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Can All Dogs Swim?

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Every dog is different. Some dogs take every chance they can get to splash around in a body of water; others avoid it at all costs. 

Personal preferences aside, dogs also have varying abilities when it comes to swimming. Some breeds are natural-born swimmers, while others can find it more challenging. 

In order to ensure your dog’s safety and comfort alike, it’s important to understand his water-related preferences and abilities—especially if you love spending your summers at the lake or beach, in your backyard pool, or boating!

Do All Dogs Know How to Swim? 

Swimming offers several benefits for dogs: it’s a low-impact form of exercise for dogs with joint issues, it’s a great way to beat the heat on a hot summer day, and it’s a fun way to spend time together

When it comes to dogs and swimming, there are typically three categories:  

  1. Dogs who quickly make it obvious that they can swim and feel very comfortable in the water. In fact, some dogs (such as Golden Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, and Irish Water Spaniels) were bred specifically for water-related jobs.

  2. Dogs who, regardless of breed, are reluctant to swim but can still be taught.

  3. Dogs who just aren’t built for swimming due to their proportions and weight distribution—Bulldogs, Pugs, and Dachsunds, for example. 

That said, with the combination of a doggie life vest, some swimming lessons, and plenty of patience, it’s absolutely possible that your pooch can learn to feel comfortable in and around the water regardless of his breed. 

Let’s reiterate the importance of that life vest, shall we? Even if your doggo is totally comfortable swimming, it’s good practice to have him wear a flotation device to avoid any chance of unexpectedly falling or running into deep water. No one wants their pup to panic in the water. With a life jacket, your dog’s back will stay level with the water to keep him paddling smoothly and confidently. Safety first

Teaching Your Dog to Swim

Generally speaking, the younger your dog is, the easier it is for him to learn to swim and/or feel comfortable in the water. Of course, that doesn’t mean your senior dog can’t take a stab at splashing around! 

First things first: invest in a durable, dog-friendly life jacket that fits comfortably. It should have a handle that can help you lift your pup out of the water; some dog life vests also come with a ring that allows for a leash attachment, which is especially useful in public swimming areas. 

Next, get your dog in the water. NEVER toss him into the water with the assumption that his instincts will kick in and help him swim—this may be the case, but the experience can be terrifying and result in a lifelong negative association. 

Instead, encourage your pup to enter the water on his own, starting in a shallow area without any strong waves or currents. Toss a ball or toy for him to follow, or get in the water first and coax your dog toward you. It’s a good idea to wear your own life vest, too, in case Fido tries to climb on top of you in an attempt to escape! 

It’s also important to teach your dog how to get OUT of the water. Point him toward the shore or exit ramp while you’re swimming together. If you’re not swimming with him, at least be sure to stay near the exit and keep him aware of your location. 

Take it slow. Don’t go any deeper until your dog is comfortable and used to the feeling of being in the water. Be sure to offer plenty of praise and positive reinforcement, too. 

Once you eventually do move to deeper water and he starts to paddle with his front legs, gently lift his hind legs to show him how to float. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language—if he’s overwhelmed, move back to shallow water or even dry land, giving plenty of time to recuperate before trying again. 

If possible, it may also be helpful to arrange a puppy playdate with another dog of comparable size, age, and build who’s a confident swimmer. That way, your pup can follow his lead. 

If swimming is your dog’s preferred form of exercise due to his joint and mobility issues, try Pet Honesty’s Joint Support+ Chews. With powerful ingredients like glucosamine, fish oil, and chondroitin, these vet-recommended soft chews support your dog’s joints, mobility, and flexibility.