Dog Breeds That Can Swim


Swimming is a great form of exercise and recreation for dogs. This article provides an overview of the best dog breeds for swimming. The goal is to educate dog owners on which breeds have a natural affinity to the water, the physical traits that make certain dogs good swimmers, and tips for training dogs to swim safely.

The content will cover the benefits of swimming for dogs, including how it promotes cardiovascular health, muscle building, joint strength, and mental stimulation. Additionally, this article explores popular competitive swimming events for dogs across the world.

By the end, readers will have a comprehensive understanding of dog breeds adept at swimming, along with actionable tips to get their own dogs enjoying the water.

Natural Swimming Ability

Certain dog breeds have evolved as strong swimmers over generations due to the geography and climate of their origin. For example, the Newfoundland breed was developed in Newfoundland, Canada where fishing and water rescue were common jobs for the dogs. The Labrador Retriever also originated as a water dog in Labrador, Canada where it helped local fishermen retrieve fish and equipment from the cold waters (

Breeds like the Portuguese Water Dog were prized as couriers between ships and crewmen, swimming between boats to pass messages and haul nets. Their webbed feet and water-repellent coats served them well as seafaring dogs. Other breeds like the Irish Water Spaniel have a thick waterproof coat and webbed feet perfect for swimming and water retrieval.

Dogs that have evolved as water dogs tend to have webbed feet, waterproof coats, and a strong instinct for swimming and enjoying water. Their physical adaptations and desire to swim makes training them for water activities like dock diving much easier compared to non-water breeds.

Common Water Dog Breeds

Some of the most popular and commonly seen dog breeds that excel at swimming include:

Labrador Retrievers – Often considered one of the best all-around family dogs, Labrador Retrievers were originally bred to retrieve ducks and fish, making them natural swimmers. Their athletic build, webbed feet, and water-resistant coat make them perfectly suited for all water activities. Labs love to play fetch and swim alongside their owners.

Golden Retrievers – Similar to Labs in temperament and athleticism, Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve waterfowl during hunts. They have an innate love of water and strong ability to swim. Their muscular hindquarters propel them through water, while their webbed feet provide paddling power.

Poodles – Despite their fancy haircuts, Poodles were originally bred as water retrievers. Their tight curly coats provide insulation and buoyancy in water. Poodles are powerful swimmers and love playing and retrieving in the water. Their intelligence also makes them easy to train for competitive water sports.

Other popular water dog breeds include Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, and various spaniel breeds. When properly introduced to water, these breeds tend to take to it naturally and thrive in aquatic environments.

Physical Traits for Swimming

Certain physical traits give dogs an advantage in the water and make them naturally strong swimmers. One of the most notable is webbed feet. The webbing between a dog’s toes helps them paddle and propel more efficiently through water. Breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have webbed feet that act like flippers.

Another key physical feature is a muscular build, particularly in the chest, shoulders, and hind legs. Breeds that excel at swimming tend to have a robust body type with greater power and stamina for paddling over distances. Their strong legs and webbed feet make them adept at kicking and pushing through water.

A water-resistant double coat also lends an advantage. Breeds like the Newfoundland and Portuguese Water Dog have an oilier, thicker outer coat that sheds water, along with an insulating undercoat to retain body heat. This combination keeps them buoyant and comfortable in cold water temperatures.

Lastly, a strong tail acts as a rudder, providing stabilization and allowing dogs to change direction quickly when swimming after toys or retrieves. Breeds with an otter-like tail are able to steer better in water.

Training Tips

Getting dogs comfortable with water takes patience and should be done slowly. Start by introducing your dog to shallow water and letting them wade in up to their ankles or knees. Provide praise and treats for any interaction with the water. Slowly work up to deeper water as your dog gains confidence. Use flotation devices like dog life jackets initially so your dog feels secure. Always keep training sessions positive and end on a good note if your dog seems nervous. Be patient and don’t force things too quickly. Training aids like ramps into pools can help dogs transition into the water at their own pace. Practicing basic obedience commands like “sit” and “stay” in the water can help dogs focus. Work up to swimming strokes like doggie paddle by supporting your dog and praising small achievements. The key is to make water fun with toys and treats so your dog associates it with positive experiences.


Safety Considerations

When swimming with dogs, proper supervision is extremely important. Dogs should never be left unattended near any body of water. According to Puppy Leaks, it’s essential to keep a close eye on dogs when swimming and call them over immediately if they start to drink ocean water, which can cause diarrhea. Life jackets provide an added layer of protection and buoyancy support for dogs. Even dogs that are natural swimmers can experience fatigue, so having a flotation device handy is recommended.

Avoiding dangerous water conditions is also key. As noted by Florida Veterinary Hospital, owners should be aware of potential hazards like strong currents, rough waves, and cold water temperatures that could put their dog’s safety at risk. Stick to calm, confined bodies of water and always gauge the environment before allowing dogs to swim.

Swimming for Exercise

Swimming provides many benefits for dogs as a form of exercise. According to The Top 5 Benefits of Swimming for Dogs, swimming is a low impact exercise that improves overall health and endurance. The buoyancy of the water supports the dog’s joints and muscles, allowing them to exercise with less risk of injury. Swimming works all the major muscle groups as dogs propel themselves through the water, providing a full body workout.

An article from Impact Dog Crates also highlights how swimming strengthens muscles without taxing joints. The resistance of the water builds endurance, muscle tone, and cardiovascular fitness. Dogs can swim continuously in water, getting the benefits of long duration aerobic activity. Additionally, the mental stimulation and playfulness of swimming makes it an enjoyable form of exercise dogs are eager to do.

For dogs who can’t get regular intense exercise due to joint problems, age, or recovery from surgery, swimming offers the ability to maintain strength and aerobic capacity in a low impact way. With proper supervision and safety precautions, swimming can be integrated into a dog’s routine to enhance their physical and mental health.

Competitive Swimming

Certain dog breeds that excel at swimming are well-suited for competitive aquatic sports like dock diving. Dock diving involves dogs jumping from an elevated dock into a pool and retrieving a toy, with the dog earning points based on distance jumped. According to the Dock Dogs organization, dock diving promotes the relationship between dogs and their owners through fun, engaging competition. The sport is open to all breeds and dogs of any size. Other similar sports include dock jumping and water trials. The goal of most competitive swimming sports for dogs is to demonstrate the dog’s jumping, retrieval, speed, and swimming skills. They provide great exercise and mental stimulation for energetic, water-loving breeds.

Breeds to Avoid

While most dogs can swim if introduced properly, some breeds are not ideal for swimming due to their build and temperament. According to, dog breeds that don’t typically swim well include:

  • Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Bull terriers
  • Basset hounds
  • Boxers
  • Corgis
  • Dachshunds
  • Shih tzus
  • Boston terriers
  • French bulldogs

These breeds often have dense, heavy builds and short snouts that make swimming more difficult. They also tend to tire easily in the water. Additionally, some smaller breeds like shih tzus may become anxious or frightened more easily. While exceptions exist, it’s best to closely supervise these breeds around water and not force swimming if they seem uncomfortable.


In summary, swimming provides many benefits for dogs of all ages and breeds. When done properly and safely, it is an excellent low-impact exercise that improves cardiovascular health, muscle strength, joint flexibility, and mental stimulation. Key points to remember are to introduce swimming gradually, provide flotation aids if needed, and monitor dogs closely, especially in open water areas. While some breeds like Labradors, poodles and retrievers excel at swimming due to their anatomy, most dogs can learn to swim competently with practice. With proper training and precautions, swimming can be an ideal lifetime fitness activity for enhancing your dog’s health, happiness and quality of life.

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