Swimming Safety Tips For Dogs: Basic Info and Advanced Advice

As a responsible dog owner, one of the most important things you should learn about is swimming safety tips for dogs. In fact, this is an absolute necessity if you have a swimming pool and or take your dog to natural bodies of water.

Many dog people assume that all dogs are natural born swimmers, instinctively taking to the water as adeptly as their gray wolf cousins. However, this is not true in many, if not most cases.

Before we get into some more advanced advice below, here are the most basic dog swimming tips that all dog people should know:

Basic Swimming Safety Tips For Canines


Learn Dog CPR

Thousands of dogs die every year in backyard swimming pools, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Many of these dogs could have been saved if their human(s) had just known dog CPR!

While you can google the steps for dog CPR, this is really something that is best learned by watching an in person demonstration, followed immediately by practicing in front of an expert on dog CPR.

You may be able to find a free class on dog CPR if you check with your library, community center, and vet. If not, you can always call dog trainers in your area to set up private lessons. The advantage to one on one training is the expert can help you learn the best dog CPR techniques for your specific type of dog.

Invest In a Personal Flotation Device For Your Dog(s)

These are also called dog life jackets, dog float coats, and dog swimming vests. You can purchase them on Amazon and elsewhere. Even if your dog is a good swimmer, it is very easy for your dog to tire out from dog paddling without you realizing it!

A personal flotation device will allow them to swim without as much effort. They will also make it much easier for you to see your dog (they come in bright colors and patterns) and rescue your dog should she get into trouble.

They usually even have handles on top so you can quickly use a long stick or paddle to lift your dog out of the water.

Always Have a Good Supply of Fresh Water Around

First, you should know that pool water and ocean water are both TOXIC to dogs. Train your dog to not drink salt water of any kind or they will get salt poisoning. Besides vomiting and diarrhea (very common), salt poisoning can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.

PRO TIP: Insist that your dog take breaks from swimming and encourage him to lap up plenty of fresh water during these breaks. This will make your dog less likely to drink chlorinated pool water or natural salt water.

If you do see him drinking salt water, make him IMMEDIATELY get out of the water and firmly insist he drink some fresh water.

Some Extra Swimming Safety Tips For Around the Pool

All dogs, regardless of how well they swim, must be taught how to exit a swimming pool. This is because it is not natural for a dog to look for steps, ladder, or a ramp!

Thus, you need to practice with your dog getting out of the swimming pool as many times as it takes for it to become second nature for her to do so, i.e. she does it every time without instruction from you.

Furthermore, invest in a pool cover or pool fence (just as you would for kids) and NEVER let your dog hang out by the pool unattended! If you don't like the look of this, you can get an invisible electric fence for around the pool.

Use Common Sense Around Natural Bodies of Water

Dog Swimming In Natural Body Of Water

Natural bodies of water present different dangers than a swimming pool. For example, many natural bodies of water have underwater vegetation that can entangle your dog's legs and pull him under.

Lakes and ponds may have "scum" on top that can be toxic, even deadly, if your dog ingests it.

Many natural bodies of water are also highly polluted with pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, PVCs, and other industrial chemicals.

These toxins can injure your dog both in the short term (skin irritation, eye irritation, vomiting, etc) and in the long term (cancer, etc). So, don't just assume that it's always fine for your dog to go wading or swimming in a natural body of water.

Advanced Tips

Okay, let's get into some more advanced tips regarding the kind of dog you have.

First, you must remember that domesticated dogs were NOT "designed" by nature, as were gray wolves and other animals who are excellent swimmers.

They were "designed" by numerous generations of artificial selection. Many of the traits that people select for when breeding dogs hurt their ability to swim at all or swim safely. Many dogs are just not designed anatomically to be good swimmers.

Long Haired Dogs

Dogs with extra long hair can really get weighed down with their hair gets wet.

  • Thus, a wet long haired dog may not be that buoyant, i.e. it may be a real struggle for them just to remain afloat, let alone swim against a tide or swim to the stairs of a swimming pool!

Brachycephalic Dogs

Brachycephalic dogs with a short muzzle and a squashed in face have real difficulty swimming and should be monitored very closely near water.

  • In order to breathe while they attempt to dog paddle, they have to tilt their head back to suck air due to the anatomy of their face.
  • This causes their body to be more vertical in the water which causes them to sink.
  • Brachycephalic dogs include bulldogs, pugs, pekingese, shih tzus, boxers, and even Boston terriers.
  • Of course, any mixed breed with these same brachycephalic traits will have the same problem.

Big Boned Dogs

Any dog with a disproportionately big and heavy head (dense bones can make a dog head heavy too), i.e a head that is way bigger and or heavier than the rest of the body, will have trouble swimming and should be monitored very closely at all times near water.

  • The heavy head makes them inclined to "tip over" in the water, submerging their nose and mouth!

Short legged Dogs

Dogs with short legs, like basset hounds and dachshunds, have trouble dog paddling because they just don't have a big enough "paddle" to do so.

  • Some may not even be able to swim with training unless they have a personal flotation device on.

Small Dogs

Really small dogs like chihuahuas are prone to getting hypothermia rather quickly in water.

  • Thus, even if they can swim and like to swim, you'll need to limit their swim time to only a few minutes and make sure you warm them up in a blanket afterwards.

Combination Dogs

Some dogs actually have two or even three "whammies" against them when it comes to being able to swim safely.

  • Bulldogs are the most notorious for this because they have THREE whammies against them. They are highly brachycephalic, they have short legs, and they have big heavy heads.
  • It is not safe for bulldogs to go swimming, and for this reason, some dog shelters won't even let someone with a swimming pool adopt a bulldog!
  • A pekingese has extra long hair and is brachycephalic. Thus, they are another canine that probably shouldn't be swimming.

Final Thoughts

While it can be a lot of fun swimming with your dog, or simply hanging out with her by the pool or lake, you must be responsible about it or you could risk your dog's life.

Furthermore, there are some types of dogs that are just not designed well for swimming. If you have one of these types of dogs, you need to be even more vigilant when you take your dog near water.

I hope you enjoyed these swimming safety tips for dogs, be sure to leave your comments below. 

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