Everyone loves a dog in a pool. Watching a pup paddle around, snout just above the surface, is a pastime so adored we’ve even named a swimming stroke in its honour. However, that doesn’t mean you should assume you can toss any dog into a pool without a life jacket, thinking natural instincts will take over — it turns out not all dogs swim easily, and there are a number of things you have to consider before lounging with your pooch by the pool, choreographing a summer photo op at the beach, or romping in the river.
What dog breeds are good swimmers?
Some dogs are natural athletes and will take to a body of water as if it were littered with floating bacon bits. Others… not so much, which is something to be aware of before you attempt to take them for a swim. Many of the best swimmers are purebred, having been specifically bred for hunting in the water (you can’t tell me the Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever, the Otterhound, or the Portuguese Waterdog exist for anything reasons other than the express purpose outlined in their names).
Once you stray from the list of dogs that are naturally comfortable in the water, keep in mind that your pup may need some assistance in the water. As Michele Godlevski, a certified professional dog trainer, told the American Kennel Club, your dog’s swimming ability hinges on its body type. “There are also some breeds who have a weight distribution that would not make it possible for them to swim very well without a life vest,” Godlevski said.
Bulldogs, for example, are excellent skateboarders, but their low centre of gravity makes swimming difficult, as do their flat faces, stocky stature, and short legs. According to the dog food maker Hill’s, pugs can’t swim well because their face shape makes keeping water out of their noses difficult, while short-legged breeds like corgis and daschunds will have trouble staying above the surface. (Hill’s has assembled a long list of dogs better off on dry land.)
Yes, dogs can wear life vests
Just as you’d have a child wear a life vest while learning to swim, you should do the same with a dog. A flotation vest will help a nervous dog expend less energy and get less frustrated or scared by waves or the current in a body of water. (This video will help you figure out how to accurately measure you dog for a life vest.)
How to acclimate your dog to water
If your dog doesn’t naturally jump into the pool with gusto, you’re going to have to acclimate them to water via a gradual process. As some dogs seem to find water a bizarre environment, you’ll have to, uh, tread lightly.
Puppyleaks recommends starting out in shallow water and gently coaxing your dog further out with their favourite toy — but only if they seem comfortable enough to keep moving on their own:
Encourage your dog to follow you into shallow water. Praise him as he follows you in, and keep encouraging him to follow you around. Once your dog seems comfortable in shallow water you can try coaxing him out a little further with one of his favourite toys.
Another way to get your dog used to the water is by getting them together with other dogs that can swim. Basically, find a dog that leads by example and have your dog chase them around a body of water (while wearing a life vest) in the hopes they’ll soon be splashing around together.
Know the water before you take your dog swimming
Be mindful of the water’s temperature, as excessive cold can cause a muscle strain injury known as cold tail or limber tail. A good rule of thumb, according to Godlevski, is to make sure the water and air temperature equal at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit when combined.
It may seem harmless to let your dog drink while out for a swim, but they really shouldn’t be drinking from most bodies of water — and especially from lakes, ponds, or the ocean. If the water is particularly teeming with blue or green algae, that’s another indication that you might want to keep your dog on land. If you’re at a fresh water creek (or something similar) that’s clean enough for humans to drink from, just make sure your dog doesn’t over-consume water, as it might cause them to start throwing up. And always monitor the area for other animals and wildlife that could present danger.
After a successful swim, it’s a good idea to give your dog a bath, which shouldn’t seem outlandish, given you’ll probably want one yourself after spending the day around a wet dog.