Dogs love water – so much so that we humans call rudimentary swimming doggy paddling!

But unfortunately there are some misconceptions about dogs and swimming. For example, dogs are not born knowing how to swim, and they really can drown. At the same time, most dogs are eager to have fun in the water once they know what swimming is all about.

Whether you’re planning to teach a new pup about the joys of water or if you’ve got an older dog who is always eager to jump right in, you’ll appreciate our dog swimming safety tips:

A dog running on the beach

Know If Your Dog is a “Water Dog” or Not

Certain dog breeds are predisposed to love water and they tend to do very well once they learn how to swim – in fact, you might have a hard time keeping them out of the water!

Standard Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Irish setters, English setters, and Portuguese water dogs top the list. If your dog is one of these breeds or even a mix that contains one or more of these breeds, then swimming might feel like second nature to your pet.

On the other hand, if your dog has short legs and/or a short snout, he might not be predisposed to swimming and he’s definitely going to need you right beside him if he does decide to go into the water. Pugs, French Bulldogs, American Bulldogs, Basset Hounds, Maltese, Dachshunds, Corgis, and Shih Tzus might like to wade, but are prone to drowning if they get in too deep.

Even a couple of larger dogs – Pit Bulls and Chow Chows – aren’t well-equipped for swimming. Pitties are so muscular that they tend to sink, and Chow Chows are prone to becoming waterlogged and struggling if they spend very long in the water.

The good news is that any dog can be kept safer by wearing a flotation vest (also known as a canine life jacket) any time they might get into the water or even fall into a backyard pool by accident. Make sure that your doggy flotation device is of good quality, and be sure that it’s a great fit. And, even if your dog is a good swimmer, a life vest can help him stay afloat in case he gets tired or is accidentally injured.

You might also want to add a retrieving line so you can pull your dog out of the water if he gets into trouble.

Is the Water Fine? Check it Out!

Dogs that love water have a tendency to rush in, but it’s a good idea to teach your dog to be patient before hopping into that river, pond, or pool. While your dog might be very excited about the prospect of getting his paws wet, pause to assess the situation before giving him the go-ahead. Look for:

  • Signs of rip tides in the ocean and undertows in rivers and lakes; many known problem areas will have signs posted.
  • Dangerous objects such as submerged trees, etc.
  • Dangerous animals like poisonous water snakes, alligators, sharks, etc.
  • Steep sides that might make it difficult for your dog to get out of the water
  • Fishing in the area; you don’t want your dog to interfere or be injured by lost hooks, etc.
  • Standing water or floodwater that might be contaminated with bacteria.

It’s also a good idea to consider whether the water is safe for you, either for swimming with your dog, or just in case he needs to be rescued.

A dog running through water

Take an Active Role in Your Dog’s Swimming Lessons

Find a place that’s safe for you and your dog to gradually get into the water – a protected ocean bay, a lake with gradually sloping sides, or a pool with a large ramp for wheelchair access might be ideal, so long as dogs are allowed. Put your dog’s life vest on, and make sure they have a and slowly accustom them to the idea of getting wet. Waterproof collars are also extremely handy for dogs who like water, and you can attach your FitBark to any regular or waterproof dog collar.

Some dogs will hop right in, particularly since you’re in the water, and others will resist. Here are some tips for teaching your dog to swim.

  • Go slow! Don’t rush or force anything. This is supposed to be fun. If your first excursion results in wet paws only, that’s fine! Come back another day and let your dog decide when it’s time for full immersion. Some dogs just don’t like the water and that’s OK. Find something else to do together if your dog declares himself to be a non-swimmer.
  • Bring treats and reward your dog for following you along into the water. Treat him again for listening to you when it’s time to get out. Remember to practice getting in and out a lot before you ever venture into water that’s much deeper than your dog’s chest.
  • Bring dog water toys to make swimming even more fun. Keep the toys in the shallow area until your dog is ready to go deeper.
  • When you’re in deeper water with your dog, encourage them to learn proper swimming habits. Support their tummy so their back is level, and tickle their back feet to encourage them to swim with all four legs. Once they figure out which motions help them move faster and feel most comfortable in the water, they’ll be able to swim without any extra help from you.
  • If you have a pool, be sure to teach your dog where and how to get out safely. Many dog owners install special ramps so their dogs can get in and out of the water easily and with less risk of an accident.

It’s a good idea to teach your dog special commands that he’ll associate with water. Try “Ashore” for come to the shore, for example. Once your dog has learned how to swim, continue to keep an eye on him every time he goes into the water.

Even seasoned swimmers can have accidents, so make safety a high priority. Last but not least, be sure to have fun swimming with your dog!