Can all dogs swim? How to teach your dog to swim?

Dogs are known for their love of water and fun. But only a few breeds have the natural swimming ability.

All dog breeds cannot swim, or atleast aren’t natural swimmers, due to certain physical characteristics (like short snout breeds) or certain medical conditions. However, with proper training and practice, and if given enough time, most dogs can learn to swim.

Before we go further, it’s important to note that not all dogs enjoy swimming in the first place. It’s best to respect your dog’s preference. If your dog is receptive to swimming, you must teach them. Swimming enhances their physical fitness and is a fun bonding experience for you and the pup.

Safety Disclaimer: Knowing about any health concerns affecting your dog in the water is important. Breeds like bulldogs and pugs can have breathing difficulties, making swimming more difficult. Additionally, you’ll have to consider safety measures and limitations for older and injured dogs. In short, ask your vet before doing anything.

How to prepare your dog for swimming lessons?

First, we must physically and mentally prepare the dog for intense activity. Swimming is mighty fun, but it requires stamina and mental fortitude. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Get a vet’s assurance that your dog is physically able for a physically demanding activity such as swimming. Ensure that they don’t have any underlying conditions that could be exacerbated by swimming.

2. Your dog must be properly house-trained. Before entering the water, your pup must be comfortable with being handled and touched all over its body, including its paws, ears, and face.

3. Ensure that you’re mentally prepared for the task. Not all dogs are good at swimming. Many aren’t even comfortable in the water. Be patient and keep the training sessions short and positive.

4. Remember that the key to teaching your dog anything is positive reinforcement, whether it’s swimming or potty training. Reward them with treats or toys, and praise them properly throughout the activity.

5. Never leave them unsupervised, as they may tire quickly and be unable to get out of the water.

6. Check the weather conditions before making a plan. Swimming in extreme temperatures could be hazardous for the little pooch.

7. Do not enter the water without a life jacket. It provides extra buoyancy and support for your dog while. It’ll also make it easier for the doggo to float and learn swimming.

Now that you’re prepared, and hopefully so is your dog, let’s learn how to swim!

Teaching Your Dog How to Swim: Step-by-Step Instructions

A dog should gradually be introduced to the water. It’s done to allow them to explore and get comfortable at their own pace. Once they are, you can teach your dog how to swim.

Step 1: Start in shallow water. Introduce your dog to the pool in a shallow area where they can stand and touch the floor. It helps build confidence while being in the water.

Step 2: Teach them to paddle. Once your dog is comfortable in the shallow water, teach them to paddle by gently moving their front legs. You can gradually increase their time paddling until they can swim independently.

Step 3: Gradually increase the depth. Do it as your doggo becomes more comfortable with paddling. Make sure your dog still always has their feet on the ground.

Step 4: Introduce your dog to deeper waters. Once your pooch is a master paddler, bribe / trick them into swimming on their own. You can use treats or toys to lure your dog to a certain spot.

Step 5: Practice regularly. It’s the key to helping your dog become a confident swimmer. Try to take your dog swimming at least once a week, gradually increasing the duration as their stamina and comfort increase.

Pro tip: Sometimes dogs may like water but be hesitant to jump into the pool. To help them overcome this fear, you can use a ramp or a gentle slope to let them walk into the water.

Read More: Water Intoxication in Dogs: What is it and how to reverse it?

Common Challenges & How to Overcome Them!

To begin with, use positive reinforcement and be patient. These two tips will automatically resolve more than half of the challenges.

Challenge #1: Difficulty keeping head above water.

It’s the most common problem dogowners have in the beginning. Thankfully, you already have the solution. Use a flotation device – a life jacket to help your dog keep their head above water while in the learning stage.

Challenge #2: Lack of Interest

Many dogs aren’t naturally inclined to swim. You can try to create positive experiences to spark their interest. But ultimately, it’s important to respect their preference and not force them to swim.

Challenge #3: Canine Aquaphobia

If your dog is afraid of water, start by getting used to being around water. You can take walks around a shallow pond or swimming pool, gradually decreasing the distance. Once they’re comfortable, you can let your doggo paddle their feet in shallow water to get acquainted.

Challenge #4: Physical Characteristics

You’ll have to consult a vet for some of these. For example, some short-snout breeds can have difficulty breathing in the water. So you mustn’t push them to swim for long periods.

Or, in the case of overweight dogs, you have no choice but to help them lose weight before starting the swimming lessons.

teaching a dog how to swim

What are the benefits of swimming for dogs’ health and fitness?

Swimming is a great way to keep our dogs healthy and fit. Here are some benefits of teaching your dog how to swim:

1. Bonding: Swimming is a great way to bond with your dog. It helps cool off during the hot days and have fun together!!!

2. Low-impact exercise: It’s easy on the joints, making it ideal for dogs of all ages and sizes. Swimming will help your dog’s cardiovascular fitness and prevent future heart issues.

3. Mental stimulation: Granted, swimming focuses greatly on muscle memory and training. But it also requires a dog to use its brain, which can be mentally stimulating.

4. Toning and weight management: It’s not going to make your doggo ripped, but it’ll help tone and strengthen their muscles, especially in the legs, core and chest. Additionally, it helps your doggo maintain a healthy weight.

5. Rehabilitation: When supervised by a professional, swimming works as a good rehabilitation physical therapy when recovering from injuries or medical surgeries.

How to choose the right life jacket for your dog?

Honestly speaking, each dog is different, and there’s no “one size fits all” type of jacket I can recommend. So, here are the criteria I use to select a life jacket for my dog:

  • Budget: Stay within the budget, especially if you’re a beginner.
  • Size: Make sure to measure your dog properly. You want a snug jacket to provide buoyancy but not so tight that it’s restrictive and uncomfortable.
  • Material: Look for a life jacket made of durable and breathable materials that will not cause skin irritation.
  • Visibility: If you plan to swim with your dog in the open water or low light conditions, look for a product with reflective strips.
  • Handle: I strongly recommend getting a life jacket with a safety handle on top. That makes it easier for you to grab the dog in an emergency.
  • Community Reviews: This is a niche product, so you won’t find any branded items. I usually go around forums and Amazon reviews to buy a life jacket with good reviews from fellow dogowners.

If you wanted my recommendation on the best life jacket for your dog, I have been using VIVAGLORY for some time now.

VIVAGLORY’s Sports Style Ripstop life jacket is the best for a dog who loves to swim. It offers great comfort and buoyancy and has a rescue handle for extra safety. At £22, it’s a little expensive for beginners, but the product quality is impeccable. 

Buy VIVAGLORY’s Dog Life Jacket on Amazon UK.

If you’re just starting, you should go for something cheaper. This dog life jacket from Aoyar Store on Amazon UK only costs £11 and is frankly MUCH cuter.

Read More: A Beginner’s Guide to Best Dog Paddling Pool in UK 2022

Some Advanced Swimming Techniques and Fun Games

Once your dog learns the swimming basics, you two won’t have much fun just lying in the water. You can choose from dozens of games on the Internet; here are a few I play with my dog:

Dog Playing Fetch in Pool

Fetch (Pool Edition): Throw a ball or a toy into shallow water and encourage your dog to retrieve it. Gradually increase the distance and the depth of the water as they become more comfortable.

Freestyle Racing: Tech your dog to swim freestyle once they’re comfortable swimming and retrieving objects. It involves teaching them to swim with their head above water and their front legs paddling.

Obstacle course: Once they’re trained in fetch and freestyle swimming, it’s time for Water Olympics. Set up an obstacle course in the water for your dog to swim through. I use hoops, tunnels, and other household objects.

Canine aqua sports: Many dog-training centres offer canine aqua sports classes. I recommend atleast taking a trial. They’re so much fun! These classes are a great way to bond with your dog and give them a fun and challenging workout.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Will my dog be able to swim?

Many dogs, including yours, can learn swimming eventually, provided they’re given proper training, enough time, and positive reinforcement. Not all dogs have a natural affinity for swimming and water. Be patient and do what’s best for your puppy’s health.

Remember that early socialisation and experiences with water play a big role in your dog’s swimming journey. You must ensure that your dog has a positive experience and is comfortable in and around water.

2. What breed of dog in the UK can’t swim?

Here is a list of domestic dog breeds that are known to be good swimmers and are available for breeding and purchase in the United Kingdom:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retriever
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • American Water Spaniel
  • Flat-Coated Retriever
  • Weimaraner
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Welsh Springer Spaniel
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

3. What breed of dog in the UK can’t swim?

Here is a list of domestic dog breeds that are known to be poor swimmers and are available for breeding and purchase in the United Kingdom:

  • Bulldog
  • Pug
  • Dachshund
  • Boxer
  • Basset Hound
  • Shih Tzu
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Boston Terrier
  • Shar Pei


  • Jonathan Spaeth

    I'm a professional business person who loves dogs. I'm motivated by a passion for dogs and a deep understanding of pet care and behavior. I have more than 10 years of experience in animal healthcare—my lifelong passion for helping dogs.

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