Can all dogs swim? The truth about dog swimming

Lots of dogs enjoy swimming. In fact, they love it so much there’s even a special name for it: the Doggy Paddle! Dog swimming is great exercise for them, a five minute swim is the equivalent of a 5 mile walk. It builds strength and flexibility, keeps weight stable – and because it’s low impact it can even help dogs with reduced or low mobility. 

But here’s the thing. When it comes to dogs and water, not all dog swimming is recommended. Yes, sadly, doing the doggy paddle isn’t for all of our furry friends – and there are some breeds who should never even attempt it. So in an effort to get the splash on the do’s and don’ts of dog swimming, we asked our head vet, Sean, and he surprised us with the answers.

Can all dogs swim?

No. Some dogs can’t swim because of the way they’re built physically – so be careful with any breed with short legs, a long back, or flat-faced brachycephalic breeds (their short airways mean they’re at much higher risk of inhaling water, because they breathe through their mouths). Dogs that shouldn’t swim include:

  • Dachshunds
  • Basset hounds
  • English bulldogs
  • French bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Boston terriers 

How to teach a dog to swim

Most dogs can swim instinctively so they don’t need teaching – but if you think your dog needs a helping paw, we’ve got some great tips to get them splashing about safely. 

Start young

Puppies that learn to enjoy water at an early age are much more likely to enjoy it in later life. 

Go slow, and use treats

With young puppies, start off slow to build confidence and use treat-based rewards. Support the tummy if you notice your pup sinking, and give lots of praise.

Try a pool

Puppies tire quickly, so choose a shallow spot at first – or even a dog swimming pool (paddling pool to you and I!) is a great way to start. Check online to see if there are any special dog pools you can take them for lessons.

Be water safe 

Go clean, not green: watch out for algae when you’re outside (algae can make you and your dog sick). Be wary of any potentially dangerous swimming conditions, too – rapid flowing water, like weirs or lakes where there might be a drop in height, tidal waters, and rip tides at the seaside.

If your dog is going to be out on a boat – or swimming for a longer period of time – you can get swim vests to keep them safer.

Rinse and repeat

Water can carry certain diseases, like leptospirosis, so don’t forget to keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date. And give them a good rinse when you get home!

18 thoughts on “Can all dogs swim? The truth about dog swimming”

  1. I have Labrador and she hates water. She is 4 years old and even when I bring the Garden hideout she runs a mile. Is there any training method I could use to reverse this fear.

    • Hi Ian,

      start off slow to build confidence and use treat-based rewards. Support the tummy if you notice that your labrador is sinking, and give lots of praise.
      You can also put a paddling pool in your garden and start off with getting her in there by using treat-based rewards.

      I hope that helps.

      Kind regards,

  2. Two men in a pub, chatting, one says to the other, “My dog has NO NOSE!”, to which the other man
    “How does it smell?” BLOODY AWFUL!

  3. My lurcher loves swimming in the sea, but she will not go in a river! I cannot keep her out she swims along way out and I have to blow a whistle to get her back to shore.

  4. Our dog has learned to love swimming just this year at the age of five. She was very dismissive of going in the water before, but this summer on a very hot day I tried taking her to a local river with a gentle slope in – and she loved it! Now she has progressed to swimming in the sea too. A regular water rat! On hot days we go swimming instead of walking – and the river is by a pub – much better for all concerned….

  5. Greyhounds and some other sight hound breeds have much less body fat and are actually denser than water and can sink! they can however learn to enjoy swimming with a doggy life jacket.

  6. My wee terrier, Freddie, loves the water and is a natural swimmer, if only in short bursts. My collie, Shona, doesn’t really swim, but she IS a swamp hog – show her a muddy puddle and she’s in like a shot!. Not so good if we’ve got to get home in the car!

  7. My dog loves to swim
    I have to put his extendable lead on him when he’s in the sea cos he like to just swim and play loads ..

  8. This article is so well timed. My 3 x year old wire haired fox terrier had to be rescued from the River Derwent Saturday evening. Thankfully never at any stage was his life at risk. He was running towards the water and headed fast to towards the only area that didn’t have shrubbery around the edge to the river. He couldn’t stop in time and fell 8ft into the river and was quickly able to get himself on a small dry area. We ran to an area circa 30ft further down the river where it was shallow and the bank gently sloped down to the river. We called him and he once jumped in to try to swim but his face went under the water and he immediately returned to his ‘safe place’. He knew what we wanted him to do. The other dogs with us were amazing, they swam to him trying to encourage him to follow them but he couldn’t muster the courage. In the end a wonderful chap called Dave scrambled down the bank and lifted my dog to safety. Trouble was Dave couldn’t get back up the bank because it was sheer. Thankfully I had the foresight to throw down the lead to him and I was able to anchor myself at the top and support him scrambling back up the bank. The moral….I am now going to visit my local vet who has a plunge pool for therapeutic purposes but I’m sure they will let me (at a cost of course!!!) use it to gain my dog’s confidence that he can swim. Thankfully, as we continued our walk my dog continued to ‘paddle’ in the shallow parts of the river so at least the experience hasn’t made him frightened of water. My recommendation is to introduce dogs to water as a puppy.

  9. My 9 year old Westie loves swimming in the sea (only when calm), lakes and rivers. He came to us at 18 months old. Also he has his own doggy lifejacket and goes out on my boyfriends canoe with him. He prefers swimming to walking

  10. We have a very spoilt and wonderful little fella ‘ Reuben”whose a cockerpoo aged 2 half and is quite a character. He doesn’t know just how lucky he is as obviously just assumes every doggy has a beautiful river on his doorstep and boy does he love it. Although a good swimmer , little legs going ten to the dozen he loves most to leap in with a great, noisey belly flop. He is my 5 faithful companion and never have we been more entertained or laughed aloud as we do with him.

  11. I have a 2 year old blue heeler and have noticed when we go to the lake she will not go past the top of her legs and when we put her in the water her rear end sinks and she struggles to stay afloat. Now mind u she was born without her tail. So I got her a life vest and waiting to take her out in the boat. Any suggestions on why she has a hard time.


Leave a comment