At the sight of any puddle, stream, or pond, most dogs dive in without a care in the world and leave us owners dreading the inevitable wet dog smell coming back into the car or house! Although one thing we don’t usually think about is trying to teach our dogs how to swim.
Swimming often seems to come naturally to dogs, and given they originated the “doggy paddle” you’d be forgiven for thinking swimming was completely instinctive for our furry friends! But does swimming really come naturally to dogs, and can all dogs swim?
It turns out, not every pooch knows how to paddle. And while some breeds seem to love splashing about and take to it like a duck to water, other hounds are more likely to sink rather than swim!
Despite the fact that most dogs seem to take to the water naturally, not all dogs can swim. (Or at least, they can’t all swim very well.)
If your dog has never been in the water before, they might never have learned how to swim. Many dogs figure it out for themselves after playing in the shallows, then as the water gets deeper their instinct to paddle kicks in.
Some dogs might need time to get used to the water and a little helping hand to stay afloat. If your pooch seems unsure or is still learning how to swim, you can gently support them in the water with a hand under their belly until they become more confident. You can also purchase a doggy life jacket to help keep them safe while swimming.
However, some dog breeds simply cannot swim without assistance, and they’re more likely to sink if you pop these pooches in the pool.
This is because some dog breeds just aren’t built for gliding through the water. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and some of those shapes just aren’t suited for swimming.
There are a number of dog breeds that struggle to swim. These are often breeds with long bodies and short legs, top-heavy pups with deep chests and large heads, or brachycephalic breeds.
Long dogs with short legs like Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and Corgis can all struggle to swim. This is because their little legs need to work much harder to kick and stay at the surface. Plus, keeping their long heavy bodies afloat takes even more effort because their legs are disproportionately small.
Meanwhile, brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs can all struggle with swimming because of their flat faces. Dogs with long snouts can keep their nose out of the water easily to breathe, but smooshy-faced dogs like Pugs are more likely to accidentally inhale water, especially because they often breathe through their mouths rather than their noses.
Some top-heavy breeds of dog can also struggle to swim. Breeds like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bulldogs, and Boxers all have large heads and deep chests but skinny back-ends, making them top-heavy. That means it’s more difficult for them to keep their head above the water.
Meanwhile, dogs with very long fur like Afghan Hounds could struggle to swim because their long hair will get very heavy when it’s wet, making it harder for them to stay afloat. It'll be like you swimming with your clothes on!
Finally, some toy breeds of dog like the Chihuahua are able to swim, but they can tire out easily or become anxious due to their small size. Since they’re only little, it can be easy for them to be swept away or bowled over by a wave, which is naturally pretty scary!
But just because these breeds can’t swim very well, doesn’t mean they can’t swim at all. It means that swimming is more tiring for them and they have a greater risk of getting into trouble.
So, if you have a dog that isn’t a strong swimmer, or simply hasn’t swum before, stay in shallow water and always supervise them. You could also purchase a doggy life jacket to make it easier for them to stay afloat and even get some help from a dog trainer and some doggy swimming lessons.
Some dog breeds like the Labrador, Newfoundland, or Portuguese Water Dog are usually born with an affinity for the water and make strong swimmers. This is because they were originally bred to do jobs that involved swimming and splashing about.
Labs helped hunters to fetch ducks and other game, while Newfoundlands used to help fishermen to retrieve nets and nowadays are even trained as lifeguards. Meanwhile, other dogs like the Portuguese Water Dog would help to haul nets, swim with messages between ships, and they could even herd fish!
You can usually tell if a breed was developed to work in water because they will have special adaptations to help them swim. Some dogs like Labs and Newfoundlands have webbed paws and thick rudder-like tails to help them to steer in the water. Other breeds like Poodles, Irish Water Spaniels, and Portuguese Water Dogs all have thick curly fur that's designed to keep them warm and waterproof while they’re paddling around.
However, even if your dog is a breed that usually likes the water, they still might not be able to swim very well or simply don’t like getting wet!
Also, remember that even the dogs that do know how to swim won’t always like it!
As with many things, dogs who have been introduced to water as a puppy in their socialisation period often grow up being more confident in the water.
Additionally, dogs that have had the chance to explore water for themselves will often have a more positive and fun experience, whilst dogs who are forced in often learn to hate it. Dogs who are given the time and space to explore water for themselves will often figure out how to doggy paddle too.
Whether or not your dog likes water will also depend on their personality, since all pups are unique and have personal likes and dislikes. Some might avoid puddles but leap into a lake if they get to fetch something out of it. Other pups might see one spot of rain and decide they don’t want to go out for walkies after all! Plenty of pooches simply don’t like swimming or getting wet, it’s just their own “pawsonal” choice.
Not all dogs can swim well. While some breeds were born to splash around, others aren’t built for floating.
So, can all dogs swim? Maybe not instinctively or easily, but almost all dogs are capable of swimming with help such as swimming lessons, supervision, and a doggy life jacket.
If your dog has a long body and short legs, is brachycephalic, top-heavy, or has very long fur, it will take more effort for them to swim and it can be a greater risk for them. However, they are capable of swimming, they just need a little extra help.
Regardless of whether your dog is a strong swimmer or not, you should always supervise your dog in the water. This is especially true if you can’t see how deep the water is, what’s under the surface, or suspect there are currents or tides.
If you know your dog is a strong swimmer, you can let them swim as another form of exercise.
Swimming is a fantastic low-impact exercise that can strengthen and condition your dog’s whole body. That’s why hydrotherapy and swimming are often advised for dogs with arthritis or pooches that need to lose some weight. Swimming is also a great way for your dog to stay cool in the summer.
However, it isn’t always safe to let your dog go swimming, and you might need to keep your pooch out of the pond for their own safety.
During very hot weather, you shouldn’t let your dog dive into cold water or submerge them in cold water because it can cause their body to go into shock.
You should also never let your dog swim in green water, or water with visible algae or scum on the surface. Blue-green algae is a bacteria common in waterways in the summer and some species are highly toxic to dogs.
Blue-green algae is only visible when it clumps together, and you can’t tell which kinds are safe or toxic unless you test them. This bacteria build-up is common in slow-moving or still water during warm weather. It can look like:
● Blue or green scum on the water’s surface.
● Brown or green clumps floating on the water.
● Brown or green flakes in the water.
● Foamy build-up at the edge of the water.
● Cloudy water, with a blue, blue-green, or green-brown colour.
Strong currents and tides can also be a danger to your dog if they go swimming in the sea or rivers. A good rule to follow is that if you wouldn’t feel safe swimming in the water, don’t let your dog do it!