built for the water, but they are actually another brachycephalic breed who struggles to breathe well in the water. They do love splashing around in shallow water, though!
Corgis make better beach dogs than swimmers. Just don’t forget to provide plenty of water and shade.
Corgis struggle in the water due to their short legs and long body, but they tend to love splashing through shallow water.
Shih Tzus struggle to swim, not only because of their short legs, but also due to their thick, heavy coat, which can weigh them down.
The Best Dog Breeds for Swimming
Some dog breeds are more suited to swimming than others. A waterproof coat, long legs and webbed feet help dogs like Labrador Retrievers feel at home in the water. Chest-heavy, short legged and snout-nosed breeds like Pugs have a much harder time swimming.
Some dogs are natural swimmers, some need a little encouragement, and others are just not meant for the water. With a little patience and work, you can get your dog used to being near the water.
That said, breed isn’t everything – your supposed water-loving breed may refuse to even dip a toe in the water, while some dogs that shouldn’t be able to swim can’t get enough!
With some time and patience, most dogs can be taught to enjoy the water. Always put safety first: make sure your dog always wears a lifejacket near the water, provide protection from heat and sun, and avoid over-exhaustion.
Take it slow, especially with non-swimming breeds. Always supervise your dog near the water, as exhaustion can get the better of even the strongest swimmer.
Spending the time getting your dog comfortable in (or at least near) the water means you can both enjoy beach, boat and cottage time together.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.