Can All Dogs Swim Instinctively?

While wolves are strong swimmers, many of their domestic descendants have lost the ability or instinct to swim. One reason this has occurred is that humans have created some breeds with unusually short legs or short faces, traits that are at odds with swimming. Accordingly, you must ensure that your dog is a strong swimmer before you let him get into the deep end of the pool as well as safeguard him against accidentally falling into any body of water.


Buoyant Breeds

Many breeds are as comfortable in the water as they are out of the water. For example, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Portuguese water spaniels, English water spaniels, Irish setters and Newfoundlands are often strong swimmers who enjoy the water. Humans created many of these breeds to perform water rescues or other tasks involving water. Labrador retrievers provide a good example of aquatic ancestry, as historically they were responsible for helping fishermen to work the nets and catch escaped fish, according to the American Kennel Club.

See Spot Sink

Due to their unusual body shapes, many dogs are not able to swim well, if at all. According to Dr. Marty Becker of VetStreet, dogs with short muzzles or those with large chest cavities relative to the size of their hindquarters, often struggle to swim. Bulldogs are one of the best examples of this body type, and not surprisingly, they do not swim well. This leads many bulldog rescue organizations to insist that adoptive owners install protective fences around their pool to ensure their new dog does not drown. Other breeds who are poor swimmers include dachshunds, pugs, corgis and greyhounds.

Teaching Spot to Swim

When first setting out to teach your dog to swim, do so in a calm location in relatively shallow water. Do not force your dog to enter the water or throw him in abruptly. Instead, use encouragement, toys and praise to entice your dog into the water. If he does not begin dog paddling, support his midsection to keep him afloat until he learns the motion. It may be helpful to place a life jacket on the dog to help him float while he learns to swim. Be sure that your dog has steps or a ramp to exit the pool. Make sure he knows where they are.

Safety Considerations

Whether or not your dog is a strong swimmer, it is your job to keep him safe. Even breeds that swim well can drown if they become overtired or cannot get out of the water. Dogs should not be afforded access to deep water unless they are under your supervision. At a minimum, a fence or barrier should be placed around the pool. For additional protection, install an alarm that sounds whenever something enters the water.

By Ben Team


About the Author
As a lifelong environmental educator and ISA-certified arborist with more than 17 years of animal care experience, Ben Team writes about pets, environmental issues and outdoor recreation. Team has authored, co-authored and ghost written more than 1,000 articles, blog entries, educational References and books, in both print and digital formats.