We’re all familiar with the “doggy paddle,” but it begs a bigger question: Can all dogs swim?
A number of factors play into your pet’s potential for enjoying the water–including breed, build and temperament. And, like people, every dog has distinct preferences, but if you’ve ever wondered which dogs are innate swimmers and which are more prone to sinking, look no further:
In general, dogs with these body characteristics enjoy swimming:
Did someone say water?
Your first clue that you’ve got a natural born swimmer on your hands is the name of your dog’s breed. If the word water is in the name, you’ve likely got a pup with fish-like tendencies:
Irish Water Spaniel
With a naturally water-repellent coat, these playful, all-weather dogs love to exercise, especially when it involves swimming. As one of the oldest recognized spaniel breeds, they also have the distinction of being the largest.
Spanish Water Dog
Hard working and athletic, this rustic breed adapted well to life on the wetland-filled Iberian Peninsula. Primarily used as herders, these curly-coated beauties were taught to retrieve and assist fishermen.
Portuguese Water Dog
Currently most famous for being the Obama family’s breed of choice, these dogs originated on the coast of Portugal where they worked hard at herding fish into fishermen’s nets and acting as furry couriers from ship to shore.
Not seeing the water here? Well, it’s close enough. Nicknamed the “little captain,” these dogs are named after the Flemish word for boat. They were originally bred in Belgium to keep watch on water barges and to chase away rats.
Be a Retriever Believer
Another sign that your dog will be a swimming fiend is if he’s a retriever. Bred to fetch ducks and other waterfowl, if they’re near water, they usually can’t help themselves to a cool, refreshing dip:
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Resulting from a mix between Newfoundlands, hounds, setters and water spaniels, these burly dogs are the largest of the retrievers. They sport a two-layer coat so thick it sometimes makes it difficult to get this breed fully wet.
Known simply as labs, these high-spirited dogs are one of the most popular breeds in the United States. With webbed feet, a rudder-like tail and a hearty love for the life aquatic, they’re a common sight frolicking happily in any accessible water.
With an instinctive passion for water, Golden's are usually incredibly friendly with an attune sense of smell to match. In fact, they’re so good, many have been easily trained to perform important jobs such as water search and rescue missions.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
As a working breed, the word “tolling” refers to this dog’s technique of luring waterfowl within hunting range by playing enticingly near the water’s edge. However, they don’t need to go hunting for an excuse to swim. It’s in their nature.
Just add H2O
Some breeds of dogs may not blatantly tout their love of making a splash in their name, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always shy away from getting wet. Here are a few breeds that may surprise you with their prowess in the pool:
You may not think these graceful dogs are born to swim but they actually got their name from the German word “pudelin,” which means to splash in the water. Even better, the famous poodle cut was cultivated by hunters to help them swim more efficiently. Who knew?
Best suited for cooler climates, this huge dog absolutely adores water. Sweet and slightly lumbering, you may find them cheerfully lounging with paws in their own water dishes, puddles, the rain, basically anywhere that gets them wet.
Bred for bird hunting, these dogs usually don’t let something like water get in the way of retrieving their prize. They’ll dive right in and, like other retrieving breeds, they even have webbed feet.
Irish and English Setters
Brimming with energy and intelligence, swimming is a good outlet for these highly active dogs. Both ancestors of the Spanish Pointer, they excel at hunting, tracking and retrieving both on land and in the water.
Fancy a swim? Maybe, baby.
Some dogs may not have been specially bred to be around water, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it after a proper introduction. Below are a few breeds that stand a good chance of being aqua babies given the opportunity. However, if yours turns up his nose, don’t hold it against him. It just might not be his thing:
Although on the smaller side, these dogs are sporting breeds and most enjoy the occasional swim. Go slow as those little legs can get tired out easily.
They may resemble Labradors, but that doesn’t make this breed natural swimmers. Puppies usually won’t instantly take to the water but with a slow, non-dramatic introduction to swimming, you may find yourself with a passionate paddler.
Another dog that wasn’t bred specifically to get wet, these pups are usually so energetic and enthusiastic they’ll try anything once or twice. If you’re lucky, it’ll end up in a dog who enjoys a swim on a hot summer day.
Yes, each and every one is unique, which makes these dogs so much fun. You won’t know if you have a swimmer on your hands until you give it a go. But if you have an idea of what types of breeds make up your pooches’ pedigree, you may be able to hazard a guess as to if they’ll enjoy a swim. Like all dogs, the key is to go slow when introducing them to water and make sure to stay safe at all times.
No Way, Jose.
Some breeds, no matter what you do, either will almost universally hate water or physically are not built to swim. If your pet falls into one of these categories, it doesn’t automatically mean you can’t bring him to the beach or sit with him beside the pool (either way, remember the sunscreen, a fresh bowl of water and to keep him in the shade or under an umbrella). Just understand that he’d prefer to (or must) stay on land and you’ll need to keep a close eye on him to ensure he stays out of the water.
In general, dogs with these body types don’t do well in water:
They may act big and tough, but deep down inside, most little dogs know even the shallow end of the pool is way over their heads. You may be able to teach your toy breed to enjoy water with lots of patience and gentle guidance, but don’t expect it. With many smaller breeds prone to chills, it’s best for them to watch the action from a comfortable lap or a lounge chair.
With a thick, barrel-shaped body and tiny legs, these dogs definitely CANNOT swim. It’s not a matter of whether they enjoy it or not. They can drown quickly if the water gets over their head. Keep a very close eye on them when around any body of water, or better yet, make sure they are kept far away from any potential harm.
Like their bulkier counterparts above, these little guys may act like they want to swim, but they shouldn’t. Their big heads make them top heavy, while those little legs won’t support them in the water. Keep them far away or in a life jacket even on land to prevent any catastrophes.
One look at their build and you’ll rightly assume they’re not the best of swimmers. Because they carry two-thirds of their weight in front, they will tire extremely easily trying to keep their noses above water. If you do have them around a lake or pool, supervision is critical.
The same squished up face and quirky snorts that make them so endearing also mean they’re not going to be great around water. Physically they may be able to learn to paddle for a little bit, but they lack stamina and can’t get the deep breaths needed to swim for any length of time. Using a life jacket and keeping an eye on them at all times is a must.
Lanky and lean, this breed has the exact opposite problem of bulldogs. With virtually no body fat, they are almost always poor swimmers and can tire or chill easily in water. Monitor them at all times if they are near water to prevent them from getting in.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
With a disproportionately large head and heavy muscular body, these dogs will continuously tip forward while in the water. A life jacket may help them stay afloat but it’s best to keep them out of the water or stick to the shallows if yours must go in.
All that fluff can really weigh a dog down, literally. A swim may be tempting for your chow to cool off on a hot summer day, but don’t let him go too far out. You’ll need to be able to easily rescue him should his fur start to get waterlogged.
The Big Caveat
It cannot be stated enough that no matter what your dog’s breed or mix of breeds is, he will not automatically know how to swim. Or even if he does, he may never enjoy it. At no time should you force your dog to get in the water or do something he’s clearly not a fan of. You’ll likely end up with a terrified dog scrambling to climb onto your head to save himself, or worse.
Sad but true: Every year more than 4,000 dogs drown in swimming pools alone. You can help prevent this by keeping a close eye on your dog and by installing a barrier and an alarm system that alerts you to any people or animals that may accidentally fall in the water.
A few water safety tips before you go.
Ready to take the plunge with your dog? Keep these tips in mind to ensure a safe, fun experience for the both of you:
1. Don’t dive in.
If it’s your pup’s first time around water, or the first time of the season, slowly get her acquainted to the water. Try standing with your leashed dog in shallow water first so she can get used to being immersed. Then slowly coax her into deeper water until she needs to paddle to stay afloat. You can use your arm to provide support under her belly until she gets the hang of things. If she ever appears panicky, head back to shallow water before trying again. If she never relaxes or seems to enjoy it, don’t push it. You should never assume your dog can swim or that she’ll even want to. For these dogs, there’s plenty enough fun to be had on land.
2. Life jackets are a must.
Like people, even the best of four-footed swimmers can get tired or caught up in a current. A well-fitting life vest will not only help keep your dog safely afloat, its bright color makes it easier to keep an eye on him. An added bonus is that the handles give you something solid to grab onto should you need to rescue your tired doggy paddler. If your dog physically can’t swim, it’s a good idea to keep him in a life jacket anytime he’s near water, just in case.
3. Get wet and wild, without a lot of water.
Even if you don’t have a pet who loves to swim, you can still enjoy some water-based fun together. Consider getting a baby pool for the backyard so your pup can safely splash around and cool off. Or (if you’re not in a drought-prone region, of course) play a game of fetch through the sprinkler. A Chuckit! ball launcher can go far in keeping you from getting soaked while your dog stays thoroughly entertained.
4. Drink elsewhere.
Help prevent your dog from guzzling down a dirty drink by keeping clean drinking water nearby. A bowl of fresh water can go a long way in safely quenching his thirst while limiting the temptation to ingest a few sips of whatever water he’s playing in.
5. Have an exit plan.
Especially important when swimming in a pool, show your dog how to safely exit the water by heading to the shallow end or steps. A specially designed ramp or floating steps can make climbing out easier for your pet. Reinforce this lesson often so your dog knows how to exit if he falls (or jumps) in on his own. This can be critical to preventing tragedy.
6. Rinse off.
Whether you’re at a lake, beach or a backyard pool, it’s always a good idea to give your dog a freshwater rinse before heading inside. Salt and residual chemicals like chlorine aren’t good for her skin or fur while algae, sand and mud may be clinging to her coat after a dip in a lake or ocean. For longhair breeds you should brush out the fur around collars to prevent tangles. Finally, a brisk toweling off and tasty treat is a great way to end a great swim.
So, where does your dog fall on the swimming spectrum–nearly a mermaid or a very content landlubber? Now that you know the ins and outs of water safety and which breeds tend to enjoy swimming the most, it’s time to start planning some appropriate outdoor adventures together.
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