Not All Dogs Are Natural Swimmers (& How to Teach Your Dog to Swim)

Our last dog, Lucy, loved to swim. When temperatures soared into the 80s she couldn’t wait to leap into the deepest part of the stream that flows through our property. She was often joined by my friend’s springer spaniels, who also loved the water.

On the other hand, our border collie/husky mix, Jason, is timid around water. He will go for a swim with much encouragement from us, but he’s happiest when his feet are on solid ground.

Many people think that dogs are natural swimmers, but that’s not true. Yes, they will naturally start “doggy paddling” when put in water, but that doesn’t mean they can swim safely or that they like water. According to holistic veterinarian Karen Becker, when it comes to swimming, dogs generally fall into three categories:

Dogs Who are Natural Swimmers

Good canine swimmers tend to be medium to large in size with water-resistant coats and webbing between their toes.

Breeds known to be good swimmers include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Portuguese, Spanish and American water dogs and the American water spaniel. Other breeds known to be comfortable in the water are Newfoundlands, English and Irish setters, the standard poodle and the schipperke.

Dogs who aren’t Built to Survive in the Water

Some dogs may swim well enough to splash about a little under supervision while wearing a life vest, but that’s about all.

For example, according to veterinarian Marty Becker, bulldogs are so poorly built for water survival that breeders and rescue groups often require a home check to ensure that, if the home has a pool, it’s safely fenced and that a monitor is used to alert the family if something breaks the surface of the water. This is important because bulldogs typically sink like rocks. Other popular breeds that can’t swim include pugs, Pekingese, boxers, basset hounds and dachshunds.

Not All Dogs are Natural Swimmers (& How to Teach Your Dog to Swim)

Dogs Who Can Learn How to Swim

Some dogs automatically take to the water, but most require a little coaxing and reassurance before they get comfortable and become good swimmers. It’s important to go slowly when introducing dogs to water.

My friends Joy and Ken live in Puerto Rico and share their home with six rescued dogs. All of the dogs instinctively knew how to swim, but only Yorkshire terrier Enzo jumps into the pool willingly. The others take some encouragement to get them into the pool and either watch the fun from the sidelines or enjoy hanging out on floaties in the water

Safety was a big concern when my friends had their pool installed. They made sure that the construction included a shallow ledge that the dogs could use to get out. While dogs should always be supervised when in and around a swimming pool it’s important that they know how to get out in the event they ever get into the water undetected.

“We’ve never lifted our dogs out of the water. If they’ve ever needed assistance, we’ve always just pushed them in the direction of the ledge,” Joy said. “Now when we put them in the water, which we do periodically to make sure they still remember, they all know and understand that the ledge is the only way out for them and they immediately swim in that direction.”

How to Teach Your Dog to Swim

These are some tips from the American Kennel Club on how to teach your dog to swim:

Regardless of breed, all dogs should wear a life jacket when first learning to swim.

Most large pet stores sell dog life jackets. Look for one with a handle that you can use to guide your dog in the water and a D-ring to attach a leash. Get the dog used to the life acket at home first. To get him comfortable wearing it put it on when feeding him dinner or reward him with treats while he’s wearing the life jacket.

Some dogs can be overwhelmed by large bodies of water.

Try starting with an empty baby pool in your yard. Get your dog comfortable stepping in while the pool is empty before slowly adding water.

Start young!

Get your puppy comfortable with water as soon as you bring her home! Your bathtub or a baby pool with an inch or two of water make great places to introduce young puppies. You can also carry small puppies into the water and help them swim back to shore or another person.

How to Teach Your Dog to Swim

Start in shallow water with your dog on a leash and enter the water with your dog.

Take a few steps into the water and encourage your dog to follow. Reward him with treats when he steps into the water even if he only gets his toes wet. Gradually ask your dog to step further and further into the water until he has to start swimming to reach you.

If your dog likes to retrieve, you can throw her ball or toy into the water.

Throw it a little further away each time so gradually your dog will need to swim to reach the ball or toy. These steps should be done over a period of several days so as not to overwhelm your dog in one session.

Be prepared to go gradually.

If your dog won’t step off a swimming pool step to start swimming try a pond or lake where they can gradually wade deeper rather than experience a sudden drop-off in the swimming pool.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing.

Carole R
Carole R5 months ago

Thanks for posting.

Renata B
Renata B7 months ago


Beverly D
Beverly D7 months ago

Thanks & God bless~

Richard A
Richard A7 months ago

Thank you for this article.

Maryann S
Maryann S7 months ago


Kerrie G
Kerrie G7 months ago

Shared, thank you.

Julia S
Julia S7 months ago

Thank you!

Chad A
Chad Anderson8 months ago

Thank you. I remember when we lived in Arizona and had a pool. When everyone would be in the pool Sam would run around and bark and eventually jump in to play with us. He was small, too small to get out on his own, so we had to fish him out and he would be cool just watching us after that.

Elisabeth H
Elisabeth H8 months ago

thank you