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How To Teach A Dog To Swim?


We want to start by affirming that not all dog breeds are good swimmers and that not all dog breeds can be trained to swim. Breeds like the Portuguese Water Dog, the Golden Retriever, the Labrador Retriever, and the Irish Water Spaniel have been specifically bred for water-related activities. Generally speaking dog breeds like the Dachshund, Corgi, Bull Terrier, Pomeranian, Basset Hound, and Scottish Terrier should not be allowed around lakes and other reservoirs unsupervised. We want to add that some dogs simply do not like to get wet even if their breed suggests they would be great swimmers. Dogs are individuals and their personalities are a big factor to consider. We will list a few pointers to help you determine if your paw partner will be a good company for water sports.

What Breeds Are Naturally Good Swimmers?

Dogs with medium to long legs and medium to large bodies are generally considered suitable for swimming. Dog breeds that have been created to assist with the recovery of game (wild birds), rescue operations, and fishing do not need any training to be able to swim. Dog breeds that do not need any training to be able to swim are:

  • American Water Spaniel
  • Barbet (also called French Water Dog)
  • Boykin Spaniel
  • Brittany
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • English Setter
  • Golden Retriever
  • Gordon Setter
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Newfoundland
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Romagnolo Water Dog
  • Spanish Water Dog

The large paws, webbed fingers, curly coats, and large tails are body adaptations that make these breeds excellent partners for people who enjoy swimming and other water sports. Many of these dogs like the Portuguese Water Dog have a water-repellent undercoat and a wavy wind-resistant outer coat. Some of the dogs listed above like the Chesapeake Bay Retriever dry very quickly when they are out of the water. There are breeds like the Irish Water Spaniel who seem to know how to swim as soon as they jump in a body of water while others do not see the point of swimming. Large dogs tend to avoid water and on rare occasions, some individuals may enjoy swimming. An exception to this is the Newfoundland which enjoys swimming.

What Dogs Are Not Suitable For Swimming?

Dogs with short and bulky bodies may enjoy swimming too but they have to wear life jackets and should not be unsupervised. Dog breeds like the Boston Terrier, the Boxer, the Jack Russell Terrier, the Miniature Bull Terrier, and the Schipperke may enjoy joining you for a swim if they are accustomed to being around water from a young age and if they wear a life jacket. There are also dog breeds that are simply not made for water like the English Bulldog, the French Bulldog, the Basset Hound, the Miniature Pinscher, the Pug, and the Pekingese. Generally speaking, dogs with short muzzles, short legs, and small bodies are going to be terrible at swimming and should not be left unsupervised around a swimming pool or another body of water with a steep bank.

Swimming With Your Dog

You can test if your dog might like to swim by doing the following:

1. Equip your dog with a life jacket. Make sure the life jacket fits nicely and covers most of the torso of your dog.

2. Jump in a pool or another relatively shallow body of water and invite your dog to join by using hand gestures and an encouraging voice.

3. Monitor your dog’s response and see if he/she will jump after you.

If your dog jumps in and seems happy then you can take your paw partner for swimming. If your dog appears scared and unwilling do not force him/her to join you. The first experience of swimming for your dog should be kept positive as otherwise it might turn into trauma and your dog might be scared of water for the rest of his/her life.

The life jacket will enable your dog to have his/her body leveled and you will see that your paw partner will quickly understand that he/she can paddle with all four legs. If you want to take your dog boating make sure that you purchase dog flotation gear. Always keep the life jacket on your dog if he/she is joining you for water-associated activity. If your dog falls overboard as you are driving your boat you should be able to easily recover your paw partner. There is no national standard for dog life jackets and flotation gear so we will try to help choose the right model.

Tips On Choosing a Dog Life Jacket

Measure your dog’s chest girth, back length, and weight. Some shops use inches and others use centimeters for the sizes so make sure to record your measurements properly.

The sizes of dog life jackets resemble the sizes for human clothing and go like S, M, L, and XL but sizing is not consistent across manufacturers so you need to be mindful of the dog's measurements.

If you can, take your pet to a pet supplies store and measure the life jacket on location. If not, buy a model online and triple-check the measurements. Check if you can return the product if it does not fit.

Make sure the life jacket has at least one handle on the back so you can easily lift your dog from the water. Our team would recommend the life jacket you buy to have two or more handles so you can lift the dog with both hands.

We recommend that the life jacket also has a D-ring so you can attach a leash to your dog. This is useful when you leave the water and you want to keep control over your dog.

Buy a life jacket that has a reflective strip and a bright color. This is important so you can locate your dog easier when he/she is in the water.

A life jacket is different from a life vest. The life jacket is meant to cover most of your dog’s body and provide excellent buoyancy. A life jacket usually features handles and it is easier to spot from afar. A dog life vest does not provide much in terms of buoyancy (flotation). A life vest is usually short in length and light in weight. If your dog mostly enjoys swimming in pools, then a life vest might be more suitable for him/her than a life jacket.

There are a few more things to consider when you have to buy a life jacket:

1. The more adjustable straps, handles, and buckles there are – the better the fit will be.

2. Velcro closures work nicely but they often have fur stuck to them and they are hard to clean.

3. Life jackets that have a rigid structure are not great when your dog has to sit down. You might want to go for a life jacket that is thinner and made of neoprene which allows for a more natural fit and curving.

4. The wider the straps are the better support your dog will have during swimming.

Recommended Dog Life Jackets

The American Kennel Club recommends several models of life jackets like the Outward Hound Granby RipStop Dog Life Jacket and the ZippyPaws Adventure Dog Life Jacket. We would like to add to that list the EZYDOG DFD Life Jacket and the Eyein Dog Life Jacket because they feature wide straps, comfortable handles, a D-ring, reflective strips, and good size support. The products also have 5-star reviews that are submitted by more than 70% of buyers. Please, refer to the tips listed above before making a purchase.