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Health & Wellness

Can dogs swim?

Cue the splishing and splashing.

Swimming is an opportunity for dogs to cool off on a hot summer’s day — plus, it’s great exercise. You just want to make sure that your pet is comfortable in the water before letting them wade in (or full on belly flop) on their own. 

Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, Dr. Aliya McCullough, shares how to safely introduce your pup to water so that they can take on pools, lakes and beaches in the warmer weather.

When can dogs start swimming? 

Before the swim training begins, Dr. McCullough recommends checking in with your vet about any conditions that may interfere with your pup’s doggy paddling. For example, your dog's breed, age (it's generally safe to introduce your dog to the water between 12 to 16 weeks) and activity level may impact their swimming ability. Dr. McCullough warns that not all dogs are cut out for swimming, so talking to your vet first before letting them take the plunge is essential. 

If your veterinarian gives you the OK to start your dog’s swimming lessons, you may be interested in knowing how it benefits their health. “Swimming can be a good form of low-impact exercise that doesn’t place a lot of stress on joints,” Dr. McCullough says. 

Safety tips for teaching your dog how to swim‍

Once your pet is approved for swimming by their vet, here are some Dr. McCullough-backed ways to help them get comfortable in the water:

  • Use a life vest
  • Start slow
  • Practice with a kiddie pool at first
  • Give lots of praise and positive reinforcement when they show good swimming behavior
  • Stay in the pool with your pup
  • Encourage them to jump in using a toy
  • Have them swim with a buddy — your dog may feel more confident if there’s another dog with them
  • Keep it fun and upbeat (reward with praise)
  • Play games in the water
  • Let your dog explore the pool on their own (under your supervision)

As for what not to do when introducing your dog to swim time, Dr. McCullough urges against:

  • Rushing your dog
  • Throwing them in the water as they could drown or sink
  • Leaving your dog unattended in or by the pool (even if they’re a good swimmer)
  • Letting your dog drink the pool water

RELATED: Water in dogs’ ears and how to get it out

Are certain dog breeds better at swimming than others? 

According to Dr. McCullough, some dog breeds are naturally built for swimming, like retrievers, setters, spaniels, standard poodles, Newfoundlands, Portuguese Water Dogs, German Shepherds and Schipperkes.

However, dogs with short snouts, like pugs and bulldogs, may struggle more. Dachshunds' short limbs can make swimming challenging, too.

What if my dog doesn’t like swimming? 

Not all dogs enjoy swimming and that’s OK. If your dog resists getting into the water, don’t push them — their comfort is most important. You can always try other water activities, like playing fetch through a sprinkler. 

Whether your pup is poolside, chilling by the lake or beach-bumming, these tips will help them feel comfortable swimming.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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