Is your dog a natural born swimmer?

January 24th, 2015

Surely one of the greatest times to be had when holidaying in pet friendly cottages Cornwall is playing ‘fetch’ with your dog in the surf at one of Cornwall’s dog friendly beaches. The question of ‘Can your dog swim?’ to many holidaying dog owners would therefore seem like a fairly odd question, and perhaps one that would make us think a little more before throwing a ball into the  breaking waves for poor Fido to follow.

We are generally led to believe that all dogs can swim, as a general rule. While it’s true that upon hitting the water, all dogs will naturally begin to paddle and make the swimming motions that should propel them and keep them afloat, the fact of the matter is, not all dogs can, in reality, swim and keep their heads above water at the same time. Swimming is simply not a viable choice for these dogs, and there can be a very real risk of drowning.

There are various reasons for some dogs not being able to swim, and all of them are breed or type specific, i.e. to do with the anatomy and physiology of the dog in question rather than a literal inability to make paddling movements with their legs.

There are two main reasons for which certain types of dogs cannot swim, or are more likely to be unable to swim than other breeds, which are as follows:

  1. Brachycephalic dogs are those which have a very short muzzle, leading to the squashed up, flat facial expression of breeds such as pugs, pekinese, boxers, and bulldogs. Brachycephalic dogs are unable to swim with ease or to stay afloat properly because in order to be able to keep their nose and mouth above the waterline, they must tilt their head upwards; which leads to their back end pointing downwards and them taking on an almost vertical position in the water. This in turn unsurprisingly causes them to sink, (seen the film Titanic?). The flatter a dog’s muzzle is, the greater a problem they will have.
  2. Dogs with disproportionately large or heavy heads. The perceived desirable traits of some breeds and types of dog dictate that the head of the dog should be proportionately large compared to the body. The most obvious example of this is in the bulldog, whose heads are so large that they must deliver their young via caesarean section. Several other breeds also have a particularly large head with a dense bone structure, and are similarly affected. Having a head which is large and heavy proportionately to the body, as well as having a dense and heavy muscle mass, means that when floating in the water the dog naturally tips forwards due to the weight of the head, meaning that they are unable to keep their heads above the water and lose buoyancy.

As well as these two main reasons for a dog not being able to swim, there are other possible factors which might also hinder a dog’s swimming ability. Dogs with particularly short legs, such as the Dachshund, find it hard to stay buoyant in the water, and dogs of any breed which have lost a limb due to an amputation or accident will be unable to stay balanced when floating.

If you know that your dog cannot swim or suspect that their breed might make swimming more difficult , keeping your dog safe at the beach or out on the water is of course vitally important. One ideal way of still having lots of fun with your non-swimming dog is to buy a doggy buoyancy jacket.

While some dogs actively avoid the water and others still are inherently bad at or incapable of swimming, there are several breeds of dog that are just made for being in the water! These are the breeds that have a long history of either living near to water and swimming confidently, or those that were actively bred and trained to work in and around the water, helping people in all manner of working roles throughout history.

While having a dog that likes to swim a lot can make for some fairly messy clean ups, many of The Valley’s pet friendly cottages Cornwall have a separate utility room with a sink handily located near to the front door. For properly sandy and seaweedy pooches there is also a purpose built outdoor dog wash area to get the worst off!

If you like the idea of a proper swimming dog capable of matching your stamina out in the Cornish surf, you might wish to consider one of the many dog breeds that love the water and are totally confident swimmers. Read on for our picks of some of the best swimming dog breeds:

The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the UK, and as well as being keen and confident swimmers, they are highly intelligent, very friendly, and make excellent pets. The breed’s working history goes back to the days when they were known as the St. John’s Water Dog, where they were used as retrieving dogs in the Labrador Sea. Even prior to this, the breed had English origins as a working and game retrieving dog. Usage and breeding over time led to a dog that worked closely alongside of shooting parties, retrieving downed game birds to bring back to their handlers. This involved both retrieving land birds, and water fowl such as ducks. The Labrador Retriever will usually leap into a pond, lake or the sea in any season with great gusto, particularly if encouraged or sent into retrieve something!

The Golden Retriever is another breed that was specifically bred to retrieve game birds, particularly water fowl. Like the Labrador, they are kind, confident, friendly and great all-rounders, being another very popular family pet. The Golden Retriever is a confident and willing swimmer, and does not need much encouragement to leap into the water for a game or if they have spotted something interesting in the water! If you are lucky enough to live near to a lake or the sea, your Golden Retriever will get hours of entertainment during the warmer months splashing about and bringing back balls or sticks.

The Irish Water Spaniel is one of the oldest breeds of spaniel-type dogs, and has a coat much more similar to that of the Poodle than that of most other spaniels. Their coats are densely curled and very thick, offering the dog an extra layer of insulation when swimming in cold water, and making their coats somewhat water repellent.

The Irish Water Spaniel is one of Ireland’s native breeds, with a history going back well over 1,000 years. Like the retriever dog breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel was bred as a hunting and retrieving dog, and developed their competence for swimming and affinity for the water while working in the boggy, marshy and waterlogged plains of Ireland.

The Portuguese Water Dog originally hails from the Algarve area of Portugal, but can now be widely seen all across the country and in other parts of the world. This dog really is the ultimate swimming breed, being used to sea swimming and swimming in cold, challenging costal waters. The Portuguese Water Dog was bred and developed to work closely with Portugal’s sea fishermen, and would live with them on their boats and ships when working at sea. When a viable shoal of fish was found, the fishermen would lay out their nets, and send the Portuguese Water Dog out into the sea to herd the fish into their nets! The Portuguese Water Dog is a great pick of pet for people who live near the coast, and these dogs love swimming and splashing about in the sea.

The Newfoundland Dog has one particular and very distinctive trait that gives away their superior ability as swimmers; they have webbed feet, to help them to hold their own in the water! These large, heavy dogs are slow moving and rather lumbering on land, but in the water, they really come into their own.They are incredibly calm, intelligent and loyal dogs, and make excellent family pets as well as being competent swimmers. Their coats are water resistant with an oily texture, and their large size and heavy muscle mass gave them the strength that they needed to hold their own in tidal waters. Founded in Newfoundland, as the name suggests, the Newfoundland Dog is another dog that was used to work at sea with fishermen. It is also worth noting that the Newfoundland breed has been noted for the rescue and recovery from the sea of people in distress on several occasions throughout their history; a skill that they was never trained to perform, making them one of the heroes of the canine world as well as one of its best swimmers!