A Guide to Dog Swimming & Water Safety for Puppies

Summer has officially arrived and here at Barc we couldn’t be more happy about it!

This is a great season for bonding with your dog and enjoying summer activities outdoors. With so much to look forward to, it's likely you'll already be planning ways to make the most of the longer, sunny days any chance you get. 

If you're thinking about taking your pup for their first dog friendly holiday down by the coast, you might be wondering whether or not they can chill poolside or enjoy splashing about in the ocean with you. 

Just as with children, it's important for dog owners to keep a close eye on their fur babies and be aware of their swimming capabilities before getting in too deep. 

Will your dog take to swimming like a duck to water? Find out in our guide below:

Can all dogs swim?

First things first, you should know that not all dogs can swim naturally. Some breeds of dogs are able to swim better than others. While medium and large sized dog breeds tend to find it easier to swim, dogs with shorter legs and stockier builds can struggle.

Which breeds of dogs can't swim?

Dogs that struggle with swimming share similar characteristics. Commonly, brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs, find being immersed in water tricky because of their shorter snouts and flat faces. They also tend to have sturdier bodies, which aren’t the easiest to keep afloat with their little legs. 

There are lots of dogs that can’t swim naturally, and if you own one of these dogs (or a cross breed who has one of these breeds as their parents), you’ll need to tread carefully when taking them to places where there is deep water.

Dog breeds that usually struggle with swimming include: 

  1. Bulldog
  2. Pug
  3. Basset Hound
  4. Corgis
  5. Boxer
  6. Shi Tzu
  7. Scottish & Bull Terrier
  8. Dachshund
  9. Maltese
  10. Mastiff

* This list is not exhaustive, please use it as a starting point.

French Bulldog on Kayak by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

What are the best swimmer dogs?

The main reason why some breeds find swimming easier, is because they were bred and developed specifically for water jobs. As an example, Tollers were bred for hunting purposes, required to lure and retrieve water birds from marshes. 

Breeds that tend to swim best include:

  1. Spanish & Portuguese Water Dog
  2. American & Irish Water Spaniel
  3. Standard Poodle
  4. Labrador Retriever
  5. Golden Retriever
  6. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  7. English Settler
  8. Newfoundland
  9. Lagotto Romagnolo
  10. Otterhound

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Dog Swimming at Beach by Jamie Street on Unsplash

How do you know if your dog can swim?

You should never assume that your dog can swim, or leave them alone to swim unsupervised. While most dogs can learn this skill, very few breeds are able to do so naturally.

When you are first introducing your dog to swimming, it’s important to take it slow and start swimming sessions in a safe environment.

Watch their body language as they get familiar with the water. If you find your dog is able to stay afloat, and naturally starts to paddle around with their ears up and tail wagging, then it's likely they are comfortable being in the water.

On the other hand, dogs that start to splash about in panic mode, looking for the closest exit, should be monitored closely and given assistance. Fear and panic are telltale signs that a dog is struggling to swim.

💡 Top Tip: Even if your dog shows signs of being able to swim confidently, this doesn’t mean that they can stay in the water for long periods of time.

When can puppies swim?

Most puppies are able to start swimming shortly after they've been brought home, at around the age of ten weeks old. 

While vets tend to recommend waiting until a puppy is between 3 - 4 months old before introducing them to water, for dogs that have less strength in puppyhood, waiting until five months is advised.

Can dogs hold their breath underwater?

Just like humans, dogs possess the mammalian diving response, which is a natural defence that makes underwater breathing possible. 

However, this response does not come naturally to all breeds. Some dogs will instinctively be able to hold their breath under water from the onset, while others may only learn as a result of gulping in water the first time that they swim. 

Breeds that find breathing underwater simpler include the swimmer dogs we spoke about above. As mentioned, many of these hunter dogs were actually bred for activities that involved swimming, which explains why they're able to do so with ease.

Don't worry if your furry friend finds it more difficult at first, this doesn't mean that they won't be able to swim forever. Dogs are far more clever than we sometimes give them credit for, and over time they will become more familiar with holding their breath when required. 

Can dogs drown?

Yes, even top swimmer dogs can drown in water. If a dog becomes exhausted and is unable to get out for a break, they will start to inhale more and more water, which can result in something called ‘near drowning’. 

Also referred to as 'dry drowning', it describes inflammation and infection of the lungs, which can occur a few days after swimming if too much water has entered a dog's lungs.

Dogs are also at risk of drowning if they experience strong currents in the ocean, or prolonged periods of time in water with no way of exit.

Remember that your dog will expend more energy swimming in colder seas, which means they will get tired sooner than when swimming in warmer water. 

🌊 Swimming in the ocean:

If you want to take your dog swimming in the sea, you must already know their swimming strength and comfort levels in the water. 

Growing up, we're taught that the ocean must be respected, and the same rings true for our dogs. When taking a dog swimming in the sea, be mindful of:

Strong Currents

Rip tides can cause extremely strong currents to form quickly, which have the potential to drag swimmers out to sea.

While these rip currents can challenge even the strongest swimmer dogs, many pups have been found to get themselves back to shore safely.

Even still, it’s always a good idea to avoid heading into rough waters with your pet. If the sea’s conditions are too dangerous for children to swim in, the same goes for dogs.


While most dogs will head back to shore when they start to tire out, some pups may be having so much fun that they get carried away. For this reason, a solid recall is needed to ensure you can get them to return on command when needed. 


Another important safety consideration for dog swimming is not to let them drink sea water.

Salty water will quickly dehydrate a dog and can also cause diarrhoea. As your dog runs wild at the beach, make sure you have safe drinking water to hand to stop them from turning to the sea for a thirst quencher. 

Adverse reactions to look out for:

If you notice your dog is struggling to breathe, or shows signs of nausea or vomiting, then it's likely they are suffering from exhaustion, and you should contact to the vet as soon as possible.

After a sea swimming session, you might notice your dog scratching itself more than usual. This is quite a common reaction, as too much salt and sand can cause dogs discomfort and itching after a long day at the beach.

The solution to this is to make sure you give your dog a nice bath using warm water and a high quality, soothing dog shampoo

Wet Dog Lying in Sand by Yuma Kim on Pexels

🏊 Swimming in the pool:

While swimming in well-maintained pools generally won't pose any threat to a dog, there are some important considerations for letting your pup jump in!

Make sure your dog is clean

Bacteria can spread through water quickly, so before allowing your dog to get in the pool, you should first make sure they’re as clean as possible.

Any dirt, faecal matter or debris that is on your dog's fur will enter the water, which poses a risk to human swimmers.

💡 Top Tip: To reduce the amount of fur that gets into the pool and clogs the filter, give your dog a good brush before they enjoy their swim.

Check the pool's chlorine levels and safety

When taking your dog swimming in the pool, you should first make sure it has the correct balance of chemicals, with low levels of chlorine to prevent ingestion of toxic water (which can also cause irritation to their skin).

Once you've done that, check the pool for any objects that could be safety hazards, such as a floating pool cover your dog could get trapped under. 

Ensure easy access and exit

Always make sure your dog will be able to get in and out of the pool without difficulty. Steps and ladders aren’t the easiest for dogs to get up and down, so you should always be there to provide assistance if necessary.

Retriever Dog Swimming in Pool - Image from Canva

Water safety tips for dogs: 

  • DO locate the beach lifeguard: Before heading into the water, find out whether there is a lifeguard on duty and identify where he or she is positioned on the beach. This will help save time if your dog gets into difficulty.
  • ❎ DON'T let your dog drink sea water: Keep swimming sessions short with plenty of breaks on the beach to rehydrate and relax.
  • DO stay on the beach if you notice signs of trouble: In the event of an emergency, dog owners are not advised to go into the ocean or put themselves at risk. Instead, alert a duty lifeguard, or phone 999 for the coastguard. While waiting for help to arrive, stand on shore and call to your dog repetitively. Dogs have good hearing, and calling your dog can help if they get disorientated by strong waves.
  • DON'T leave your dog swimming unsupervised: Accidents can happen in seconds, so stay vigilant and monitor your pup at all times.
  • ✅ DO check the water temperature beforehand: As mentioned before, cold water require more energy from swimmer dogs. Because of this, it’s not a good idea to let your pup swim in very cold or icy temperatures. 
  • ✅ DO start swimming sessions in shallow water: The shallow end of the pool is where you should introduce your dog to water, using treats to encourage your dog with positive-rewards based training. You should only encourage them to swim to further depths once you are certain they are comfortable enough.
  • ✅ DO consider getting your dog a life vest: When dogs aren’t comfortable being in the water, they tend to paddle frantically with their front legs which can cause them to get tired more quickly. A life jacket can provide an extra layer of protection that is particularly useful for swim training and brachycephalic breeds.

    Pug Wearing Dog Life Vest in Ocean (from Canva)