Can all Dogs Swim? How to Determine if Your Pup is Ready for the Water

Author: Lenny Kompara

Every dog is different, but generally speaking no, not all dogs can swim. There are dogs that are “designed” for being in the water but they avoid it at all costs. And some pups that are not physically suited for water may love it, despite their incompatibilities. There are things you can do to help make your dog feel more comfortable in the water, but some may never take an interest in swimming, and that’s just fine!

Pups "suited" for swimming

It’s generally safe to assume that dogs with double coats, webbed feet, a long muzzle, or long legs are going to be naturals in the water. Flat-Coated Retrievers, Otterhounds, and Boykin Spaniels were bred to hunt, so they’re usually excited to get into the water. Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, and Standard Poodles are also known to enjoy splashing around. 

Dog lovers tend to favor one breed above others, and that’s “Rescue”! Rescue pups are often mixed breeds, and are often just as unique as their human counterparts. You may not be able to determine how your rescue dog will do in the water without simply giving it a shot, since his genetic background and lived experiences may be unclear or unknown. 

Some dogs aren't made for the water
If your pup is flat-faced, barrel-chested, top-heavy, or has short legs, it is safe to assume that he’s probably not going to be an immediate fan of water. Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, and Dachshunds fall into these categories, and hence are not known for being naturals in the water. It’s not impossible to teach one of these dogs to swim safely, so don’t give up hope - you just might need a pet flotation device to help him feel more comfortable!

Every case, and every dog, is different
While Chihuahuas may not be full of courage, some of them that are brave enough to get in the water become obsessed! The physical structure of German Shepherds paired with their high energy levels typically make them fantastic swimmers, despite not being bred for swimming. All dogs have their own distinct personalities, special traits, dislikes and likes, so it’s not unheard of to find an Irish Setter that’s scared of the water or a Bulldog that, despite his parent’s best efforts, shows no interest in getting out of the water when it’s time to leave!

Can dogs learn to swim?
You can absolutely try to teach a dog to swim, but not all dogs will be able to learn. Start out with a pet flotation device if you aren’t sure whether your dog will be able to swim. Do not force your dog to get in the water, and if he’s trying to get out, let him! If you make a dog stay in the water against his will, he may get scared, panic, or associate water with negative emotions that keep them from wanting to get back in. If you’re planning to take your dog into the water for the first time, make sure he’s not distracted, and start in the most shallow water you can find. Don’t forget to express patience and take your time.

There are no strict rules when determining which dogs can or cannot swim. As long as you’re patient and put in the work, your pooch just might become part fish!

Next stop:  A dog-friendly beach!

Photo credit: istock/Ratth

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