dog swimming

Do All Dogs Know How To Swim?

Due to the term ‘doggie paddle’, most people are of the belief that all dogs are natural swimmers, regardless of breed. This can be a very dangerous assumption to make which could see people put their dogs in danger if not informed properly.

A dog has many natural instincts and an ability to keep themselves afloat in water is often assumed to be one of them, however, it does raise the question, do all dogs know how to swim?

Not all dogs know how to swim instinctively, and you could place your dog in danger if you make this assumption. A dog’s ability to swim will be dependent on their breed as some dogs are natural swimmers, or whether or not their breed is typically able to learn to swim as not all dogs even have the capability to learn to swim. 

A dog’s ability to swim will come down to a few key factors, in this article we’ll inform you of what the best dog breeds are for swimming, how to safely teach them to swim and also how to avoid any hazards in order to keep your dog safe.

Do All Dogs Know How to Swim?

It’s actually a myth that all dogs know how to swim. People often mistake a dog doing a paddle motion to mean that they have the innate ability to swim.

This is quite simply not the case and there are specific characteristics that make a dog either a good or bad swimmer and these often come down to breeding.

**Psychology will also play a part in whether or not a dog can swim, some dogs are scared of water despite being good swimmers whereas others love to splash around despite not having the capability to swim.  

The Best Dog Breeds for Swimming

Some dogs have actually been bred to swim and below are some of the best breeds when it comes to natural swimmers.

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Golden Retriever
  • Newfoundland

It’s worth pointing out that just because a specific dog breed is on this list, it does not mean they will be good swimmers. Some dogs are either scared of water or simply do not enjoy it, therefore never attempt to force swimming onto a reluctant dog.

do swimming

The Worst Dog Breeds for Swimming

Dogs that are naturally good swimmers have specific characteristics that allow for this, if your specific breed of dog (often the smaller dogs) has any of the following characteristics then it’s a good sign that they are not suited to water.

  • Short Muzzle – The key instinct with the dog paddle is an effort to keep the head above water, breeds with a short muzzle would need to generate more power in an attempt to do this and will fatigue quickly.
  • Short Legs – Breeds with shorter legs (especially in comparison to their torso like a Dachshund) will struggle to generate enough power to swim in a particular direction or even be able to keep themselves afloat.
  • Heavy Torso – Thick, barrel-chested breeds with narrow hips like a Bulldog or Basset Hound share the same issue as those with short muzzles and often can’t generate enough power to keep their front end afloat due to uneven weight distribution.
  • Thick Dense Coats – Even dog breeds that are naturally good swimmers in terms of mechanics can struggle if they have thick dense coats. This is because they will hold more water, become significantly heavier and eventually start to fatigue.

With these factors in mind, the following dog breeds are not best suited for swimming and would require the most attention and caution in order to keep them safe around water.

  • Pug
  • Dachshund
  • Basset Hound
  • Bulldog
  • Maltese
  • Chihuahua
  • Staffordshire/American Bull Terrier

How to Prepare and Teach Your Dog to Swim

Preparing and teaching a dog to swim should be done with a few very methodical steps:

Go Slowly – Some dogs will be enthusiastic swimmers whereas others will be tentative, always start out in shallow water with a life jacket to get them started. Also, ensure that there is a ramp or easy to use stairs for ease of entry and exit to the water.

Increase the Depth – Gradually increase the swimming depth over time so that they can become more comfortable in deeper waters. Once they are comfortable at most depths, you should look to remove the lifejacket and test their progress and competence in the water.

Reward – As always when it comes to dog training, make use of treats and rewards to first get them into the water and then to further experiment with depth and swimming without the life jacket.

If at any point your dog is showing distress or a reluctance to swim then we can’t emphasise enough that you should not force it, some dogs just simply don’t like to swim, and we should accept that and not attempt to force it.

Safety Tips for Dog Swimming

When letting your dog go for a swim it’s important to keep in mind some of the following safety tips, dogs do have natural instincts for survival but as owners, it’s our responsibility to keep them safe.

Dog Life Jacket – These are ideal for all dogs regardless of breed. Just because a dog can swim doesn’t mean it’s immune to fatigue. A dog life jacket will allow all dogs to swim and experience the water without having to rely on swimming ability or stamina.

Ease of Entry/Exit – Always make sure that your dog has an escape route before being submerged in a body of water. A pool that only has ladder access or the ocean with no shallow end will pose obvious threats as fatigue will set in if unsupervised.

Avoid Waterborne Hazards Waterborne hazards for dogs can come in the form of tides or rip currents when at sea, toxic or parasitic waters and murky water which may have sharp or entangling objects not clearly visible which can maim or trap your dog.

Rounding Up – Do All Dogs Know How to Swim?

Not all dogs can swim, that is the take home message of this article, however, we want to leave you with a more practical piece of information. Despite not all dogs possessing the ability to swim, a lot of dogs will actually enjoy playing in the water.

Therefore, we’d recommend testing your dog out in some shallow water to splash around in (one that is not deep enough for any form of swimming) and test their reaction. If it’s positive, then you can attempt to train your dog to swim but don’t be surprised if you find that while they can paddle, they may not be able to swim!

Our favourite dog lifejacket is the Outward Hound. This is a mid-priced lifejacket, which has two grab handles for quickly removing the dog from the water either by hand or boat hook. It’s made of highly reflective material and incorporates several straps for a comfortable fit as well as a chin float to keep your pooch’s chin out of the water.

Our favourite sunscreen for dogs is the Petkin Sunscreen Stick. Its SPF15 is the highest which is safest for dogs to use. We use it on the snout, ears, and muzzle (one of ours has skin tags, so we use it on those too). The product comes in a stick, but we apply it by hand, it’s a good thick consistency but easy to apply and spread.

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