Can Dogs Be Taught To Swim?


Swimming can be an enjoyable and beneficial activity for many dogs. However, not all dogs are naturally good swimmers and some require training and safety precautions. This article explores whether dogs can be taught to swim and how to do it safely. We’ll cover the natural swimming ability of certain breeds, the benefits of swimming for dogs, potential risks and how to avoid them, and techniques for teaching both puppies and adult dogs how to swim. There’s also advice on proper swimming strokes, gear and accessories for dogs, and fun activities to do with your dog in the water. The goal is to provide dog owners with helpful information on water safety and training methods so more dogs can safely enjoy the water if they choose.

Natural Swimming Ability in Dogs

Some dog breeds are naturally more talented swimmers than others. This is often due to factors like the dog’s build, coat type, and original purpose. Retrievers, spaniels, and many hunting dog breeds tend to possess an innate love of water and strong swimming abilities.1

Breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and Boykin Spaniels are often considered some of the top natural swimming dogs. Their histories as waterfowl hunting dogs endowed them with excellent swimming skills.2 These dogs have muscular builds, water-resistant coats, webbed toes, and a strong drive to retrieve from water.

In contrast, some breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs tend to be weaker swimmers due to physical attributes like dense, heavy builds and short muzzles. However, while natural ability varies by breed, most dogs can learn to swim competently with proper training and encouragement.

Benefits of Swimming for Dogs

Swimming provides excellent exercise for dogs which strengthens muscles throughout the body like shoulders, back, and limbs without stressing joints. According to, “swimming is one of the best, most complete forms of exercise for your dog” as it works the cardiovascular system and improves overall health (source). The water resistance acts as natural resistance training to build muscle tone and endurance.

Swimming is a joint-friendly exercise that improves conditioning. K9 Aquatic Center notes that swimming can aid in “faster recovery from surgery, sprain or strain” and help “reduced pain” in dogs (source). The buoyancy of water reduces impact and strain on joints and limbs compared to land-based activities. Swimming helps maintain joint health and mobility in aging dogs.

Overall, the cardiovascular benefits, full-body toning, and joint conditioning make swimming an excellent form of exercise and physical therapy for dogs. The mental stimulation of swimming also provides stress relief.

Risks and Safety Concerns

While swimming can be an enjoyable activity for dogs, there are some risks and safety concerns to be aware of. The biggest risk is drowning. Just like humans, dogs can accidentally swallow water, get tired, or panic while swimming, which can lead to drowning if they don’t get help ( It’s important to always supervise dogs when they are swimming and be prepared to intervene if needed.

Another safety concern is ear infections. The moisture, debris, and bacteria in bodies of water can get trapped in a dog’s ears while swimming, causing yeast or bacterial infections. Dogs with pendulous ears like Cocker Spaniels are especially prone to “swimmer’s ear.” Keeping ears clean and dry after swimming can help prevent infections.

Other precautions like acclimating dogs slowly to water, providing flotation devices, and being aware of currents, waves, and water depth can also help make swimming safer for dogs.

Teaching Puppies to Swim

It’s best to start teaching puppies to swim when they are young, around 10-12 weeks old. Puppies have a natural affinity for water and starting them young helps them become strong swimmers. According to this source, introducing puppies to water at a young age can help build their confidence and reduce any fears.

Start by slowly acclimating the puppy to water. Let them explore the edges and wade in shallow water. Give them time to get used to the feeling before expecting them to swim. Have training sessions of just a few minutes at first to avoid overwhelming the puppy.

Use treats, toys and lots of praise to encourage and reward the puppy while teaching them to swim. Go slowly and make it a positive experience. Be patient and don’t force the issue if the puppy seems scared. Building their confidence is key.

Within a few short weeks of regular short training sessions, most puppies will start paddling instinctively and learn to swim successfully. Starting young means they develop strength and skill, making swimming second nature.

Teaching Adult Dogs to Swim

For adult dogs who are afraid of water, swimming lessons can be challenging but overcoming their fear is possible with patience and positive reinforcement. It’s important not to force fearful dogs into the water, as this will only make them more anxious. Instead, work up to it gradually using treats, praise and play to encourage them in the right direction.

Start by letting your dog explore the edge of the water at their own pace. Allow them to drink, splash and investigate without any pressure to swim. Reward any interest in the water with treats and verbal praise like “good dog!” Once they seem comfortable with standing in shallow water, gently lure them in a little deeper by tossing treats just out of reach or having someone call them encouragingly from waist-deep water. Always keep sessions positive and end on a high note before your dog becomes stressed.

Investing time in short, frequent training sessions allows adult dogs to conquer their fear bit by bit. Remain patient as some may take weeks or months to develop water confidence. Avoid scolding or forcing the issue, as this can do more harm than good. With a supportive approach focused on overcoming fear through desensitization and positive reinforcement, even dogs with an ingrained distrust of water can learn to swim and reap the benefits.

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Swimming Strokes and Techniques

Dogs have a few natural swimming strokes they use instinctively. The most common is the dog paddle, which involves treading water with their front legs while kicking with their rear legs. This allows them to keep their head above water to breathe while moving forward. Retrievers like Labradors often use a straight, forward swimming stroke as they are bred to efficiently swim out and fetch downed birds during hunting. Their webbed feet give them good propulsion in the water.

Some other unique swimming strokes dogs have been known to use include:

  • The airborne manatee – dog pops up and out of the water in an arc
  • The joyful otter – energetic twisting and diving
  • The gentle tap – front paws gently tap the water
  • The dolphin stroke – hind legs propel while front legs tuck in streamlined position

While individual styles vary, most healthy dogs have an innate ability to paddle and maneuver through the water effectively. Proper swimming strokes help them conserve energy and avoid swallowing too much water while paddling along.


Swimming Gear for Dogs

Proper swimming gear can help keep dogs safe and make swimming more enjoyable for them. Two essential pieces of gear for dogs are life vests and pool steps.

Life vests provide buoyancy and help keep a dog’s head above water if they become tired or overwhelmed while swimming ( They come in different styles and sizes to fit each dog’s needs. Life vests should have straps that go underneath the belly and around the neck and chest. Getting the proper sizing for your dog’s life vest is important for comfort and safety.

Pool steps allow dogs to easily get in and out of the pool on their own. Steps give dogs more independence and confidence in the water versus needing to be lifted in and out. Steps that have non-slip surfaces and ample foot and grip space work best ( Introducing pool steps slowly can help fearful dogs become accustomed to using them. Always supervise dogs on pool steps.

Other useful swimming gear includes doggie paddle boards, floating toys, and bathing supplies for washing dogs after swimming sessions. With the right gear, dogs can safely enjoy swimming and all the benefits it offers.

Fun Swimming Activities

Swimming doesn’t have to be all work and no play for dogs. There are lots of fun games and activities you can do with your dog in the water to make swimming enjoyable. Here are some ideas:


Try playing fetch with a floating toy that your dog can retrieve from the water. Toss it in and encourage your dog to swim out and bring it back. You can also try hide and seek by placing a favorite toy underwater and having your dog search for it.


There are lots of fun pool toys just for dogs that allow them to retrieve, chew, and play. Life jackets with handles allow you to grab your dog and provide him support while playing in the water. And toys like frisbees or balls that float make for engaging fetch sessions.

Dock Diving:

For very strong swimmers, dock diving provides a fun challenge. It involves trained dogs jumping from an elevated dock into a pool of water to retrieve a toy or bumper. Dogs build confidence jumping in from increasing heights and distances.

The key is finding creative games and activities your individual dog enjoys most to make swimming a fun bonding experience for both of you.


In summary, most dogs can be taught to swim with proper training and patience. Swimming provides dogs with great exercise and an opportunity to cool down on hot days. However, it’s important to keep safety top of mind by using flotation devices until a dog is fully comfortable in the water. Start training in shallow water, use rewards and toys for motivation, and keep sessions short and positive. With time, practice, and encouragement, most dogs can learn basic swimming strokes like the doggy paddle. Make sure any body of water is clean, calm, and free of hidden hazards before letting your dog swim. Finally, always supervise dogs around water and be prepared to intervene if needed. With the right approach, swimming can be a fun, healthy activity that dogs and owners can enjoy together.

Some final tips are to train swimming skills gradually, watch for signs of anxiety or exhaustion, and end each session on a positive note. With patience and care, swimming can be a rewarding experience that builds confidence, trust, and a lifelong bond.

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