Are Dogs Natural Swimmers?

I went to a doggie beach last week. I observed a variety of dogs. Most were just splashing about in the water that wasn’t too deep for them. Fewer dogs were paddling in deeper water. One or two dogs (bigger dog breeds) were swimming further from shore out as their owners got them to fetch the balls or sticks they had thrown to them to fetch. It made me question if all dogs find swimming comes naturally.

Are dogs natural swimmers? No, not all dogs are natural swimmers. Some dogs naturally paddle to keep them afloat as soon as you put in the water. But this does not hold true for all dog breeds.

So which breeds take to water very naturally and make good swimmers? That’s what this article will explore in detail. But please note, although swimming comes naturally to some dogs, it doesn’t mean those dogs want to swim. Sometimes, it comes down to preference, just like with humans.


Only some dog breeds take the title as natural-born swimmers. All will doggie paddle, but only some will come out as professional swimmers while others will struggle to swim.

This advice is a no-brainer: know if your dog is a natural-born swimmer before you take them out for a swim. Never force a dog to go into the water whether they like to swim or not!

Why Can’t Dogs Swim?

If you know your dog is not a natural-born swimmer or you suspect their breed just does not have the swimming gene, you need to keep an eye on your dog when you take them out to the beach, lake, and on any body of water.

It depends on the breed of the dog as well as their anatomy and physiology and less on their inability to make swimming movements with their legs to stay above water.

Here are two common reasons why certain types of breeds cannot swim or are more likely unable to swim in comparison to other dog breeds

1. Brachycephalic Dogs

These breeds have an extremely short muzzle (nose). They have a flat facial expression such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Pekinese, and Pugs, to name a few.

These dogs cannot swim easily or stay afloat.

To swim in the water, they will need to put their mouth and nose above water. They will need to tilt their head upwards, thus causing their back end to point downwards with them assuming a vertical stance in the water. In doing so, they sink.

The flatter the muzzle, the greater the chance of them drowning.

2. Dogs with Disproportionately Large or Heavy Heads

Dogs with unusually large and heavy heads such a bulldog find it challenging to swim e.g Bulldogs.

Bulldogs have a large head so large that they have to deliver their pups via cesarean section.

Other dog breeds with large heads have a dense bone structure.

Dog breeds with a large head and a dense bone structure with heavy muscle mass indicate their inability to swim well in the water. When they float in water, they tip forward automatically due to the size and weight of their head. These types of breeds cannot keep their head above water, so they lose buoyancy. 

Other factors

Other factors of why some dog breeds cannot swim include having short legs. These dogs find it difficult to stay afloat in water.

Keep a close eye on your dog

If you know your dog is not a natural-born swimmer or you suspect their breed just does not have the swimming gene, you need to keep an eye on your dog when you take them out to the beach, lake, and on any body of water.

Breeds of Dogs That Can’t Naturally Swim Well

The following dogs are not natural born swimmers:

  • Pug
  • Dachshund
  • Maltese
  • Bulldog
  • Basset Hound
  • Chow Chow
  • Corgi
  • Boxer
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Shih Tzu.

Dogs with these body characteristics are not natural swimmers:

  • Stocky built with a big head
  • Top heavy with dense muscle mass
  • Flat and wide skull with a short nose
  • Heavy coat or thick undercoat
  • Short legs.

How Can Dogs Naturally Know How to Swim?

When you place your dog in water, regardless of what breed they are, they will start to instinctively swim. They want to live, right? For example, if you do not how to swim and you get thrown in the water, your natural instinct will be to move your limbs to swim and stay afloat. It is the same way for dogs. It’s instinct. Dogs will try doggie paddle until they just give up.

But instinct alone does not mean that they are good swimmers or know how to swim for a sustained period fo time. 

Are Dogs Natural Swimmers? Common Characteristics

Dogs with these body characteristics are natural swimmers:

  • An otter-like tail that acts as a rudder
  • Water-resistant coat
  • Evenly distributed body weight
  • Longer and strong limbs
  • Webbed feet.

These Breeds of Dog Can Naturally Swim

The following dogs are natural-born swimmers

  • American Water Spaniel
  • Barbet
  • Boykin Spaniel
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Curly-coated Retriever
  • English Setter
  • Flat-coated Retriever
  • Irish Water Spaniel 
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Lagotto Romagnolo.

German Shepherds can also swim very well naturally.

Can Dogs That Don’t Have Webbed Feet Swim?

The thin membrane on your dog’s toes is called webbing.

Even though all dogs have webbed feet, some breeds have prominent webbing between their toes.

Breeds with prominent webbing tend to be more natural or better swimmers. But can dogs that don’t have webbed feet swim as well?

Webbing provides stability for walking and additional help for swimming in water.

If your dog does not have prominent webbed feet, they can still swim, but it would not be a good idea for them to swim. They are not natural swimmers like the Newfoundland, Portuguese Water Dog, Otterhound, German Shorthaired Pointer, and the Labrador Retriever. All of these dogs have wide, webbed feet, making it easier for them to doggie paddle in water like a pro. 

Is Swimming Good for Dogs?

For dogs that are born to swim and love to swim, here are some of the benefits of swimming:

  • Decreases inflammation
  • Improves circulation
  • Strengthens the heart and lungs
  • Increases metabolism
  • Strengthens and tones muscles
  • Improves range of motion
  • Reduces stress placed on tendons and joints.

How long should a dog swim for a good workout? Have a read of this post.

Is Swimming Bad for Dogs?

No, swimming is not bad for dogs.

However, as stated, not all dogs can do or like swimming. It has to do with their breed and physical traits as well as their like and dislike for the activity.

If your dog does not like to swim or their breed just does not have a swimming gene, you can try some other form of physical activity on land to ensure they stay fit, strong, and healthy.

If you want to know how safe is it for your dog to swim in saltwater, click here.

Related Questions

How young does a dog need to be before they can swim?

If your pup is a natural born swimmer, you can train them how to swim.

You should introduce them to the water before six months old.

Make your dog get used to splashing and playing in the paddling pool for children.

You can also swim with your pup.

If you teach them after 6 months, it will take longer for them to learn to swim.

Can dogs that don’t have webbed feet swim?

All dogs have webbed feet, some just more prominent than others. Dogs without webbed feet can swim, but not well and can likely drown due to fatigue. 

What breed of dog can’t swim?

There are several different breeds that cannot swim some of which include Pug, Dachshund, Maltese, Bulldog, Basset, and Hound.

When can puppies swim?

You can start getting your puppies used the water as early as possible, preferably before six months.

You can take them in a kiddie swimming pool or have a backyard swimming pool, one that you blow up, and swim with them.

Training your pup to swim at an early age will help them become better swimmers when they enter the big leagues — swimming pool and sea. 

Where can dogs swim?

You can set your dog up in your yard with their own pool of they can share the human pool. There are other places too – beaches, rivers, lakes and even public pools. You can read our detailed article on where to take your dog swimming by clicking here.


Swimming is a great alternate way to exercise your dog. It’s a gentler form of exercise your dog’s joints and muscles than walking. And it’s a perfect way to cool down on very hot days.


Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs to poodles, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Her dogs enjoy playing fetch, swimming, and long walks. Michelle and her dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp, and swim.

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