Living an active life with your pets is both a joy and a challenge. It is worth thinking about how you can multitask by making sure your pet fits in with your hobbies and interests. However you keep fit, whether it is mountain biking, hiking, or something else, being able to bring your best friend along with you is not only healthy for you both but a lot of fun. To make this dream come true, however, you need to make sure you have the right breed.
You can’t just assume that every dog will be suitable for all activities. Some dogs won’t be able to keep up with your mountain bike, for example, so you have to make sure you get the right breed for your lifestyle. If you are a swimmer, there are many strong breeds that will enjoy getting wet. Whether you have a pool or live near a lake, here are the best swimming dog breeds.
What Makes a Good Swimming Breed?
Before we give you our top 10 best dog breeds for swimming, we should probably explore what makes a good doggie swimmer in the first place. Perhaps you already have a dog and want to know what to look for to determine if they are suitable for swimming? In this case, it is always best to discuss lifestyle changes with a vet, but it can also help to know what makes a dog a good swimmer.
- Breeds with swimming ancestry have been bred to thrive in water, so they are likely to take to water much better than breeds bred far away from water sources. If a breed has been bred by the coast, to help with fishing, or to hunt waterfowl, they are likely to be natural swimmers.
- Dogs that are going to be regularly swimming must also be strong. All breeds may enjoy a little paddle for a minute, but proper swimming should only be attempted by strong breeds at their peak fitness. Old dogs or puppies will need much more protection.
- Your dog’s coat can also impact their swimming. Some breeds have fur that is more waterproof than others as the more densely packed it is, the more their hairs will lock together to create a protective layer.
- Lastly, your dog really has to enjoy swimming if you are going to get them to do it regularly. This is impacted by their breed, but also by their personality. An active, energetic, playful dog is going to want to jump in more ponds than a fearful or sleepy dog.
Even if your dog meets the above criteria, they won’t necessarily instantly know how to swim. You should not throw them in the water to see if they will sink or swim. Although many dogs pick up doggie paddles pretty quickly, take it slow when you introduce them to water, and preferably start at a young age. Let them investigate it and maybe jump in yourself to show them it is nothing to be afraid of.
Now you understand the criteria for finding a great swimming dog breed, you probably want to know which breeds best meet them. Here are our top 10 absolute best breeds that you can adopt if you want to have a companion to spend time in the water with.
As a coastal breed, it is not surprising that Newfoundland is a great swimmer. After all, they are very strong and have webbed feet and a thick double coat. Living on the Canadian coast, they worked a huge number of jobs when they were first bred, from aiding fishing lines out at sea to guarding the haul back on land.
Their most interesting job, however, has been working as a lifeguard. There are too many sweet stories of Newfoundland’s rescuing people out at sea to recount them all, but one particular dog is thought to have rescued approximately 63 sailors alone. Famous owners of Newfoundlands include Napoleon and the explorer’s Lewis and Clark.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
This breed’s affinity with water, comes, like many others, due to its role as a hunter. But, as the smallest retriever, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was not up to the job. However, you couldn’t be more wrong.
The Toller, as their known, is historically used to lure as well as retrieve. Hunters would hide and send their Toller to play along a beach. Its relatively small stature and interesting markings would draw out unsuspecting birds so that they could be shot down. The Toller then retrieves the bird for its owner.
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Chesapeake Bay Retriever
For this dog, everything is in the name. It was clearly bred near the waters of Chesapeake to be a competent retriever in this environment. Chessies, as their commonly known, were used primarily to hunt and retrieve ducks, and this has made them fantastic divers.
As well as this, they are helped by their double-layered fur. The thick undercoat and rough outer coat make them one of the most waterproof breeds you can adopt. This thick, waterproof coat is essential to who they are as without it they would have never survived the icy waters of Chesapeake Bay.
As a hunting dog that specialized in birds, the English Setter is comfortable both on land and in the water. They got their name from their particular hunting technique of freezing, ‘set’ in one place, when they see a bird, before diving into herd the birds into their owner’s hawks or nets.
Perhaps not quite as historically linked to water as many of the other breeds on this list, the English Setter is, nonetheless, often naturally drawn to water in the pursuit of birds, and this experience, and their strength, make them good swimmers.
Irish Water Spaniel
Another dog whose connections to swimming are in their name, the Irish Water Spaniel is a hunting dog that can also retrieve game from water. Don’t let the image of other spaniels fool you, this is the largest, and oldest, of all the spaniel breeds, and is relatively rare as a pet.
Although often adopted for their beautiful, curly fur, their coat is so much more than just an aesthetic feature. Like the Chessie, it has a double layer of fur, and the curls, which tend to curl more prominently following exposure to water, provide a further layer of defense from the water and the cold.
Similar to their cousins, the English Setter, this dog is used to hunting in both wet and dry conditions. Most often used for hunting games on moorlands, this dog would trawl through any terrain to get at its prize, even if it meant jumping in a lake for a paddle.
It is worth noting that getting a purebred Irish Setter, or Red Setter, does come with some controversy due to a complicated and divisive issue surrounding the use of outcrossing to sustain the breed. If looking for a show dog, make sure you look at the specifications of all clubs and organizations.
Portuguese Water Dog
Bred along the coast of Portugal, the Portuguese Water Dog is a classic fishing breed. They were used to herd fish towards nets, dive down to retrieve equipment, and carried important messages and items between boats and ahead to shore.
As you might imagine, this is not easy work, so, although this breed looks very sweet and cute, don’t take their strength and stamina lightly. Train them up to swim with you, and you’ll have a great companion who can’t wait to jump in the pool with you.
Is it any wonder that the USA’s most popular dog can also swim? The Labrador Retriever is such an iconic pet, that it can be easy to forget that they ever worked as anything but guide dogs. However, as descendants of the Newfoundland breed being in the water has always been second nature for them.
They were used for fishing and retrieving, and you only have to look at an adult Lab to see their strength and power. Most certainly, they can be trained into being powerful and adept swimmers. In fact, the breed is still used in water rescue today and is trained, along with their cousins, the Newfoundland dog, in Italy.
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Here is a slightly surprising one for anyone new to the poodle breed. Poodles often get a bad reputation for being stuck up, fancy, and, strangely, French, but this could not be further from the truth. Depending on which breed you buy, they can be adventurous, friendly, and may actually have been bred in Germany. After all, their name is taken from the German word ‘pudeln’, which, tellingly, means ‘to splash’.
Not all poodle breeds are necessarily great swimmers, but the standard poodle most certainly is. Although their origins are debated, their name suggests an affinity with water that may have been intended by their first breeders. Poodle owners will certainly attest to this as the dog will often jump straight into the water as soon as they see it.
Another iconic and popular dog that can swim is the Golden Retriever. Many of us will know someone who has a Golden Retriever, and, if you have ever gone on a walk with them, you have probably also seen that same retriever wet. This is because retrievers are often very drawn to playing in the water.
Specifically bred and trained to retrieve waterfowl, the Golden Retriever is more likely than most to take any opportunity to splash about in the water. If you have a Golden Retriever, take them to a pond or lake and play fetch in the shallows – they will love it.
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As we’ve already mentioned, you cannot assume that your dog is going to be a strong swimmer. It doesn’t matter if they are a Portuguese Water Dog or a Chihuahua. They must be trained and encouraged properly before you take them swimming.
- Work with them in a pool before you attempt any potentially dangerous environments, such as lakes, rivers, or the shallows of the sea. Make sure they are very strong swimmers with sufficient stamina and don’t swim with them anywhere with very fast currents, lots of sharp rocks, or tall waves.
- Don’t expect them to be able to, or want to, swim as much as you do. If you are planning on exercising with your dog by swimming, take them to somewhere they can alternate between swimming with you and running around safely on land.
- Always make sure your dog has an accessible exit from the water and knows how to use it. Some may be obvious, like paddling to the shallows, but your dog might need to experience climbing into a boat or out of a pool.
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- Never take your eyes off them and stay nearby. They may paddle off to explore further away from you, or they may stray too far from the shallows. Even very experienced animals in familiar waters can drift away on a slight current.
- Look out for panic and be prepared to bring them to land if they look lost or anxious. Their usual signs and symptoms of fear may not be as obvious when they are busy paddling and their body is submerged underwater, so look out for other symptoms, such as droopy ears and wide eyes.
- Always check the local wildlife of anywhere you are going to swim. Make sure there isn’t a risk that you or your dog will be strung or worse. Obviously, there are big predators, like alligators and sharks, but also look out for snakes, eels, or ticks.
- Look out for cuts and wounds before every swim as you don’t want to risk any illnesses or infections. You should also discuss various health concerns with your vet, as they may be able to prescribe various preventative medications, such as for fleas, ticks, or some bacteria.
As always, the general rule is – if in doubt, contact a vet. They can give you advice about training your dog to swim, where they will be safe, how to keep them safe and provide medical care if you are worried about their health.