Can All Dogs Swim? The Best and Worst Doggy Swimmers

Can all dogs swim? No, not all dogs can naturally swim. Most dogs can keep themselves above water by paddling, as per the famous 'doggy paddle.' However, many breeds are not able to swim to safety, or in any particular direction unless taught. A lot of dogs are fearful of water, and many are not physically designed to be swimmers. 
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In this article, we will look at 'typical' standards for the breeds. However, as each dog is an individual and it can vary dramatically. Many dogs who are not bred as swimmers can be confident in the water and taught to swim well, as well as those that should be natural water dogs may be incredibly fearful and have no interest in swimming. Precautions must be taken to ensure your dog is safe around the water, including life vests. No matter the breed, never assume your dog knows how to swim or how to save themselves from the water.

What Makes A Dog Able To Swim?


Webbed Feet
Many breeds have some webbing on their feet to help them walk and balance. However, some breeds have particularly webbed feet. This helps to push the water back when swimming. Breeds with webbed feet include Newfoundland, Labrador, and Irish Water Spaniel, to name a few.
However, dachshunds also have webbed feet, but not for swimming (they are not natural swimmers). They use their webbed feet to help them dig during hunting.
Double Coat
A double coat means a dog has a lighter undercoat and a thicker, coarser topcoat. The undercoat is used to protect the skin from both heat and cold, similar to insulation. The topcoat shields them from dirt and repels water. This coat is designed to withstand all weather conditions, including in the water. Most dogs with this type of coat are working breeds, for example, Golden Retrievers, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Irish Water Spaniel.
Corgis do also have double coats to keep them warm while herding, but their stature does not make them natural swimmers.
Longer Limbs Than Body
Dogs with powerful limbs tend to fair well in the water. Their strength helps them to swim. Their bodies are usually well in proportion to their legs, meaning they can keep themselves afloat more easily. 

Which Dog Breeds Can Swim?


Golden Retriever
As a gun dog, the retriever was bred to collect waterfowl and other birds. The dog has a natural ability to swim and retrieve.
Similar to the golden, the labrador retriever was also bred to fetch waterfowl. Labradors have a thick, dense outer coat that protects them from the cold.
Poodles were bred as duck hunters. Their curly coat acts as a protective layer, as well as having the ability to dry quickly, making them perfect water dogs.
This breed worked alongside fishermen in Canada, they have helped in many notable water rescues. Their stature is perfect for pulling people from the water.
Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish Water Spaniel, as the name suggests, is a great swimmer. Their webbed feet and curly coat are well suited to their work of collecting waterfowl.
Portuguese Water Spaniel
Bred to herd fishing nets, this breed is a natural around water. Their strong stature makes them a confident swimmer. 
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Tollers lure waterfowl towards the shooter by playing in the water. Their double coat makes them well suited to the colder water of Nova Scotia.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Similar to the other retrievers, a Chessie was bred to retrieve ducks. Their thick, water-repellent coat means they are well suited to the cooler Chesapeake temperatures. 

What Makes A Dog Unable To Swim?


Short Legs
Some dogs are not the right shape to swim. The weight of their body is too much for their smaller legs to handle when swimming. The dogs can become breathless and tire far quicker. Breeds include Dauchands, Basset Hounds, and Corgis. 
Facial Structure
Brachycephalic is used to describe breeds with a shorter muzzle. This is due to genetic changes that result in a flatter face. Dogs with this face shape can struggle with breathing difficulties from their short nasal passages. Once in the water, the dog must keep his head above the waterline by tilting it back and tucking his body underneath. This can cause extra strain on breeds with shorter skulls resulting in breathing difficulties and potential sinking. Breeds such as Boxers, Chow Chows, and Pugs.
Whilst swimming, dogs use their tails as a rudder to help guide them through the water. Many of the dogs that are not natural swimmers have shorter, stumpier tails, like Bulldogs, and Pugs. 
Those more sensitive to outside temperatures may not be the most suitable swimmers. This includes young puppies and older dogs. They may get colder more quickly, if you suspect your dog is cold, dry it off and wrap it in a blanket in a warm space. If the temperature is too cold for you to swim, it is probably too cold for your dog.

What Breed Of Dog Can Not Swim?


The Bulldog does not naturally lend itself to swimming. Its stocky build, short legs, and flat face do not make it easy for them to keep themselves above water.
Despite its naturally long legs and tail, a boxer is not a natural swimmer. It's flattened face making breathing a tricky task while trying to keep itself above water.
Like the Bulldog, a Pug also has a bigger body compared to legs making it quite a challenge to swim. The facial structure and airways may also be strained trying to keep afloat.
Basset Hound
Even on land, a Basset Hounds stomach is almost touching the ground. Its heavy body and short legs make swimming difficult. Their large ears are also prone to infection, which is easily carried in water.
Despite their webbed feet, the small legs of this breed make it tire easily trying to swim. A dachshund is far more suited to land than sea.
Chow Chow
The coat of a Chow Chow can become cumbersome and waterlogged quickly. Its short muzzle can also be problematic, and they can tire easily and run out of breath fast.
Shih Tzu
Shih Tzus coat is hair, as opposed to fur. Hair gets easily waterlogged and heavy. They also tire quickly and cannot swim long distances. 
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Staffies are heavy-set dogs. They have large heads, and this makes keeping it above water quite a challenge. Their legs have to work hard to propel them through the water, meaning they tire quickly.
With a double coat, many people believe Corgis are natural swimmers. However, their short legs and long bodies make it tricky to stay above water for any prolonged period.

Top Tips: How To Teach Your Dog To Swim


Life Jacket:
Always make sure to start your dog with a flotation device. These can be purchased at most popular pet stores and online, check it has a handle and leash attachment. The handle can be used to guide the dog through the water before it learns to swim. By ensuring your dog is floating, it will help it to learn how to move its legs and propel through the water while also keeping safe. It is also vital if you plan on taking your dog boating. If the dog falls overboard, it will keep it afloat until you can rescue.
Take It Slow:
Never start by putting your dog out of its depth; if a dog is thrown into the water suddenly, it can easily panic and create fear. A dog who is also not able to swim will not know how to get out of the water and make tire quickly and struggle to breathe. Never force a dog who doesn't like water to swim. It can be incredibly scary for a novice.
Plenty of Encouragement:
When first teaching your dog to swim, take plenty of treats and toy rewards. Every time your dog comes in further, make sure to encourage it and praise verbally and with the treats. If your dog wants to leave the water, always let it. We always recommend going in with your dog for encouragement and support. You can also hold your dog by the life vest to guide it around and out of the water.
A general guide for swimming is, if the temperature is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your dog. Some dogs are better designed for the cold with their coats, but single-coated dogs and those with hair will not be so well suited to the colder temperatures.

Where Can I Take My Dog Swimming? 


A pool is one of the safer methods in terms of drowning. It is easy to watch your dog in a pool, and you know the depth. A pool makes it easy for the dog to learn how to get in and out. However, be careful of chlorinated water. The chlorine can irritate a dog's eyes and skin. Make sure to properly rinse and wash your dog if it has been in chlorinated water. If you plan on letting your dog swim regularly in the pool, look at alternative, dog safe, chemicals.
Lake or River:
Swimming in the lake is excellent for dogs. It gives them a vast amount of freedom to run, jump, and swim. It can also be a great place to train your dog to swim. The depths allow you to wade in slowly with your dog without being bashed around by waves in the sea. Being in the outdoors also gives your dog the freedom to interact with other dogs. Other confident swimmers can also help to teach your dog by showing and copying.
Be careful to watch for sea snakes and potentially dangerous creatures. We also don't recommend taking your dog anywhere near a stagnant lake, and this can carry all kinds of bacteria.
A beach is an excellent place for swimming. The sand offers a great place for fetch and plenty of space for running and swimming. The beach can be slightly daunting to dogs who have never experienced swimming before. The noises and waves can be overwhelming for an unconfident dog, but with a little encouragement (and a lot of treats), it can be a great place to learn to swim.
Always check as during some months specific beaches don't allow dogs. The tides can also be fatal for dogs who are not confident. 

Potential Dangers:

Even the strongest swimmer can get caught in unexpected currents. Never leave your dog unattended when swimming, even if they are an experienced swimmer. The PDSA
also do not recommend going in after them, but instead to call for the emergency services.  
Limbers Tail:
Most common in sporting breeds, Limbers Tail usually occurs after an exhausting, heavy swim or retrieve. Limbers Tail is caused by muscle damage. However, it can look similar to a tail break. It is shown by the tail hanging downwards. The symptoms can be painful. Resting for a week or so is recommended. If your dog is in a lot of pain, visit the vet for some pain relievers. 
Most commonly known as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria can be dangerous to dogs. It is most common in stagnant lakes and ponds. It is difficult to spot, look for brown or green flakes/dots in the water. Blue-green algae contains harmful toxins that can interfere with liver function and prove fatal. If your dog shows any signs of poisoning (e.g., vomiting, excess drooling, breathing difficulties, confusion), contact the vet immediately.



Do German Shepards like to swim?
Yes, despite not being bred to swim, their physique and energetic nature make them great in the water. They can learn to become confident swimmers.
Can dogs swim underwater?
Yes, once your dog is comfortable swimming, it can be taught to fetch underwater.
Where can I take my dog swimming?
Beaches, lakes, and rivers are all great places to take dogs swimming. There are also hydrotherapy pools available with trainers to teach your dog to swim or as an alternative exercise.
How old should puppies be before they go swimming?
Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, it can go swimming! Be careful of temperatures, tides, and their energy levels during swimming. Puppies tire quickly, so keep it short and sweet when they're young.
How long can a dog swim?
It depends. The length of time varies between breeds, as well as energy levels, and how comfortable they are in the water. Always make sure your dog can get out of the water when they want to.
Do dogs get tired swimming?
Yes! Swimming is great physical exercise for dogs. It can help to strengthen joints and muscles. Hydrotherapy pools are great for overweight pets and those recovering from surgery.



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Disclaimer: Each dog is different, and every circumstance is different. All efforts have been made to provide accurate information. However, it is not provided by a qualified Veterinarian, Veterinarian Surgeon, or Behaviorist. The information provided is purely educational. The information should not be used as an alternative or substitute for medical care. If you have any health or medical concerns, contact a qualified Veterinary Surgeon or Veterinarian immediately.


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