Is It Better For Dogs To Walk Or Swim?

Both swimming and walking provide numerous benefits for a dog’s health and well-being. While swimming and walking share some advantages, such as improved cardiovascular health, each activity also offers unique benefits. When determining if swimming or walking is better for your dog, it’s important to consider factors like your dog’s breed, age, joint health, and personal preferences.

This article provides an overview of the key benefits of walking and swimming for dogs. It analyzes the pros and cons of each activity to help dog owners make an informed decision about which is best for their pet’s lifestyle and needs.

Cardiovascular Health

Both walking and swimming provide cardiovascular benefits for dogs. Walking is a form of aerobic exercise that gets a dog’s heart pumping and blood circulating. According to the Better Health Victoria government site, regular walking helps strengthen a dog’s heart and lungs, improves cardiovascular fitness, and lowers blood pressure (source). The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of walking per day for dogs.

Swimming is also an aerobic exercise that improves cardiovascular health. When dogs swim, their heart rate increases as their body works to swim through the water. This increased heart rate during swimming exercises the heart muscle. According to VCA Hospitals, swimming is an ideal low-impact exercise for senior dogs or dogs with joint problems, as the water supports their body weight while still providing cardiovascular benefits (source).

Both walking and swimming improve cardiovascular health by exercising the heart and lungs. Walking may provide more cardiovascular benefit over the long-term as it exercises the heart consistently at an elevated rate. Swimming provides high-intensity cardiovascular exercise in bursts. Combining both walking and swimming is an excellent way to optimize cardiovascular health.

Muscle Tone

Both walking and swimming can help build muscle tone in dogs, but they provide different types of benefits. Walking helps strengthen and tone muscles in a dog’s legs and core by working against gravity. The impact of walking also helps build bone density. According to The Top 5 Benefits of Swimming for Dogs, swimming provides more of an overall body workout by utilizing muscles throughout the body to propel through the water. The water provides resistance and buoyancy which allows for non-weight-bearing exercise that tones the entire body.

Swimming targets the chest, front leg, abdominal and back muscles as dogs kick their rear legs and pull forward with their front legs. This provides an excellent conditioning workout for the entire body. Walking can target leg muscles more specifically. However, swimming may be better suited for dogs with joint issues or for injury recovery since it allows for muscle conditioning without high impact on the joints. Both activities complement each other by providing muscle toning benefits in different ways.

Joint Health

Swimming can provide excellent low-impact exercise for maintaining joint health in dogs. The buoyancy of water helps support a dog’s body weight, reducing stress on joints and limbs. This makes swimming an ideal activity for dogs with arthritis or joint problems. According to a report from Simon Vet Surgical, swimming in warm water can relax muscles and promote joint mobility in dogs with osteoarthritis.

The hydrostatic pressure from being submerged in water can also help improve circulation and reduce swelling around sore joints. As Dr. Benson from Dip ‘n Dogs explains, “Warm water is overall healing and therapeutic for dogs suffering from painful arthritis. Being in the pool will increase their circulation and blood flow to allow the joints to function better.”

Underwater treadmills are another form of hydrotherapy that allows dogs to get a good workout while minimally loading their joints. The benefits of aquatic exercise can make a big difference in mobility and quality of life for dogs with arthritis or orthopedic conditions.

Mental Stimulation

Both walking and swimming provide important mental stimulation for dogs. According to PetMD, taking your dog for walks in new locations provides mental enrichment as they get to experience new sights, sounds and smells. Swimming also provides mental stimulation as dogs must focus on coordinating their limbs to move through the water (PetMD). PetsBest notes that any type of physical activity that requires focus and coordination, like swimming, can tire out a dog’s brain. Allowing a dog to swim gives them a challenging task to concentrate on. Both walking and swimming engage a dog’s mind through physical exertion and environmental variety.


Both walking and swimming provide important opportunities for dogs to socialize and interact with other dogs and people. Walking allows for casual greetings and meetings during a stroll through the neighborhood or park. Many dog owners enjoy chatting while their pups play at the dog park or sniff and explore together on an afternoon walk. Swimming can provide similar social benefits when dogs take a dip together at the beach, lake, or pool. According to the Animal Humane Society, activities like dog parks, play groups, and play dates help accomplish socialization for dogs. Without regular social interaction, dogs can become fearful, aggressive, or stressed in public.

While walking may provide more frequent casual socialization, swimming can allow dogs to socialize and play more vigorously. The close quarters of a pool or lake often leads to active swimming, splashing, chasing and wrestling between dogs. This interactive play helps dogs learn how to communicate effectively and appropriately with other animals. Both swimming and walking give dogs the exercise they need to burn off energy that could otherwise lead to bad behavior from poor social skills. Overall, the social benefits of both swimming and walking are immense for dogs, providing vital interactive opportunities with people and animals.


Weight Management

Both walking and swimming can be excellent forms of exercise to help manage a dog’s weight, but they achieve this in different ways. Walking is a low-impact activity that burns calories by getting the dog moving and engaging their muscles. The exact calories burned will depend on the dog’s size and the speed/distance of the walks, but regular walks can help create a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss over time. Swimming, on the other hand, allows dogs to exercise without putting pressure on their joints, making it ideal for overweight or obese dogs. According to K9 Strong, the swimming pool is an excellent place for overweight pets to begin losing weight, as the water supports their body weight and lets them move more freely. The water resistance when swimming also helps dogs burn more calories in a shorter time compared to walking. For dogs that struggle with mobility or joint issues due to excess weight, swimming may be the most effective form of exercise to aid weight loss and improve their health.

Injury Risk

When it comes to potential for injury, both walking and swimming carry some risks for dogs. However, studies have shown that swimming may be the lower-impact exercise option.

During walks, especially on hard or uneven surfaces like pavement or trails, the impact on a dog’s joints with each step can lead to injuries over time. According to, this repetitive impact is hard on a dog’s joints and can aggravate arthritis. Swimming provides a zero-impact cardiovascular workout that reduces strain on joints.[1]

That said, swimming does carry a risk of injury if not done properly. Dogs that are not conditioned for swimming long distances or durations can experience muscle strains or cramps. And swimming in open water where currents are present or water is very cold can lead to drowning or hypothermia. With proper conditioning and supervision, the injury risks of swimming can be mitigated.

Overall, swimming appears to provide cardiovascular benefits to dogs with lower injury risks compared to walking, especially for senior dogs or those prone to joint injuries. However, both activities come with some level of risk and require proper training and conditioning for a dog’s health and safety.



When considering the accessibility of walking versus swimming for most dog owners, a few key factors come into play. Walking is generally more accessible as an activity since it can be done anywhere and does not require any special facilities. Swimming activities for dogs typically require access to a body of water that allows dogs such as a lake, pond, pool, or dog park with a pool or swimming area. According to Cutt et al. (2008), dog owners perceived higher levels of ease of access to parks and nature reserves available for walking, compared to non-dog owners (

In most neighborhoods and communities, there are sidewalks, paths, trails, or parks that allow dogs to be walked on leash. Swimming areas that permit dogs are less common, and may require a membership or fee to access. The exception could be for those living along coasts or near lakes where open access for swimming may be available. Additionally, it is typically easier to walk with a dog daily compared to coordinating transport and time for a regular swimming outing ( Therefore, walking activities tend to be more convenient and accessible for most dog owners compared to swimming on a regular basis.


In summary, both walking and swimming have pros and cons for dogs. Walking provides cardiovascular exercise, mental stimulation, and socialization opportunities. However, it can put stress on joints and lead to injuries. Swimming is a low-impact activity that builds muscle, strengthens joints, and burns calories. But some dogs dislike water, and it requires access to a body of water.

When choosing between walking and swimming, pet owners should consider their dog’s age, health conditions, joint problems, and preferences. Younger active dogs can benefit from both activities. Older dogs or those with orthopedic issues may find swimming more enjoyable. Dogs that dislike water would prefer walking. Combining both activities provides the most well-rounded exercise.

Ultimately there is no definitive answer on whether walking or swimming is “better” for all dogs. Knowing your pet’s individual needs and matching activities accordingly provides the greatest benefits.

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