If you’re a water baby, you may be wondering, “can all dogs swim?” It’s a common misconception that dogs and swimming go hand-in-hand. While many dogs have a knack for treading water, not all are naturally gifted swimmers. And for pups with flat faces or short legs, swimming can be a tremendous physical challenge.

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 hitting the pool, lake, or beach.

Which Dog Breeds Swim & Which Don’t

A black Labrador and a yellow Labrador racing each other through the beautiful blue water at the beach with lots of splashing.

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 enjoy swimming—and they’re usually good at it.

But other dogs struggle in the water because of their build. Brachycephalic dogs like pugs and boxers come to mind. These dogs tire easily and have difficulty keeping their muzzles above water. Short-legged dogs like Dachshunds and Corgis may be unable to power themselves through the water. And stocky breeds with large chests and smaller hindquarters, like bulldogs, usually find swimming difficult.

Finally, some dogs 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 generalizations, and plenty of dogs enjoy swimming—even if most of their fellow breed members don’t. So while your Frenchie won’t be the typical candidate for the swim team, a love of swimming is an individual preference.

Dogs That Like to SwimDogs That Don’t Like to Swim
American Water SpanielPapillon
Irish Water SpanielChinese Crested
Chesapeake Bay RetrieverPekingese
BritannyBulldog
English SetterGreyhound
Labrador RetrieverPug
NewfoundlandShih Tzu
OtterhoundMaltese
Portuguese Water DogYorkshire Terrier
Spanish Water DogChihuahua
Standard PoodlePomeranian
Golden RetrieverBoston Terriers
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling RetrieverBasset Hound
German ShepherdBichon Frise
BarbetDachshund

Dog Swimming Safety Tips

A man teaches a puppy to swim in a lake

Establishing safe water habits is essential whether your dog is the next Michael Phelps or it’s his first time dipping his paws in the water. As a rule, beginners should start in calm, shallow water. If your water-shy pup needs extra assurance, try wading into the water to show him everything is safe. Gentle encouragement is ok here, but you should never throw a reluctant swimmer into the water—this could backfire and lead to a fear of the water.

A dog life jacket is a sound investment for first-timers and less-able swimmers. 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 keep him warmer in the water.

According to Nicole Ellis, a certified dog trainer in Los Angeles and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, even the strongest canine swimmers can benefit from a dog life jacket. She says, “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! I once heard of a dog having a seizure in the water and the life jacket saved his life.

And finally

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-colored 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 hot days, your dog might appreciate a cooling collar or an adorable cooling hat to beat the heat.

And finally: are swimming lessons necessary? If your dog were born to swim, at-home lessons would probably suffice. But for hesitant pets and beginners, professional swimming lessons offer a safe introduction to help dogs become more comfortable in the water.

What Gear Does My Dog Need to Swim?

Staffordshire bull terrier diving

iStock/Melanie ROMERO-BONNAIRE

You don’t need much to enjoy the water. But there are a few valuable items that can make the experience safer and more enjoyable for you and your pup:

  • Dog life jacket: This wise safety precaution keeps dogs level, visible, and above water.
  • Dog towels: A functional microfiber dog towel dries your dog off instantly.
  • Floating dog toys: Floating toys elevate pool time and may boost your dog’s interest in swimming.
  • Dog pool floats: You can avoid puncturing your 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: Dogs can get sunburned, too. A dog-specific sunscreen protects your pet’s skin from the summer’s harsh rays.
  • Dog booties: A pair of durable dog shoes protect paws from scorching sand and jagged rocks in the water.

Where Can I Take My Dog Swimming?

Photo of a smiling young woman and her dog bathing in the river; having a great time and enjoying the sunny afternoon outdoors.

When you and Fido are ready to take the plunge, you have a few options. Generally, swimming pools are considered safe for dogs (as long as you’re ok with some extra hair in the filter). A well-maintained pool will dilute chlorine levels enough that it shouldn’t hurt your dog’s skin or coat. Just don’t let your pet consume large amounts of pool water, or they could wind up with a sour stomach.

No pool? Check with your local community pool to see if they offer doggy swim days, 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 and ponds appeal. But are they safe? For the most part, yes. But in some lakes and ponds, toxic blue-green algae can be a problem, according to Dr. Richter. “During hot stretches, when water nutrient levels are high—often from phosphorus runoff from farms—you may notice your backyard water looks dark green, 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 pup.” Common signs of exposure include eye irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.

Takeaway

Swimming can be a great way to exercise together this summer as long as your dog is up for it. And don’t forget about campinghiking, and boating, either: sharing these warm-weather activities with the family dog makes them all the more memorable.

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