The ultimate guide to keeping your dog safe while swimming

Expert contributor

Brian Faulkner

Veterinary Surgeon
RCVS Registered
Expert Contributor

Nick Jones

Dog Behaviourist and
Dog Expert Witness

Thinking of taking your dog to the beach, lake or river, or even a dedicated doggy swimming pool? Don’t miss our expert advice on how to ensure you and your pup enjoy a safe and rewarding swimming session.

Swimming can be an incredibly fun activity for your dog, but it’s always best to plan your trip carefully. Here’s what to think about before hitting the water.

Can any dog swim?

Some breeds of dog adore swimming, while others prefer to keep their paws firmly on dry land. Labradors and Golden Retrievers often jump right into any water they see, but for other breeds with larger chests and short legs, like Dachshunds, swimming can be a struggle. In the case of brachycephalic breeds, including Pugs, Boxers and French Bulldogs, their face shape can compromise their ability to breathe, which makes swimming particularly dangerous.

If your dog is older, overweight or has health issues like hip dysplasia, swimming can be a useful form of low-impact exercise – just make sure to clear it with your vet first. Similarly, if you’re unsure whether your dog will enjoy swimming, or be physically able to swim, it’s always best to seek veterinary advice before taking the plunge.

Can puppies swim?

Don’t take your puppy swimming until they’re at least four months old and have had all their vaccinations. In the meantime, puppies might enjoy splashing around in a shallow paddling pool at home to get used to spending time in water – and when you’re confident they enjoy it and are ready for a proper swim, you can follow the same steps as above (but don’t push them to swim before they’re ready). Puppies tend to get cold more quickly than adult dogs, so keep sessions short and bring a towel to help them warm up.

Choose the right location

Not every body of water is suitable for dogs to swim in. To get you started, here are some suggestions of suitable locations:

  • Dog swimming pools. Swimming pools for dogs are becoming more popular, and you might find one in your local area. These are safe and fun places for your dog to build their confidence – and they’re usually heated, so you can get in with your dog and join in the fun!
  • Beaches.Most dogs love a trip to the beach, and calm seas can be a great swimming location. Make sure any beach you plan to visit is designated dog-friendly (some vary according to time of year), check the tide times and look out for hazards left by other beach users, such as broken glass or sharp objects.
  • Shallow rivers.Shallow rivers with slow-moving water are great fun for dogs. Always assess the area you plan on using for any dangers, such as submerged branches, and make sure the banks aren’t too steep so your dog can enter and exit the water safely.
  • Lakes. With calm waters and shallow areas, lakes often make great places for your dog to swim. Make sure dogs are allowed and that you stick to designated swimming areas – and on larger lakes, watch out for other users like boats or paddle-boarders.
  • Private swimming pools. If you’ve got your own swimming pool, there’s no reason not to let your dog take a dip! But if your pool is above ground, take care your dog’s claws don’t damage the lining – and after a swim, rinse your dog’s coat to remove any chlorine.

Locations to avoid:

  • Rough seas. Strong currents and unexpected waves can be very dangerous for your dog. Never take your dog to the beach when the weather’s stormy, and always check whether swimming is advised on the day you’re visiting.
  • Canals.The water in canals is often deep, the steep sides can make it difficult for your dog to get out, and sometimes the water can be unclean, with hidden hazards under the surface.
  • Reservoirs. They might look tempting, but the water in reservoirs is often very deep – which means it’s also very cold, even on a hot day, and can sometimes cause dogs to go into shock. Reservoirs might also contain debris and branches that may cause an injury.
  • Flooded or fast-flowing rivers. The currents in fast-flowing or flooded rivers can be exceptionally strong and dangerous for both dogs and people, and they may also contain fast-moving debris.

Wherever you choose to take your dog swimming, make sure you assess the area for potential dangers first. If in doubt, save the swim for another day.

Watch out for contaminated water

Even water that looks clean can be contaminated and can sometimes cause illnesses. Always choose your dog’s swimming spot carefully, and make sure their vaccinations are up to date.

  • Blue-green algae. Watch out for a blue-green sheen over the surface of still water. This algae is extremely toxic to dogs and can cause serious illness. Never let your dog swim in, or drink from, water you think could be contaminated with blue-green algae.
  • Leptospirosis. This bacteria can be spread through stagnant water that has been contaminated with urine from infected wildlife, such as rats. It’s more of a problem in summer when the warmer weather helps the bacteria multiply. Always make sure your dog is up to date on their vaccinations, and if they seem unwell after swimming, speak to your vet: symptoms of leptospirosis can take up to 12 days to develop.
  • Sewage. Sewage outflow in rivers and seas could cause your dog to become sick. Following a storm, it’s a good idea to avoid swimming in any areas that might be contaminated by sewage overflow for the next three days.

Plan your swimming sessions

Before taking your dog swimming, make sure they have a good level of training. Basic recall is a must, in case you need to call your dog out of the water. If your dog loves retrieving, bringing some toys for them to play with can be a great way to make sure they remain attentive.

Investing in a flotation vest can also be a good idea, especially if your dog is spending time on boats or around docks with deep water. Some dog swimming pools will provide a flotation vest while your dog gets used to swimming.

Swimming can make your dog thirsty, but salt water and chlorinated water aren’t safe for them to drink. Take fresh water and a travel bowl with you and offer this to your dog at regular intervals. On very hot days, watch out for signs of heatstroke.

Never leave your dog unattended while swimming, even if they’re confident in the water. If you have a pool at home, make sure they can’t access it when you’re not there.

How to teach your dog to swim

Don’t worry if your dog has never swum before – you can help them learn! Follow our tips to get your pup doing a confident doggy paddle in no time.

  1. Choose a location (see above) where the water is shallow and calm, preferably in summer, and where there is no danger to yourself.
  2. Bring some of your dog’s favourite toys to encourage them into the water and make splashing around lots of fun.
  3. Keep your dog on a long lead and go into the water with them if it is safe to do so, otherwise stay near the water’s edge.
  4. As your dog becomes more confident, gradually coax them into deeper water so they need to start paddling.
  5. If necessary and possible, help your dog by supporting them under their stomach.
  6. After a brief swim, bring your dog back to the shore so they understand how to get out of the water.
  7. Repeat until your dog is confident entering the water and swimming on their own without a lead.

As your dog gets used to the water, let them take things at their own pace. Some dogs will be swimming confidently after just one session, while others will need a little longer.

During your dog’s first swimming sessions, don’t expect them to stay in the water particularly long. Start with around 5–10 minutes and gradually increase the time over the next few sessions. Watch out for signs your dog is cold – for example, shivering or ears that feel cold to the touch – and make sure you get them dry as quickly as possible. If you find they’re taking a while to warm up even when dry, put them in a cosy place, such as your car, and use blankets or a dog coat to help increase their body temperature. Remember: never leave your dog alone in a hot car.


After a swim, rinse your dog off in fresh water. Salt, chlorine, algae or other pollution can irritate your dog’s skin. As you rinse off your dog, make sure their coat and paws are free from sand or other debris, and check them over for injuries.

Swimming can also increase the risk of ear infections, so make sure to carefully dry your dog’s ears, and speak to your vet if you notice your dog rubbing or scratching at their ears after swimming.

If your dog wears a flea collar, remove this before a swimming session, as water can affect the active ingredients. For spot-on treatments, you’ll normally need to wait 48 hours before swimming – but ask your vet for advice on the specific products you’re using.

Make it fun

If your dog loves swimming, there are plenty of ways you can make your sessions even more fun. If you’re getting in the water, too, you can play a game of water tag or fetch. Some dogs love jumping into deep water to fetch a toy, known as dock diving – and if you have a pool and a foam raft, why not see if your dog will jump on?

Finally, if your dog isn’t a water baby, don’t despair! There are plenty of other ways you can spend time together in the great outdoors. Have a go at teaching them to seek by scent, or try one of our five great games to play with your dog.

Does your dog love the water? Share your photos of them taking a dip on social media using the #PethoodStories tag.

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