Do Dogs Naturally Know How to Swim?


Can all dogs swim? Because we call a specific swimming stroke the “doggy paddle,” and plenty of furry pups seem to take to the water without ever needing swimming lessons, many people assume all dogs are good swimmers — but this is a common, potentially dangerous myth. While plenty of dogs swim, some struggle with water, and some are even at the risk of drowning.

Do Dogs Know How to Swim?

Some dogs take to the water naturally, but some may struggle. For example, never push a furry friend to swim if:

  • They Are One of the Breeds That Are Not Natural Swimmers

Boxers, whippets, greyhounds, Dobermans and other dogs with low body fat are not as buoyant and may not take to the water. Some dogs are top-heavy or don’t have long limbs to swim easily. Pugs, bulldogs, boxers, dachshunds and other breeds fall into this category.

Some small dogs, like chihuahuas, can get scared and cold easily and aren’t usually the best swimmers. If you have any breeds, introduce them to water at their own pace and only after speaking to a vet.

  • They Have a Phobia of the Water

Some furry friends have had scary experiences with water in the past, and this can make them panic. Trying to push them can only make it worse.

  • They Are Older

Older dogs may have hip, weight or back problems that make it harder to swim easily. Some older fur babies may get tuckered out faster, so you need to watch them to make sure they are okay in the water — even if they have been swimming their whole lives.

  • They Have Medical Conditions That Can Prevent Them From Swimming Safely

Hip dysplasia and other conditions that impact mobility affect swimming skills, too. If your furry family member has been diagnosed with a medical condition, ask the vet about any activities to avoid.

If you have a dog who is not great with swimming but wants to add water play to your furbaby’s life, start talking to your vet about safety. Start slow and in shallow water, and be ready to intervene. Consider a doggy life vest, too. It helps your furry friend stay afloat and helps you supervise more closely.

The Best Swimming Dogs


Some dogs take to swimming like a duck to water. These tend to include breeds such as:

  • Labradors
  • Retrievers
  • Newfoundlanders
  • American Water Spaniels
  • English and Irish Setters
  • Poodles
  • Schipperkes
  • Portuguese Water Dogs
  • Spanish Water Dogs
  • Irish Water Spaniels

Even with these dogs, though, keep in mind that medical conditions and other factors can impact their swimming ability. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your vet before jumping in.

Remember, your furbaby can still enjoy the water without swimming, too. Some non-swimming dogs blast going to a beach or lake, taking in all the smells and hanging out by the water or even in the shallow end. PawsPurrs offer the best dog swimwear.

Encouraging the Behavior

The dogs that know how to swim have had ancestral backing and are equipped and motivated to swim through successful breeding. They love the water and enjoy working in the water with their owners and trainers. The many tasks they can perform in and around water prove that these dogs can swim confidently.


Newfoundland is a good swimmer known to rescue people on rough seas. The Poodle, thought to be a fashionista, is very comfortable in the water. The Poodle’s name comes from the German word “pudein”, meaning splash.

The little Schipperke or Belgian Barge Dog lives on canals and acts as a security guard or pest controller. These dogs are comfortable around water.

Watching the Labrador Retriever swim with his strong legs, webbed feet, and a rudder-like tail is sure proof that this breed is a natural swimmer. They take to the water like ducks! These dogs know how to swim.

Other dogs may find the need to thrash the water to swim as a survival strategy, but they are not great swimmers. Teaching a dog to swim can be rewarding, especially if your family outings centre around water sports or outdoor places with large stretches of water. Knowing your dog can join in the fun and be water safe is important.

In the water, dogs have been seen riding on surfboards and diving off boats while their owners enjoy a day out at the beach. It would always be advisable, though, to get your dog used to a life jacket in larger water areas.

It is preferable to be safe than sorry, as your dog may have mastered great swimming techniques, but large expanses of water can become overwhelming.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Enjoying the outdoors with your dog is a special privilege. Your dog will soon let you know if he is comfortable around water. You may have chosen your dog, especially because you wanted a dog that can swim confidently and likes the water. It is a good idea to find out about the breed you have and see if it ranks among the water safe breeds of dog.

Teaching your dog to swim if you can see they are not afraid of the water is like teaching a child to swim. They need lots of encouragement and support.

Ensuring your dog knows the safe way in and out of the water is very important. Then let your dog see you act as a support. Hold him under the tummy as you help him float. Never force the reluctant swimmer!


Your dog may take time to get used to the idea that paddling in the water, leading to a little dip, will be a comfortable experience. If swimming is a priority, seek some advice and let an animal behaviourist assess your dog’s threshold for water sports.


‘Doggie paddle’ is a recognized method of swimming for dogs and humans. Some dogs take to water naturally and are trained to be involved in water activities. A Newfoundland named Whizz was able to save many people as he was trained to be a lifeguard rescue dog.

On one occasion, he put his ‘paw patrol’ skills into canine rescue mode and rescued another dog. Bravery combined with natural swimming skills and an inherent love of water makes some dogs swimmers, while others are happy to wag their tails and enjoy the day from the shoreline.