Dog Exercise

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Do All Dogs Know How to Swim?

By: | Updated: October 26, 2019

Barking, digging and being lovable human companions are just some of the strong natural instincts that dogs are born with. Some may think that swimming is also a skill that all dogs have. All dogs will naturally begin to paddle to keep them afloat when they find themselves near or in water. So, do all dogs know how to swim?

In reality, not all dogs can swim and keep their heads above the water at the same time. A dog’s ability to swim depends on their breed or type specific, rather than an inability to make paddling movements with their legs.

Generally, dogs fall into one of three categories:

  • Can swim naturally
  • Can be taught to swim
  • Those that will find it near impossible to swim.

Which dog breeds can swim naturally?

Picture of a swimming dog.


Dog breeds that can swim naturally display traits that are ideal for swimming. In fact, dogs with strong limbs were bred to to be the best in all water-related activities. Historically, these dogs worked alongside their owners to retrieve objects from the water and generally enjoy being in water.

The following breeds have been known to be confident swimmers:

  • Portuguese Water Dog. Porties are versatile aquatic animals and were bred to send messages from boat-to-boat or boat-to-shore. They assisted fishermen at sea and rescued drowning sailors.
  • Irish Water Spaniel. The combination of strong legs, webbed feet and eager temperament make the Irish Water Spaniel a powerful swimmer. Its double coat and tight curls help resist harsh outdoor conditions.
  • American Water Spaniel. These dogs have a high level of endurance in the water. Their thick curly coat protects it from the cold temperatures of the water. In the past, American Water Spaniels were used to hunt waterfowl.
  • Labrador Retriever. These dogs have strong limbs, webbed paws, relatively waterproof coats and rudder-like tails, making them powerful and tireless swimmers.
  • Golden Retriever. Golden Retrievers are intuitively fond of swimming and were bred as a hunting companion for retrieving large aquatic birds.
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Out of all the retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are considered the strongest. Their semi-waterproof coat is made up of a thick under coat and a rough, wind-resistant outer coat. This makes them great divers into ice-cold water.
  • Newfoundland. These dogs are known for its ability to rescue people in rough seas. In fact, Newfoundland dogs were required at some lifeguard stations in Britain.
  • Poodle. The Poodle’s name derives from the German word pudein, which translates as “to splash”.

This list includes the main breeds and types of dogs that can historically swim. But it is important to not assume that every dog on the list can swim. You’ll occasionally find a dog that doesn’t like being in water.

Every dog should be treated as an individual case and carefully supervised around water until they have demonstrated motivation and ability to swim. Remember: dogs are like humans – they are all different!

Can I teach my dog to swim?

Picture of a dog swimming in a pool to catch tennis ball.


If a dog has the physical capacity to swim, it doesn’t mean that they will enjoy it. If you want to teach your dog to swim but they don’t seem to like the water, go slowly. Your pooch is most likely to be scared of the water and it is your responsibility to show them that it is nothing to be frightened of.

When teaching your dog to swim, make sure you steer away from areas with strong currents and underwater debris that can trap your dog. Be careful for unfamiliar bodies of water where parasites and bacteria may harm your dog. Contact a veterinarian if your dog seems sick after a swim.

Three steps to encourage your dog to feel comfortable in water:

  1. Allow your dog become at ease in a certain depth. Make sure to show your dog how to safely enter and exit the water through a shallow side or a slope. This is important should they panic or become tired. Investing in a doggy life jacket can be helpful for dogs to get used to the idea of swimming and build your dog’s confidence in water. You can also provide support by holding your dog under the tummy to help them float.
  2. Slowly persuade them deeper with toys or treats. You can throw a toy in water that’s gradually deeper. Dogs who love to play fetch will often go out after tennis balls or floating toys.
  3. Continue to do this until they are fully in the water. Make sure to always supervise your pooch swimming. A minute can make the difference in preventing a tragedy.

Eventually, many dogs with the right encouragement and temperament will be comfortable enough to enter and play in the water without reinforcement. If your dog sees other dogs enjoy swimming, they may be further encouraged to join in the fun!

Teaching a dog to swim requires patience, but it is also important to know when to stop. If your dog continues to show reluctance and distress after following these steps, don’t force your dog to swim.

If your dog has the ability to engage in ‘survival mode’ and make it to the other side, it doesn’t make your pooch a swimmer. When a dog is frightened in the water, they tend to panic. This quickly leads to fatigue, increasing the likelihood of drowning. Your dog’s fear of water could increase and they may become determined to not enter the water again.

Should I buy my dog a life jacket?

Absolutely. No matter how skilful your dog may be at swimming, large stretches of water can become overwhelming. Older dogs tire easily and seem less aware of their fatigue until it’s too late. So, it would always be advisable to get your dog used to a life jacket in larger areas of water.

Why can’t some dogs swim?

Picture of a dog watching people by the water.


Certain types of dogs can’t swim or are more likely to be unable to swim than other breeds. This is because they are not physical structured to do so.

As brachycephalic dogs have very short muzzles, this creates a squashed and flattened face. In order for brachycephalic dogs to swim or stay afloat, they must tilt their head upwards to keep their nose and mouth above the water. At the same time, their back end points downwards to an almost vertical position in the water, causing them to sink.

The flatter a dog’s muzzle is, the greater difficulty they will have in water. Some dogs of brachycephalic breeds with relatively longer muzzles may be able to swim to some extent, but they may still find it difficult because they fatigue easily.

Dogs with disproportionately large or heavy heads compared to its body will tip forwards in water due to the weight of the head. Therefore, they are unable to keep their heads above the water.

Nevertheless smaller, lighter dogs of a given breed whose head is proportionately more balanced with their body may manage swimming without too much difficulty – but this is unlikely with bulldogs.

Other possible factors that may inhibit a dog’s swimming ability

  • Dogs with particularly short legs (e.g. Dachshunds) can’t generate enough thrust from their legs. Thus, these dogs find it difficult to stay afloat in the water.
  • Dogs of any breed, which have lost a limb, would have difficulty to stay balanced when floating.
  • Some small breeds such as the Maltese and Chihuahua can be good swimmers. But they may become easilychilled or frightened in the water, which can increase the risk of drowning.

Which dog breeds cannot swim?

Picture of a Dachshund on a pier.


The following list includes the main breeds and types of dogs that cannot swim:

  • Pug. With their overlyflat faces, they cannot keep their muzzles above water and swim at the same time. The short snouts can cause shortness of breath and make them prone to fatigue easily, further hindering its ability to swim.
  • Bulldog. As Bulldogs are brachycephalic and have a disproportionately large head, they sink like rocks in water. Lifting their short paws to paddle fast enough to support their dense and heavy muscle mass is challenging. They also tend to have breathing difficulties and may struggle to lift their heads high enough to stay above the water.
  • Boxer. These dogs experience similar difficulties to pugs. However, some boxers with longer muzzles may manage to swim.
  • Staffordshire and American Bull Terriers. As a result of their heads being disproportionate to their bodies, these dogs cannot swim.
  • Basset Hound. Typically, Bassets are unable to stay above the water due to having short legs, large heads and a dense bone structure. Two thirds of the Basset’s weight is distributed in the front of their body, predisposing them to drowning.
  • Dachshund. As Dachshunds have very short legs and a top-heavy build, they cannot create enough swimming motion to paddle effectively. Although they can be taught to swim, they will never be strong swimmers.
  • Pekingese. These dogs cannot keep their muzzles above the water while in a position to swim.
  • Maltese. These dogs are capable of paddling but they are more susceptible to chills, arthritis and rheumatism, which could worsen when swimming.
Don’t assume that a dog that is not on the list will be able to manage. Likewise, there are some exceptions within a given breed.

How can I keep my non-swimmer dog comfortable and safe around water?

Picture of dog in paddling pool.


If your dog never comes to enjoy swimming or you suspect they may find it difficult or impossible, safeguarding your dog around water is of course a priority.

Ensure that your pup cannot gain access to any pond, lake or stream that is deeper than their chest level. If you have a pool at home, make sure it is well secured and monitored.

For those pooches that enjoy being submerged, they can still have water fun, splash around and join your visits to the beach or lake! There are many different life vests and jackets to keep them safe. Knowing your dog can join in the fun and be water safe is important.

If your dog prefers to stay on land, there is always a doggie day bed to relax and keep cool at the water’s edge.

Final thoughts on do all dogs know how to swim

Picture of a dog sat on a beach.


Some breeds may be more proficient at swimming than others, but all dogs can learn to enjoy the water safely with your help. Dogs should be closely monitored when they’re around water, no matter how proficient they are at swimming.

Whether your dog loves to swim, splash around or prefer to enjoy the day from the shoreline, you will alwayshave fun together!

About the Author:

Serena is the content publisher for Daydreamdog and a life long dog lover. Between walking them, writing about them and spending too much time liking pictures of them on Instagram, her day literally revolves around dogs! If you want to learn more about Serena click here.