An Australian Kelpie is standing in the calm sea after a fun swim

Can all dogs swim?

7 December 2022

Some dogs absowoofly love the water, heading straight to a lake or puddle as soon as they get the chance. While others avoid any body of water like lava. With this in mind we were wondering, can all dogs swim? We did some digging to find the answer…

Loki the Golden Retriever wearing a yellow doggy life jacket sitting on a paddleboard on the calm sea

Swimming is great exercise, building strength and flexibility while also keeping weight stable. Also due to its relatively low impact it’s great for dogs that suffer from reduced or lower mobility. Always be careful however that your dog is swimming in a safe place, where the water is clean, that they are comfortable with the depth and that it's not too cold or hot.

Some breeds, like Retrievers, take to water naturally while others might find swimming difficult. Whether your dog enjoys the water or not there are breeds that aren’t built for a paddle. There are two main groups of dogs who can’t swim or are more likely to be unable to swim. These are:

Brachycephalic dogs

You may have heard of these types of dogs before, but in simple terms they are breeds with a very short muzzle leading to squashed, flat facial features. These include Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs.

They are at a much higher risk of inhaling water due to their short airways and the fact that they often breathe through their mouths.

Disproportionately sized dogs

Due to the way some dogs are built physically they are not suited for swimming. For example, Bulldogs have heads that are much larger than their bodies (so much so that they are often delivered by c-section as puppies!). Due to their head size, their dense bone and muscle mass, when floating in the water they can naturally tip forward and they tend to lose buoyancy.

Dachshunds are also at risk when swimming due to their short legs and also any dogs that may have lost a limb due to amputation or accident can struggle to balance in the water.

So what breeds can’t swim?

Dogs that shouldn’t swim included:

  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Dachshunds
  • Basset Hounds
  • Pugs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Pekingese
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers

Despite this list every dog taking to water should be done on a case by case basis and all dogs, even the natural born swimmers, should be carefully supervised around water.

Flash the English Springer Spaniel puppy learning to swim

If you’re keen to teach your dog how to swim here are a few tips to help you:

  • Start young - puppies who learn to enjoy water are more likely to enjoy it later in life
  • Take your time and use treats - with young puppies start slow and start building confidence. Use treats to reward them when they enter and stay in the water and support them if they need it.
  • Paddling pool - puppies get tired quickly so start in shallow water first or try a paddling pool
  • Watch water quality - Avoid contaminated water or water with algae as it can make you and your dog sick. Also watch out for anything dangerous like rapid flowing water, tidal waters, rip tides or varying depths in lakes. We also recommend a doggy buoyancy aid if they’re going out on a boat or swimming for a longer duration
  • Rinse - It may sound silly as they’ve already been in the water but water can carry diseases so make sure to give your dog a good rinse with clean water
  • Vaccinations - Always make sure your pooch is up to date with their vaccinations before swimming. Nasty diseases like Leptospirosis can be picked up in water.

If you're not sure if your pup should be swimming or if you are worried about them after a dip, be sure to contact your veterinary practice for advice.

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