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Can all dogs swim? 

dog on a dock stares across the lake

When it comes to the “doggy paddle” swimming stroke, there are certain pups you want to emulate in the water — and others you don’t. Most dogs will instinctually tread water upon immersion, but this isn’t the same as knowing how to swim. Not every dog is a born swimmer, and certain breeds and temperaments will be naturally drawn to bodies of water while others will give them a wide berth.   

If your dog is a natural landlubber who finds swimming a challenge, it’s still worth getting them comfortable around and even in water for their own safety in preparation for any occasions that involve boats, the beach, or even just backyard swimming pools. Discover which breeds are borns to take the plunge and which are better on dry land, as well as tips on teaching your dog to swim while staying safe. 

Table of Contents:

Dog breeds that are good at swimming 

If you’ve visited a dog-friendly beach, you can usually get a good profile on the kinds of breeds that are born for water and those that prefer solid ground. Over decades of domestication, humans have selectively bred individuals with desirable traits to work in water for hunting, retrieving, rescue, and as general aquatic helpers. These breeds are typically athletic, medium-sized or larger dogs who often have webbed feet and thick, water-shedding coats that make them adept at swimming and staying warm in and out of water. Popular breeds like retrievers, spaniels, and poodles thrive in  water. Certain dogs are so tailor-bred for the water, it’s referenced in their breed name! Discover the breeds that are born to swim: 

  • Labrador retriever 
  • American water spaniel 
  • Otterhound 
  • Chesapeake Bay retriever 
  • Portuguese water dog 
  • Barbet 
  • English setter 
  • Irish Water spaniel 
  • Newfoundland 
  • Standard poodle  
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever 

Non-swimming dog breeds 

Not all pups are natural swimmers. If you a lot of time on the water in some form or another, you might not be suited to a dog breed that will struggle to stay afloat. In general, these breeds share certain characteristics, such as brachycephalic faces, such as pugs and bulldogs. The extremely flat, wrinkled faces and short snouts that characterize these breeds are what make them particularly vulnerable, as they’re prone to get water up the nose and struggle to breathe. In addition, dogs with large, barrel-shaped bodies,  short legs, deep chests, large heads, and significant muscle mass are all ill-designed for staying afloat and paddling, making them a drowning risk. These breeds include: 

  • Bulldogs 
  • Pugs 
  • Corgis 
  • Daschunds 
  • Basset hounds 
  • Boxers 
  • “Bully” breeds 
  • Bull and Boston terriers 

Dog water safety 

Even if your dog is an Olympic-level paddler, preparation and planning before a day on the water is always advisable. If your dog struggles with obedience on dry land, things will only get more complicated when swimming is added into the equation. Depending on whether you’re visiting a river, lake, pool, or ocean, there are certain steps to follow that will help keep your dog safe.  

  • Assess the situation — Check your surroundings for high-risk situations, such as strong surf or tides at the beach, river currents, water traffic, and natural obstacles that may threaten a dog’s safety.  
  • Check the temperature — Only certain, hardy breeds can endure extremely cold temperatures. Sudden immersion in too-cold water can send your dog into shock.  
  • Be the lifeguard — Never leave your dog unattended while they paddle. Stay vigilant while ashore and ready to intervene. If you are in the vicinity of a swimming pool, try to keep a gate and fence between your dog and the water, especially if there is a pool cover or a ladder that might make it hard for them to get out.  
  • Limit the swim time — We all know how physically tiring a good swim can be, and a tired dog is at greater risk of drowning.  Excellent recall is required to ensure your dog comes when called to shore. Toys and treats can help tempt them back. 
  • Stay hydrated — Always bring plenty of water for your dog to discourage them from drinking the swimming water. Blue-green algae that can be found in lakes and ponds can make them sick, as will salty ocean water and chlorinated pool water.  
  • Get the gear — Buy your pet a doggie life vest to ensure they always stay afloat. Most come with a sturdy backstrap that will allow you to lift them from the water fairly easily if needed.  

Teaching your dog to swim 

If you’re unsure of a dog’s abilities, ease them in with a gentle introduction to swimming to test their confidence and aptitude in water.  Unless they’re an innate water baby, take it slow and progress at their pace.  

  • Never throw them in — this can cause them to become fearful of water 
  • Begin in the shallows where there is little to no surf or water current. Stay here as long as they enjoy it.  
  • Keep your dog on a leash while they learn. 
  • Try getting into the water with your dog to encourage exploration and bolster their confidence 
  • When your dog begins to paddle with their front legs, lift the hind legs to show them how to float. 

Water activities with dogs 

If you and your sidekick are both natural water lovers, why not explore some activities together? Swimming is an obvious choice if you’re both happy to paddle laps and stay fit together, but there are other games that dogs can enjoy.  

Diving/Retrieving — Got a dog breed with retriever blood? You guessed it, they will love a game of fetch that involves a body of water. If you have access to a dock, some pups will enjoy launching themselves off. If you have a pool or a fairly shallow natural lake, weighted toys that sink will encourage them to dive deep. 

Surfing — By now you’ve probably seen at least one video of a surfing pooch. If you’re a strong surfer with a big-enough board, why not take your pup on some baby waves to test their enthusiasm? There are even annual dog surfing competitions you can enter! Paddleboarding is another fun and potentially dog-friendly option for water lovers of human and canine varieties.  


If your dog seems comfortable in and beside the water, chances are they’re happy to be on it too. Choose a calm day to take a test cruise on the water and make sure they’re always wearing a doggie life vest.