Swimming with a dog: how to have fun in the water

All dogs can swim, some are just afraid of water? Wrong! Although your four-legged friend instinctively paddles with his paws as soon as you hold him above a water surface, he first has to get used to water and learn to swim. Not every dog turns out to be a water rat! We explain which breeds like to swim, where common dangers lurk and how you can be best prepared for them.

Dog swims

Which breeds are suitable for swimming?

Some dog breeds just love the cool water. They love to romp and swim in the water for hours. These include e.g.

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador
  • Newfoundland dog
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Spanish Water Dog

But smaller breeds such as the poodle or maltese also like water. Swimming is a secondary matter for them. They prefer shallow water where they can play and romp around.

These dog breeds or mixed breeds with the following characteristics should better stay on land or on the shallow shore:

  • Short-legged dogs: They find paddling difficult. Due to their short legs, such as those of a dachshund, they lack buoyancy and your dog has to make a great effort to stay on the surface of the water.
  • Short noses: Four-legged dogs with short noses (e.g. pugs) often suffer from shortness of breath and lack the necessary condition.
  • Compact build: Dogs with a short neck and strong torso, such as Boxers and French Bulldogs, can only keep their head above the water surface by bringing their body deep into the water. Swimming movements are hardly possible in this vertical position.

Our tip: If your darling has at least one of the above-mentioned characteristics and romps around unsupervised at the pool at home or in deep waters, it is best to put on a life jacket.

Of course, there are also water-shy dog breeds. Although they can learn to swim, they generally do not enjoy the wet element and prefer to romp in the dry sand at dog beaches. They include for example

  • Great Danes
  • Basset
  • Dalmatian
  • Corgi
  • Chow-Chow

Attention: There are always exceptions: Especially with mixed breeds, joy in the water and the talent to swim is mostly dependent on which breed is particularly dominant in the mix.

Dog standing on SUP in the water

How your dog learns to swim in 3 steps

To turn your four-legged friend into a "seal", first accustom him gently to the wet element. These 3 tips will help you - regardless of the breed, size and age of your dog:

  1. Get to know: First fill a paddling pool in the garden or have a water hose ready. Lure your dog towards you while paddling in the pool with your hand or carefully moving the water jet from the hose back and forth. Reward and encourage each step your dog takes towards the water. However, it is important that you do not get overconfident and throw your dog into the pool or splash him. This could frighten him so much that he avoids water in the future.
  2. Familiarisation: In the next step, throw your dog's favourite ball into shallow, pleasantly tempered water of a lake or stream and motivate your four-legged friend to retrieve his toy. Ideally, you run ahead and stay in the water yourself.
  3. Training: Some dogs will gradually and willingly go deeper into the water until they eventually swim. If your dog needs support, encourage him to follow you into deeper areas and give him security by initially holding your hand under his belly.

Our tip: Some dog-friendly swimming pools offer dog bathing days in summer. This not only promotes social contact, but also helps you to see whether your dog likes to go in the water. At best, other four-legged friends will playfully encourage him to jump into the cool water together.

When should a dog not swim?

As much as your furry friend likes to romp around in the water, in certain situations he should not swim or avoid the water completely:


By following illnesses or physical impairments, you should cut your swimming short

  • cardiovascular diseases
  • spine problems
  • overweight
  • cold
  • open wounds
  • lameness due to acute injuries to tendons and ligaments
  • inflammations in the ear

Our tip: Therapeutic dog swimming is ideal for dogs with hip dysplasia (HD) or arthritis. The steady movement in the water is healthy and fun. At the same time, expert guidance and controlled routines protect against possible overstraining.

Unsuitable age

Basically, your four-legged friend should not swim as a puppy until he is 6 months old, because his body is still growing and he is still developing muscles, tendons and bones. At an older age, your dog's physical fitness is the deciding factor. A 14-year-old senior may be in good health and happy to swim a few more laps in shallow water.

Low water temperatures

In winter, you should generally not let your four-legged friend swim. Water temperatures above 10°C are usually not a problem. Dogs with thick undercoats also like to bathe in water that is 7°C cold. It is important that you dry your dog thoroughly afterwards.

Caution: Do not let your four-legged friend jump abruptly into the water if he has been exposed to intense heat, because the sudden temperature difference can, in the worst case, trigger a shock or lead to circulatory problems. It's best to splash his paws first and limit the bathing fun to shallow water at first.

Dog Lake: 9 possible dangers

Whether at the seaside, lake or river - swimming is always fun for your pet? To ensure that your joint swimming excursions provide welcome cooling on hot summer days and remain a positive memory for a long time, you should keep possible dangers when swimming with your dog in mind:

1. blue-green algae:

Although small amounts of the cyanobacteria contained in blue-green algae are generally not toxic, their spread is encouraged by agricultural waste in our waters, especially in summer. In August, when the blue-green algae are in bloom, large toxic amounts float on the surface of the water, which your cat may ingest and swallow. If it is poisoned, you will recognise this by symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, fever or, in the worst case, unconsciousness.

Caution: A greasy film on the water or increased carrion on and in the water can indicate heavy blue-green algae infestation.

2. Water intoxication:

When swimming, your dog may take in more water than his body needs. This can lead to hyperhydration, water intoxication. This swells his cells and causes high pressure in the brain and lungs. In the worst case, pulmonary oedema forms, which can lead to respiratory distress, convulsions and even death if left untreated. Water poisoning often affects dogs that retrieve balls or branches from the water, as they swallow a certain amount of water each time together with the toy. Small breeds are particularly at risk, as the daily recommended amount of water of a maximum of one third of the body weight is reached more quickly here. Symptoms of hyperhydration are fatigue, heavy salivation, vomiting, a bloated belly, pale mucous membranes, dilated pupils and coordination problems.

3. Leptospirosis:

This is a disease that is caused by bacteria. If your dog bathes in small, stagnant water, the so-called leptospires can enter his organism through his mucous membranes or external skin injuries. The pathogens are transmitted, for example, by rat droppings that are washed into the water from the shore when it rains. The first signs of the infectious disease are loss of appetite, diarrhoea, exhaustion and jaundice.

4. Dog harness/dog collar:

Your four-legged friend could get caught on objects, e.g. floating branches in the water. Therefore, remove the harness and collar before he plunges into the water.

5. Fishing areas:

Anglers may forget to collect fishing lines or fish hooks. Utensils left behind could injure your dog while walking by the lake or strangle it while swimming.

6. Shipping channel:

If your dog swims too far out in large bodies of water, it could get caught in a shipping channel and be carried away by the current. Therefore, make sure that your four-legged friend does not stray too far from the shore.

7. Flowing waters:

Rivers have strong currents in places, which could sweep your dog away and pull him under water. Temperature differences in the water also favour circulation problems. It is best to swim only in designated bays.

8. Fire jellyfish:

Encounters with fire jellyfish are painful and, in the worst case, trigger allergic reactions and circulatory problems. Therefore, check the surroundings thoroughly and find out in advance whether the reddish cnidarians occur locally.

9. Water rod:

If your four-legged friend overloads his lower back muscles while swimming, this local disease can follow. In the case of water rod, your dog stretches the base of the tail a few centimetres straight out from the body immediately after swimming, with the rest of the tail hanging down paralysed. This is a compression, which is not only very painful for your dog, but also inhibits blood circulation. Dogs are often unable to defecate and urinate on their own. If you suspect this condition, take your dog to the nearest vet immediately.

Our tip: If your dog behaves conspicuously after bathing, appears limp and apathetic, is lame or has injuries, it is always advisable to clarify the symptoms with a vet.

Bathing with a dog: How to prepare yourself

Unfortunately, there is no patent remedy to prevent possible dangers. The best way to prepare for your trip to dog-friendly waters is to use our checklist for swimming with your dog:

1. Packing a beach bag - these utensils should not be missing:

  • Dog sun cream: Protect your dog's skin from UVA and UVB rays.
  • Toys: Keep your four-legged friend busy in the water and on land with his favourite dog toy, e.g. his favourite ball or throwing dummy.
  • Towel: Dry your furry friend thoroughly after each swimming session.
  • Brush: If possible, brush off residues from the water (e.g. algae, salt or sand) before you go home.
  • Drinking water: Have enough water ready, e.g. in a mobile drinking bottle with a silicone bowl.
  • Life jacket (optional): Put a life jacket on your darling. It will keep him on the surface of the water even in sudden currents or acute weakness.
  • Parasol or beach shell: it's best to enjoy your breaks in the shade.
  • Bandages: Your four-legged friend may injure himself on the edges of shells, sharp stones or broken glass lying around.
  • Dog waste bags: Dog waste does not belong on the shore but in the rubbish.

2. Check the surroundings - Take a close look at your destination. Check in particular:

  • where the dog beach begins and where it ends,
  • where other bathers are at the bathing lake,
  • where rubbish bins and possible drinking stations are located and
  • whether poisonous plants or animals are lurking in and around the water.

3. Know social behaviour: You know your dog best and know in which situations he may behave irritably or defiantly. Therefore, regularly check when it makes sense to put a leash on your dog.

4. Do not feed: Your dog should not eat immediately before swimming. This will prevent stomach problems or even gastric torsion.

Conclusion: Whether your dog is a water lover or not - romping around on the beach or at the lake is always fun. Your four-legged friend may also discover his love of water and nothing will stand in the way of your swimming lessons together. How do you spend your time at lakes and by the sea? We are looking forward to your summer story!

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