Portuguese Water Dogs. Irish Water Spaniels. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. These dog breeds are all excellent swimmers, but having ‘water’ or a body of water referenced in your dog’s name isn’t a prerequisite for water-loving dogs. Many dog breeds and rescue dogs enjoy splashing around and swimming. And some adore the water so much they seem part amphibian.
When selecting a dog breed for hunting waterfowl, you’ll want one that is at ease in the water. Same if you want a swimming buddy in the summer months. Many of these breeds share physical characteristics that make them naturals in the water, including water-resistant coats, webbed toes, and long, powerful legs.
All Dogs Are Different and Not Every Dog Can Swim
But while many dogs enjoy water, and most can learn to swim if you’re patient and give them opportunities for supervised practice, not every dog is physically able to swim. Barrel-chested, short-legged, and brachycephalic dogs often can’t swim at all, or struggle to swim well. Slowly and gradually introduce your dog to the water, and remember that she may need to learn some fresh swimming skills if you switch from a pool to a lake, from still water to a river, or from a pond to the ocean.
While some dogs simply aren’t interested in water, others fear it. If your companion doesn’t want to take the plunge, don’t force it. She may decide to dip a paw here and there, or she may choose to watch from dry land. Positive encouragement and slow-and-steady introductions to water may change her mind, but carrying her into the water or forcing her to wade may only intensify her fear.
Dogs Who Love Water
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at a few of the dog breeds known for their swimming talent and love of the water. If you want a dog who has the same affinity for water as you do, consider these water-loving canines:
Portuguese Water Dog
As her name implies, this robust, web-footed breed is a natural in the water. Bred to help fishermen who traveled from Portugal’s coast to the frigid waters of Iceland and back, PWDs are true seafaring, salty dogs. Their oily and dense, wavy coats offer insulation from the cold, and their powerful limbs propel them through the water with speed. Other erstwhile on-the-job responsibilities of the Portuguese Water Dog included herding fish into nets, retrieving fishing gear, and carrying messages between ships or ship-to-shore. Today, PWDs put their swimming skills to work as water rescue dogs. Beyond being a fun swimming buddy, this large breed dog is always top of the class in obedience training, and makes a cheerful, amiable companion.
Labs take to swimming like ducks to water. Labrador Retrievers have oily, waterproof double coats, as well as webbing between their toes, paddle-like ‘otter tails,’ and powerful legs that propel them in water. With their dense, insulating double coats, Labrador Retrievers can swim in cold water for the time it takes to retrieve waterfowl on the hunt. They are descendants of the now-extinct St. John’s Water Dog, a working breed that aided fishermen in the icy waters off Newfoundland. The modern Labrador Retriever is a jovial, athletic, easygoing dog known for excellence in the field, in the water, in the show ring, and as the ideal family dog.
Another dog with Newfoundland roots, Newfies are working dogs comfortable doing heavy lifting in and out of the water. In this Canadian island’s cold and choppy coastal waters, Newfoundlands were tasked with towing shipping lines to shore and rescuing distressed swimmers. The massive dogs are agile in the water, and their thick, water-resistant coats offer insulation from icy seas.
German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer is a strong swimmer—and this lean hunting dog usually loves the water. German Shorthaired Pointers are one of the most popular gundogs because of their versatility—they’re as comfortable upland hunting as they are retrieving waterfowl. It usually takes only one swimming lesson for your GSP to embrace her aquatic side. Just toss a floating dog toy or duck training dummy into shallow water for her and she’ll enjoy paddling around in no time.
Irish Water Spaniel
The curly coat of the Irish Water Spaniel is naturally water resistant. Following a dip, she dries off quickly with a vigorous shake and some time in the sun. The largest of the spaniel breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel is a gundog with a waterfowl specialty. She is an athletic dog who makes a strong swimmer, and usually splashes right in with no need for prodding. If your Irish Water Spaniel loves water, make sure her collar and lead are securely hooked if you pass a pond or lake on your daily walks—she may dash off to take a dip.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Bred to hunt waterfowl in its namesake waters, the American-made Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an exceptional swimmer with webbed feet and strong legs. The Chessie’s wavy and dense, waterproof coat helps keep her warm in the large estuary off Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, which is frigid from early winter and sometimes well into spring. Her thick, well-muscled chest and powerful hindquarters help her push through ice floes and manage the rough waters of the Bay. It’s believed that two other swimming breeds on this list—Newfoundlands and Irish Water Spaniels—are among the Chessie’s ancestors.
Can Golden Retrievers swim like the breed’s Lab and Chessie cousins? Yes, they can. And most Goldens love taking a dip and swimming to retrieve sticks and waterfowl. With roots in Scotland, Goldens were bred from a mix of water spaniels and retrievers to achieve exceptional hunting endurance and soft mouths that could hold the hunter’s quarry gently. The breed’s wavy double coat offers protection from cold waters, and they also have the webbed toes, paddle tails, and strong legs typical of water dogs.
Swimming is perfect exercise for the Brittany, a water-loving gundog with plenty of energy to spare. As a hunting breed that retrieves well on land and water, they’re built for swimming and have a coat that’ll keep them warm even when the water temperature tips toward chilly. Whether you’ll train her as a gundog or invite her into your family as a companion, this athletic breed is a great choice for fun in the water.
Other Popular Breeds That Can Swim
While some breeds can’t get enough of the water, others merely enjoy a dip when the chance arises. They may not be top of mind as water-loving dogs, but these popular athletic and energetic breeds can learn to swim:
Siberian Huskies, developed for the strength and endurance to pull dog sleds in frigid temperatures, have legs powerful enough to propel them through the water, but some Huskies need a slow and gentle introduction to swimming.
Similarly, German Shepherds—developed for herding on dry land—can learn to swim, and often love it. But they may not possess the natural affinity for the beach or pool like a waterfowling breed does.
As a hunting breed with the stamina to run rabbits and small game for miles, the floppy-eared Beagle is another breed that has what it takes to learn to swim. She’s not deep-chested or short-legged enough that she struggles in the water, but will probably need a slow and steady introduction to the doggy paddle.
Keep in mind all dogs have distinct personalities and preferences, and some dislike or fear swimming. If your dog doesn’t splash in fearlessly, introduce her to the water slowly, using plenty of positive reinforcement in her swimming lessons. Then let her set the pace and never force the issue, no matter how much you want a four-legged swimming buddy. Even dogs who are strong swimmers get tired during long swimming sessions: If your dog swims often, or frequently tags along on the boat for fishing excursions, a dog life vest ensures her safety.
Dog Safety in the Water
Hypothermia is a concern for dogs, just as it is for humans. Whether you go out on the water for recreation or for bird dog training, if it’s too cold for you, it might be too cold for your dog. For many waterfowlers, water colder than 50 degrees is too cold for training, and they make a decision based on the dog’s reaction to the water—if a water-loving Lab who usually dives in without question is avoiding the water, it’s too cold.
Don’t Over-Exert Your Dog
Every dog is different: Some are balls of energy who will swim as long as you’ll let them, others are happy with a quick dip before moving on. When it comes to how much activity is too much, keep your dog’s stamina and experience in mind.
If you’re looking to give your dog a good workout, a swim of 15 to 20 minutes is okay—as long as she has no injuries preventing her from remaining safe while swimming. A new swimmer won’t last this long, and will need to work up to longer stretches in the water. Even if your dog spends a half hour in the water most days, always watch for signs she’s tired or needs a break, and end playtime early if necessary.
Some dogs enjoy swimming beside a boat while their people paddle, but not every dog can manage this feat. If a dog is a fantastic swimmer with plenty of experience in the water, she may be able to swim a half mile to a mile—some dogs can manage more. A current is more tiring than still water, so a dog may do well in a small body of water, but a swift river can be too challenging. Keep your canine safe: Outfit her with a fitted dog life jacket to help her stay afloat.
Always dry and clean your dog’s ears after a swim to prevent an ear infection—also called ‘swimmer’s ear.’ The moisture in a dog’s ears can cause a painful infection that, if not cared for properly, may result in permanent damage. If your dog has an ear infection, check with the veterinarian about whether it’s safe for her to swim.
Keep your dog out of the water if you spot algal blooms—they usually look like slime on the water—as the scum can be toxic. Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, may occur in any freshwater or saltwater environment, but the type of toxins and health threats vary regionally. Red tides and blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) are the most common. For safety, keep out of questionable water, don’t let her drink from bodies of water or puddles, and bathe her soon after swimming so she doesn’t ingest any bacteria while grooming.
When it comes to where to swim, there are plenty of options. Keep these safety considerations in mind when choosing between the pool and a lake or pond, or between a river and the ocean.
- While a properly maintained pool with recommended chlorine levels isn’t likely to harm your dog, the chlorine may irritate a sensitive dog’s skin or eyes—rinse her after a swim to wash away any irritants.
- Ensure your dog is ready to handle a river current and be cautious when swimming in a river after heavy rain—even a pro swimmer can get swept downstream if the current is stronger than usual.
- Pool chemicals come along with pool ownership: Keep bottles of shock or chlorine out of your dog’s reach to keep her safe.
- No matter where you swim, provide fresh water for your dog to drink, and discourage her from lapping up pond, pool, ocean, or river water.
- Keep an eye out for rip currents, which can happen in any body of water with breaking waves—oceans and large lakes included.
- Saltwater swims are safe, but rinse your dog with fresh water afterward to prevent skin irritation or bacteria buildup.
- A few gulps while swimming aren’t usually harmful, but drinking saltwater may cause stomach upset—and swallowing excessive amounts of saltwater may require a trip to the emergency vet. Clean, fresh water is the best option.
What Breeds of Dog Can’t Swim?
Many people assume all dogs can swim. It’s called the ‘doggy paddle,’ after all. But Pugs, French Bulldogs, Basset Hounds, and Dachshunds are among the dog breeds that can’t swim, or struggle mightily in the water. These breeds share one or more anatomical traits that raise a red flag when it comes to swimming.
Dogs with short (brachycephalic) snouts, including Pugs, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, and Boxers, have difficulty keeping their flat muzzles above the waterline. Dogs with stubby legs relative to their bodies (e.g., Corgis, Scottish Terriers, Dachshunds, and Basset Hounds) don’t have the paddling power needed to keep themselves above the surface. Dogs with dense bones and heavy barrel chests have buoyancy challenges, while very lean dogs get cold quickly when swimming. A thick, long coat not adapted to water can weigh down a dog and tire her out quickly in water.
Finally, a special shout out to the Bulldog, whose short snout, muscled chest, and short, wide-set legs make her the quintessential canine landlubber.
If your dreams of welcoming a dog into your family include visions of jumping into the backyard pool with your furry best friend or playing catch with sticks or dog toys in a nearby watering hole, choose a dog breed known for ease in the water. If you’re adopting a shelter dog, look for mixed breeds that are part Labrador, Golden Retriever, Newfoundland, or other natural swimmers. Be patient when you teach your dog to swim, and always watch her closely when she’s in or near water—then enjoy your splashy play sessions.