If you’re planning a trip to the water with your four-legged friend for the first time, you’ll be asking yourself the question: “Can all dogs swim?” It’s actually a common misconception that dogs and swimming go hand-in-hand. While many dogs do have a knack for treading water, not all dogs are naturally gifted swimmers. And for pups with flat faces or short legs, swimming can be a tremendous physical challenge.
That said, with training (and proper safety gear), most dogs can learn how to stay afloat in the water. Whatever camp your dog falls into—swimmer extraordinaire or fledgling newbie—here’s what you need to know about dog swimming before you hit the pool, lake, or beach.
Which Dog Breeds Swim & Which Don’t
Fondness for the water isn’t universal among dogs. So which dogs like it, and which ones are a ‘hard no’ when it comes to water activities?
Many water-loving breeds have built-in traits that enhance their swimming ability such as webbed feet and thick, waterproof coats (hello, Newfoundlands!). Retrievers and Spaniels also tend to enjoy swimming—and they’re usually good at it.
But there are other dogs who struggle in the water because of their build. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs like Pugs and French Bulldogs come to mind. These dogs tire easily and have a hard time keeping their muzzles above water. Short-legged dogs like Dachshunds and Corgis may not be able to power themselves through the water. And stocky breeds with large chests and smaller hindquarters, like English Bulldogs (who are also brachycephalic), usually find swimming difficult due to their build as well as breathing challenges.
Finally, there are some dogs who can technically swim, but prefer to stay on dry land. These water-averse canines might be nervous around water or detest being wet.
Of course, these are all broad generalisations, and there are plenty of dogs who enjoy swimming—even if the majority of their fellow breed members don’t. So while your Frenchie won’t be the typical candidate for the swim team, a love of the water is really an individual preference.
|Dogs That Like to Swim||Dogs That Don’t Like to Swim|
|American Water Spaniel||Papillon|
|Irish Water Spaniel||Chinese Crested|
|Chesapeake Bay Retriever||Pekingese|
|Portuguese Water Dog||Yorkshire Terrier|
|Spanish Water Dog||Chihuahua|
|Golden Retriever||Boston Terriers|
|Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever||Basset Hound|
|German Shepherd||Bichon Frise|
Dog Swimming Safety Tips
Establishing safe water habits is important whether your dog is the next canine Michael Phelps or it’s his first time dipping his paws in the water. As a rule, beginners should start off in calm, shallow water. If your water-shy pup needs extra assurance, try wading into the water yourself to show him everything is safe. Gentle encouragement is okay here, but you should never throw a reluctant swimmer in—this could backfire and lead to a fear of the water.
For first-timers and less-able swimmers, a dog life jacket is a sound investment. Life jackets keep your dog’s hindquarters level in the water and they share in the effort it takes to stay afloat. They also make your dog more visible, and can even keep him warmer in the water.
Even the strongest canine swimmers can benefit from a dog life jacket, according to Nicole Ellis, a certified dog trainer in Los Angeles and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel. She tells us: “Dogs can get tired and fatigued while swimming (even the best swimmers), and having a life jacket gives them some security.” Nicole also reminds us that “emergencies can happen at any time!” She adds: “I once heard of a dog having a seizure in the water and the life jacket saved his life.”
Sunburn is another thing to watch for, reports Dr Gary Richter, Rover’s resident veterinarian on The Dog People Panel. While most dogs can rely on their fur and the black pigment of their noses for sun protection, Dr Richter points out there are some exceptions. “Dogs with light-coloured noses and those with short, white fur or sparse fur will benefit from sunscreen on exposed areas—usually ear tips and noses.” Just be sure to pick a dog-specific sunscreen, as human sunblock contains ingredients toxic to dogs.
When your dog needs a break from swimming, keep him cool with access to shade and plenty of fresh drinking water. On super hot days, your dog might appreciate a cooling collar or a cooling vest to beat the heat.
And finally: are swimming lessons necessary? If your dog was born to swim, at-home lessons will probably suffice. But for hesitant pets and beginners, professional swimming lessons offer a safe introduction that can help dogs become more comfortable in the water.
What Gear Does My Dog Need to Swim?
You don’t need much to enjoy the water. But there are a few useful items that can make the experience safer and more enjoyable for you and your pooch:
- Dog life jacket: a smart safety precaution that keeps dogs level, visible, and above water.
- Dog towels: a functional microfiber dog towel dries your dog off in a jiffy.
- Floating dog toys: these elevate pool time and may boost your dog’s interest in swimming.
- Dog pool floats: avoid puncturing your own floats with a durable dog-friendly pool float.
- Waterproof dog collars: for frequent swimmers, a collar that wards off moisture and wet-dog smell is a great idea.
- Dog sunscreen: dog-specific sunscreen protects your pet’s skin from the summer’s harsh rays.
- Dog booties: a pair of durable dog shoes that protects paws from scorching sand and jagged rocks in the water.
Where Can I Take My Dog Swimming?
When you and your dog are ready to take the plunge, you’ve got a few options. Generally, if you’re lucky enough to have one, swimming pools are considered safe for dogs (as long as you’re okay with some extra hair in the filter). In a well-maintained pool, chlorine levels will be diluted enough that it shouldn’t hurt your dog’s skin or coat. Just don’t let your pet lap up large amounts of pool water, or they could wind up with a sour stomach.
No pool? There are plenty of special dog pools popping up around the country, which are becoming increasingly popular. Another alternative is purchasing your dog his very own doggy pool. While their smaller size might not allow your pet to swim fully, a dog pool offers a convenient way to cool off in hot weather.
For the outdoorsy pet owner, lakes, rivers and ponds appeal. But are they safe? For the most part, yes. But in some lakes and ponds, the presence of toxic blue-green algae can be a problem, according to Dr Richter. “During hot stretches, when water nutrient levels are high—often times from phosphorus runoff from farms—you may notice your backyard water looks dark green, or like pea soup or spilled paint.”
If that’s the case, Dr Richter advises pet owners to steer clear: “Do NOT let your dog swim or drink the water. Cyanotoxins are likely present and can create big problems for your pooch.” Common signs of exposure include eye irritation, vomiting, diarrhoea, and lethargy.
As long as your dog is up for it, swimming can be a great way to exercise together this summer. And don’t forget about camping, hiking, and boating, either: sharing these warm-weather activities with the family dog makes them all the more memorable.