Do dogs instinctively know how to swim? If not, what is the best way to teach them?

I took Gio swimming at a local canine aquatherapy center for the first time today. He didn't seem to know how to move around in the water and only began to paddle his front feet when the life jacket was removed (he basically had no choice at that point). Is he an exception to the rule that all dogs know how to swim? How can he be taught to paddle efficiently and use his hind legs and tail to add strength and direction?

Asked by Gio on Sep 19th 2007 Tagged swim, water in Other Behavior & Training
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Hi Gio, It's not uncommon for dogs to not know how to swim. the telltale signs are when they only use their front legs and try to bring them clear out of the water and slap the water. almost like they are trying to climb out or walk on the water.

You can teach a dog to swim, and eventually they will incorporate using their hind legs and tail. Much like you would teach a child by supporting it under it's belly while it paddles. Much like a child at first even with a lifejacket on the dog may panic a little.

OK, I was writing a step by step method but ran out of space (only 1,000 characters allowed). So, if you want to know a good way to do it drop me a pmail.

Nick is working on his Advanced Water Rescue certification, he is a natural swimmer but we have helped a lot of dogs learn to swim.

answered on Sep 20th.

Other Answers



I believe they do all instinctively paddle their legs when in water. I'm not sure if they all actually can swim - I don't think Moxie would have done so well on her own - but I think they all respond instinctively

Moxie answered on 9/19/07. Helpful? Yes/Helpful: No 2 Report this answer


I think all dogs can instinctively swim, but not neccessarily well.
Winnie and Bess did the Paws on top of the water thing, but they could still move about and keep their heads above water.
Frenchies are too heavy to swim, but both George and Yvie dog paddled with their lifejackets on.
As for teaching, I don't know. I'd take Nick up on that.

Georgie answered on 9/20/07. Helpful? Yes/Helpful: No 1 Report this answer

Mingus, CGC, R3GL

I don't think Gio is the exception to the rule. I have known several dogs who didn't know how to swim, most notably my relatives' labradoodle... and they live on a lake! They eventually taught her to swim, I think using the method Nick described, like you would a small child, and also starting her on shore and taking her deeper and deeper. They still always keep a life jacket on her, though, for safety. Sorry I don't have more information, just wanted to let you know Gio wasn't weird. :)

Mingus, CGC, R3GL answered on 9/20/07. Helpful? Yes/Helpful: No 1 Report this answer


I do not know this answer for sure, but from experience I find that the dogs do paddle their legs in water, as stated above. When my dogs were puppies, I placed them in the puppy wading pool to learn to swim. I'd hold onto them and let them paddle their paws, then let them go. As a result, my dogs love to swim, especially Lakota! I help onto them under their belly as they paddled. Much like how I taught my son how to swim when he was an infant. Good luck with the swimming lessons!

Member 5816 answered on 9/21/07. Helpful? Yes/Helpful: No 0 Report this answer


I LOVE to swim, and my breed is known for it. But the first couple times I went swimming I seemed hesitant of the water and awkward. I would mostly just use my front paws and would slap the water and want to get out pretty quickly. After a couple times in a friend's pool I learned how to do it right. I basically just figured it out on my own. It just takes a dog a little practice! Now I LOVE the water and am not scared at all. I take every opportunity to jump in water -- fountains, pools, any water at all! It's my favorite thing. Gio probably just needs a little practice and will figure it out.

Akela answered on 9/21/07. Helpful? Yes/Helpful: No 0 Report this answer