All dogs are certainly able to doggy-paddle, right? Wrong! Although most dogs are natural swimmers, some dogs will find the water unpleasant due to their breed, age, or a heart condition. 

If your dog has never gone swimming before, make sure he or she has a good first experience in the water. You should never force or throw your dog into the water, even if you’re jumping in right after. 

Introduce them to water slowly, and keep them on a leash in case they get spooked. For many breeds, splashing in shallow water is the perfect summertime activity, while others might prefer to lifeguard from the shore. 

Which Dog Breeds Can Swim? 

Will your dog enjoy the water? The answer might depend on the water conditions as well as his or her breed. 

Lots of dogs live for the water; we’ve all seen a labrador excitedly take a running jump into a lake. Irish water setters, otterhounds, and Newfoundlands are especially good at swimming. We’ve even seen a golden retriever pool party.

On the other hand, pugs, bulldogs, and other brachycephalic breeds have flat faces, which creates breathing problems even when on perfectly dry land (which is where they’d probably prefer to stay). 

Breeds with larger heads and shorter legs will have trouble keeping themselves afloat (we’re looking at you, basset hounds). Basset hounds should also avoid swimming to stave off ear infections. 

Other short-legged breeds who may need help in the water include corgis and dachshunds. Breeds with voluminous coats—like Shih Tzus—often struggle due to the weight of their fur. 

If you want your short-legged canine companion to join you in the water, you will need to invest in a canine life vest. It’s also a good idea to get a life vest for dogs who have never swum before. Even if they take to the water fairly easily, a doggy life vest can help you and your dog feel a bit more confident. 

Water Safety for Dogs

  1. Don’t Let Your Dog Drink the Water 
    No matter where you and your dog take a swim, make sure he or she doesn’t drink the water. Lukewarm bodies of stagnant water (think, ponds and slow-moving rivers) can contain harmful bacteria and poisonous algae. Chlorinated pools also have chemicals that can make your dog sick and/or irritate your dog’s skin. In large quantities, salt can be toxic for dogs, so ocean water is another no-go. 

    To keep your dog from wanting to drink water, make sure they’re well-hydrated before you go for a swim. 

  2. Avoid Strong Currents 
    Just as you would for small humans, make sure the ocean or river currents aren’t too strong for your dog. Check it out first before you invite your pup in the water. If you’re swimming in the ocean, check the weather report to see if riptides are possible. 

  3. Be Careful in Cold Water 
    Cold water can cause issues for a water-bound dog. If it’s cold out, make sure you dry your dog off with towels. Older dogs and dogs with heart conditions will be especially sensitive to colder temperatures. It’s best to leave older or unwell dogs at home in the warmth instead of taking them on your next polar bear plunge. 

    Shivering could be a sign of mild hypothermia. Wrap your shivering dog in a blanket to be on the safe side. Sipping warm broth can also speed up the warming process. 

    Not sure how well your dog will tolerate cold water? Lucky for you, dog wetsuits are a thing! 

Easy Does It 

It may take a few tries for your dog to feel comfortable swimming. Bring a favorite toy with you into the water if he or she needs a little coaxing. Make sure you don’t swim for too long, especially if your dog is new to the water. Swimming is exhausting, especially if they don’t have a life vest. 

Chances are, your dog will love spending time with you in the water. It’s well worth the effort to make their first swim a fun time.