July 18 2019

What are some things I need to know before I take my dog swimming?

Whether it is the pool, beach, lake or other body of water, summertime is for water fun and play.  Just like you are drawn to water on a hot summer day, so is your furry best friend.  The bright sun shining, the splashing of cool water and frozen treats make it hard to resist getting out and having some fun.

Your dog won’t want to miss out on any adventure you participate in.  They love being beside you at work and play any chance they get.  If you choose to take them along swimming with you, it allows them to expel pent up energy, get physically fit and limits behavioral issues that may come from being bored.

Do All Dogs Swim?

As with humans, not all dogs are created equal.  Genetics play a tremendous factor in the physical, emotional and mental capabilities and limitations of a dog regarding swimming, and life in general.

For many people it is a common misconception that every dog can swim.  Genetically however, some dogs don’t have the physical makeup to swim or swim good.  Certain factors, such as short legs, or a short nasal passage can make it hard for them to swim. 

For instance, the Bulldog has a short nasal passage that makes it very hard for them to swim, they end of up sacrificing the functioning of their bodies respiratory system in order to do so.  Dogs like the Bassett Hound have short legs and a dense bone structure that make it hard for them to swim. 

Here is a quick list of some popular breeds that usually are not good swimmers due to their physical characteristics: 

  • Pug
  • Pekingese
  • Basset Hound
  • Bulldog
  • Boxer
  • Dachshund

Other factors such as age, weight and overall health are all other considerations to be made when thinking of swimming with your dog.  There is also behavioral, mental and emotional issues that would prevent them from enjoying water play.  This can vary from dog to dog.  The Maltese can swim, but genetically they often suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis and chills, so swimming is probably not a good idea.

When thinking about taking your dog swimming, you first need to think about your dog’s personality, temperament, emotional state and physical condition prior to beginning this and any physical activity.

Assumptions should never be made but here is a quick list of 10 popular breeds that are known for their swimming skills:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Newfoundland
  • Standard Poodle
  • Otterhound
  • English Setter
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Curly Coated Retriever
  • Golden Retriever
  • Spanish Water Dog
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


Teaching a Dog to Swim - you can teach a dog new tricks

Everyone loves water but like humans, not every dog can swim or swim well.

If your puppy or dog can’t swim or is apprehensive about swimming and water in general the best way to begin is with a kiddie pool.

Fill a kiddie pool with some water, put on your swim attire and play with your dog.  Try sitting in the pool, tossing a toy in the water and splashing around in it.  By creating a fun and exciting environment you will make memories and put your dog at ease.

Once they are comfortable with this activity you can graduate to calm and soothing bodies of water, such as a lake or pond.

Begin by venturing into the water with some treats or a toy since they will likely follow you.  A leash is optional, but it can be helpful.  Let them get used to being in this type of water, using praise and treats as well as fun activities. 

When they are ready to go further into the deeper water having a dog life vest can be helpful for the unexpected.  If they get deep enough to begin to swim you will want to make sure that they are using all 4 limbs to swim and not having difficulty.

If they are struggling in any way or appear to panic, you will want to guide them back to shore.  If they are doing well and enjoying themselves, have some fun but keep it short the first few times so they don’t get overtired.

Taking a dip in the ocean with your best friend can be great fun but is for more experienced swimmers due to the currents and rip tides.  Should you feel that your dog is capable of handling this, start out slow and keep the games to the shoreline in the beginning since the ocean can offer unexpected events.  Other things to consider are other swimmers, wildlife and recreational activities.

If at any time you are uncertain of the water current in any body of water keep your dog in a life vest or tethered to a 20-30-foot line for safety and protection.

Items to bring along when taking your pooch swimming

  • A leash or tethered line
  • Lots of Water and treats or food and bowls
  • Plenty of towels
  • Dog Sunscreen
  • A life vests
  • Comb or brush
  • Favorite Toys
  • First Aid Kit for dogs
  • An umbrella for them to rest under

Here's an interesting video with some good tips:


Safety Precautions for Swimming with Your Dog

  • Prior to entering any type of water, you will want to do the following:
  • Check the water depth
  • Check the water temperature
  • Apply dog sunscreen
  • Make sure nails are trimmed (this is especially true at a pool)
  • Put your dog in a life vest if needed
  • At a pool show your dog the exits repeatedly to ensure they use them
  • Throughout the day you will want to:
  • Reapply sunscreen
  • Always keep your eyes on your dog
  • Provide lots of hydration (don’t let them drink the water they swim in)
  • Offer periodic breaks where they can sit in the shade, drink, and nap
  • Keep your eye out for fatigue and exhaustion and offer more rest when needed
  • After swimming you should:
  • Rinse off their fur of saltwater or chlorine water
  • Dry off fur to prevent a chill and skin issues
  • Clean ears to prevent infections
  • Once their fur is dry, check for cuts, ticks or other issues


A Word About Dogs Swimming in a Lake or Pond

  • Stagnant water can breed bacteria and parasites like Giardia, never allow them to drink the water.
  • Blue-Green Algae is toxic for dogs causing a variety of health issues, avoid this.
  • Be careful of your dog nosing around the lakeshore, they can encounter snakes.
  • Watch for glass, metal or other harmful items around the shore edges, dog paws get soft when wet and can get injured.

dog jumping into lake for a swim


Bonus – Life Vests and First Aid Kits for Dogs

This page offers information and tips on selecting and purchasing the right life vests for dogs. 

Reflective badges make it easy to spot your dog should they get away from you in the water.  Easy snaps make it a cinch to get your best friend in and out of the vest and handles are great for those unexpected moments when a quick recovery is needed.

dog wearing life vest near lake ready to swim

Carrying a first aid kit just for dogs on your adventures is as essential as your own kit. 

Here is a list of items to include.

  • Any and all paperwork, license copies, vaccines, medical history, phone numbers, etc.
  • Gloves, scissors, tape, gauze pads, tweezers and cotton swabs
  • Hydrogen peroxide, ointments and activated charcoal in case of poisoning (check with vet prior to use)
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Bottled Water, food, bowls and treats
  • Towels or blankets
  • Wet wipes and poop bags
  • A thermometer and eye dropper or syringe
  • Medications and toys
  • Extra leash, collar and possibly a muzzle in case they get snappish during an emergency.
  • A flashlight and possibly a book on handling dog emergencies

These items can all be put together in a duffle bag or backpack to carry along when you and your best friend are put exploring.  Keeping it in your vehicle or by the front door is helpful, possibly making more than one is a good idea.  This page lists some of our favorite bags that work great.

In Conclusion

Swimming is a fun and cooling activity that your dog can enjoy with you.  Taking them on this exciting adventure is sure to create lasting memories.  Time, patience and a little knowledge are all that is necessary to get this swimming party started.

If you and your dog are lucky to have a pool in your backyard, get the barbeque going, call a few human and dog friends and enjoy the beauty of summer while it lasts!

Stay tuned next week for helpful tips on Hiking with Your Dog!

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