Why these dog breeds can’t swim (and what you can do about it)

PENZANCE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 01: Dogs and their owners enjoy a pre-Lockdown swim at Jubilee Lido on November 1st, 2020 in Penzance, England. On the last day of its operating season, the UK's largest Art Deco lido allows dogs to join their owners for a swim. (Photo by Hugh R Hastings/Getty Images)
PENZANCE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 01: Dogs and their owners enjoy a pre-Lockdown swim at Jubilee Lido on November 1st, 2020 in Penzance, England. On the last day of its operating season, the UK's largest Art Deco lido allows dogs to join their owners for a swim. (Photo by Hugh R Hastings/Getty Images) /

Many people believe dogs are natural swimmers, but the reality is some dog breeds can’t swim. They have the instinct to do dog paddles when in the water but some dogs are more adapted to swimming than others. If you’re reading this and own a dog, you might be bummed by the news, especially if you love the idea of taking your dog swimming.

Why You Should Teach Your Dog How to Swim

The good news is even though some dog breeds can’t swim, pet lovers and owners can train them how to and even encourage them to splash around in the water. There are a few reasons why you should teach your dog how to swim:

  • Teaching dogs how to swim can build their confidence and conditioning.
  • Swimming is an excellent exercise to keep dogs fit and keep their weight down.
  • Swimming is a good way for dogs to have fun and bond with their owners.
  • Dogs can socialize with other canines in public swimming pools or beaches.
  • Playing in the water helps dogs cool down, especially in hot areas or during summer.

The Reason Why Some Dog Breeds Can’t Swim

dog breeds
GAZIANTEP, TURKIYE – JULY 25: A dog swims in a pool to cool off itself as the temperature reaches above 40 Celsius degrees at pet hotel in Gaziantep, Turkiye on July 25, 2023. (Photo by Adsiz Gunebakan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

The main reason why some dog breeds can’t swim is because their bodies make it hard for them to do so. Some anatomical factors that hinder some dogs from swimming include:

  • Short legs
  • Heavy heads
  • Short snouts
  • Long or barrel-shaped bodies
  • Weight distribution problems

There are also other reasons why dog breeds can’t swim. Swimming is demanding for dogs, especially if they are bred for a specific purpose. Corgis, for example, were bred for herding and traditionally raised as family companions. As herding dogs, corgis are used to running around the field away from bodies of water. Neither Pembroke Welsh Corgis nor Cardigan Welsh Corgis are natural swimmers.

Aside from corgis, these dog breeds also find it challenging to swim:

  • Bulldogs
  • Dachshunds
  • Boxers
  • Bull Terriers
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzus
  • Basset Hounds

On the other hand, some dog breeds are made to thrive in water. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are rugged dogs accustomed to swimming and wading in water. Their oily and waterproof coat helps them stay warm while dipped in the cold waters of Chesapeake Bay.

Portuguese Water Dogs are also well-equipped for adventures in the water. Their webbed feet make it easy to swim and herd fish into nets, retrieve broken nets or lost tackles and act as couriers. Originally raised in the Algarve region of Portugal, they are considered a fisherman’s friend.

How to Teach Your Dogs to Swim

Dogs are fine companions for humans. They have different languages of love that can reduce anxiety and stress in pet owners. That is why it’s easy to understand why owners want to share fun moments with their pets in engaging activities.

Swimming is a fun exercise for both humans and dogs. If you love spending time with your cherished canine companion and want to introduce them to the water, there is always time to teach them how to swim. After all, swimming is a basic life skill for dogs as it is for humans.

There are a few steps to teaching your dog to swim:

Get a doggie life vest.

Safety should be one of your priorities when teaching your dog how to swim. Since they might find it difficult to float or paddle on their own, a good doggie life vest can help them get the headstart they need.

Pick a doggie vest with a sturdy handle so you can pull your dog away from the water if needed. A brightly-colored vest will also ensure your dog is visible in the water if you plan on swimming at night. Some doggie vests are also fitted with a D-ring to attach a leash. This is especially useful when taking your dog to public beaches and pools.

You should also choose a doggie vest made with lightweight and waterproof materials. This will help your dog float easily even with all the excess weight in their wet fur. Make sure you pick a size right for your dog so the vest will stay on as they paddle and wade in the water. Also, remember to tighten the straps just right so the vest fits snugly and comfortably.

Take small steps at the beginning.

It’s normal for your dog to be afraid of going into the water. It may be their first time or they’re naturally wary of this new environment. Start with baby steps and show them it’s safe to enter the water.

Make them feel comfortable and show them the water is harmless. Avoid forcing them to jump into the water immediately as this can traumatize them. Ease your dog into the water by letting them splash and wade in the shallow part of the pool or beach first.

Some dogs will dive straight in and get the surprise of their lives when they feel the depth beneath them. This can cause them to panic and tire themselves out, leading to drowning risks. Use the vest handle to guide your dog in the water carefully. Let them figure things out, but remember to pull them in when they have trouble paddling.

Have an experienced dog teach them.

There are some lessons dogs can only get from other dogs. Have a friend’s dog come over for scheduled play dates and let the experienced dog show your pet how to approach the water.

Some dogs need actual demonstrations to make them feel ready to try swimming. Seeing other experienced dogs do the same tricks can help them discover and apply their instincts to swimming. Your dog will feel more relaxed when she sees other dogs swim. It will also encourage her to go in for a dip.

Encourage your dog to build confidence.

You are your dog’s biggest fan when it comes to swimming. Use encouragement as a positive reinforcement to keep your dog interested in swimming. It’s a good way to build their confidence and show them they can do it.

Join your dog in the water and guide them as you go. Their instincts to paddle will eventually kick in, so you must keep encouraging them until they do. The doggie vest also helps build confidence in your dog, giving them more time to focus on swimming instead of flailing in the water.

Give your dog a treat and praise them for trying their best at swimming. Dogs need confidence and courage to learn how to swim. You’re setting them up for success and a good time in the water by supporting and encouraging them.

Teaching Your Dog New Tricks

A happy dog is a healthy dog and owners who love their pets will stop at nothing to ensure their furry companions have the time of their lives. Swimming may be challenging for some dogs, but with the right mindset and steps, you can get your pet to look forward to beach trips and pool dives. Try these tips to build your dog’s confidence and you’ll find yourself splashing in the water with your pet in no time.

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