If you’re a dog lover who also enjoys swimming, you probably want to know if your dog can play underwater games.
Yes. Dogs can swim underwater.
However, not all dogs want to do. It takes a lot of training to let them practice their ability to hold their breath underwater.
Find out if it’s normal for dogs to swim underwater and how they do it, and how long they can swim underwater.
Learn whether dogs can hold their breath underwater and how they manage it through the mammalian diving response.
Discover how long dogs can hold their breath underwater and how to teach your dog to swim underwater.
Is It Safe for Dogs to Go Underwater?
Yes. Dogs can safely go underwater.
They can hold their breath underwater the way we can. This is a natural talent common among non-aquatic mammals.
Some breeds, like Retrievers, are even known for their diving skills.
Some have webbed feet to allow them to explore easily, such as the Labrador Retriever.
However, not all dogs can do this. In fact, not all dogs can swim or stay afloat.
If you want to train your dog to swim underwater, consider the following safety tips.
Make sure the water is not too cold before your dog goes swimming or diving underwater.
Dogs can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite if the water temperature is below 45°F or 7°C.
Anything above that temperature is safe and beneficial for them. Just make sure they are healthy enough to regulate their body temperature.
If you don’t have a thermometer or other tool to measure the water temperature, make your own judgment.
If it’s too cold for you to swim, it’s probably also too cold for your dog.
Type of Water
Where will your dog go diving? Whether they are a beginner or expert swimmers, we recommend letting them dive in the pool only.
The pool is shallower and safer for your dog. In case they unintentionally get submerged, they will be easier to find and rescue.
There is also a high chance that dogs will swallow water when diving. Pool water is safe, as long as the chlorine level is between 1.0 and 3.0 parts per million.
However, you also want to make sure that the pool is not too shallow. If it is not too deep, they might end up getting injured when jumping in.
Is It Normal for Dogs to Swim Underwater?
Yes. Like any other mammal, dogs can normally swim underwater. This is called the mammalian diving response, a survival instinct among us.
For example, humans naturally try to hold their breath and paddle when we are immersed underwater.
Some find it easy, while others don’t. Nevertheless, the response always happens.
Some breeds can naturally swim underwater. However, this does not always mean that they love doing it.
Others can’t swim underwater despite their webbed feet because they are afraid or not well-trained.
Here are some breeds that can swim well underwater.
Labradors are the most popular dogs with webbed feet. This is why humans have always sought their help in retrieving fallen birds on lakes, rivers, and marshes.
This makes it easy to play a game of underwater fetch with them. Their doggy paddle and breathing techniques are so efficient that they can dive in large bodies of water.
But not all Labs like to swim and dive. Make sure to go slow when teaching them until they are confident in the water.
Portuguese Water Dog
Like Labradors, Portuguese Water Dogs also have webbed feet. While their job was not to retrieve, they can herd fish underwater.
They were bred to catch fish with the help of their owners’ fishing nets. They were also bred to be messengers between fishermen in boats.
It’s easy to teach your Portuguese Water Dog to dive underwater because their ancestors were experts at it.
Newfoundland dogs also have webbed feet which allow them to move easily underwater.
These gentle giants are strong and waterproof due to their huge build and their thick fur.
This breed learned how to dive because their job was to rescue drowning people from icy cold waters.
American Water Spaniel
This outgoing breed has the word “water” in their name because diving excellently is their thing.
The American Water Spaniel is an energetic watchdog with a curly, brown coat. They are also great at retrieving birds, just like Retrievers.
This webbed-footed dog can go deep underwater to play with you or to do work. Be patient when training them as they can be assertive.
How do Dogs Swim Underwater?
As humans naturally hold their breath when put underwater, so do dogs. Again, this is common among most mammals.
Dogs can also override their unconscious function when they dive underwater.
It starts when they make contact with cold water. It instantly makes them work with decreased oxygen intake. Their heart rates slow down, and the blood vessels narrow.
This natural response makes them more prepared to go down and dive for their toys. Once the blood vessels are narrow, the oxygen is reserved in their body for survival,
Dogs can even dive underwater with their eyes open. They blink from time to time, but their eyes don’t get irritated when they are open and exposed to the pool water.
This means that dogs learn how to hold their breath on their own. It can be a hard thing to train them to do this.
Your role is to increase their comfortability with diving underwater and teach them how to paddle. The more often you expose them to swimming, the more practice they get.
This video shows a compilation of Labradors swimming underwater. Notice how they hold their breath and open their eyes while trying to fetch their toys.
Can Dogs Hold Their Breath Underwater?
Have you tried being thrown into a deep lake? If yes, then you probably noticed how you don’t inhale and exhale underwater. Instead, you hold your breath without much effort.
Dogs can naturally hold their breath underwater as well. They can do this without being commanded.
It is their survival instinct, which is also present in us humans.
How Do Dogs Hold Their Breath Underwater?
Dogs hold their breath underwater through their built-in natural defense that overrides their basic body functions like breathing.
This response is more common among aquatic mammals. However, you can also observe it in dogs and other non-aquatic mammals.
There are three changes that occur when they are exposed to cold water:
- Bradycardia. Your dog’s heart rate slows down.
- Peripheral Vasoconstriction. The blood vessels are constricted to reduce blood flow.
- Blood shift. The body manages the pressure of the deep water.
How Long Can Dogs Hold Their Breath Underwater?
It depends on your dog’s breed, age, and ability. Puppies may only last for a few seconds, while adult dogs can reach up to a minute.
In an experiment done by Russian scientists on a Dachshund, they found that dogs can last up to 30 minutes underwater through a certain procedure.
The procedure involves pumping the dog’s lungs with liquid that is rich in oxygen. This fluid enters their blood, helping them survive for half a minute.
How Long Can Dogs Swim Underwater?
There is no specific information on how long dogs can swim underwater.
Ideally, whether you let them go underwater or just paddle to stay afloat, a dog who knows how to swim shouldn’t be left swimming for more than 30 minutes at a time.
If your pooch is still learning how to swim, 10-minute training sessions every day is enough to get them acquainted with the pool.
Remember that dogs suppress their respiratory function when they swim, especially those breeds with short nasal passages, constricted nostrils, and long, soft palate.
How to Teach a Dog to Swim Underwater?
You don’t need to train your dog how to swim underwater. Dogs who already know how to swim will teach themselves how to swim underwater.
The more you let them swim, the faster they will learn to hold their breath and paddle underwater.
Dogs do not hold their breath by choice or training. Though this is impossible to scientifically prove.
Mammals do not hold their breath based on positive reinforcement or reward training. They hold their breath as a survival instinct.
This does not mean you can play a game of underwater fetch with them in deep bodies of water just because they can naturally hold their breath.
Your job is to help them master swimming underwater by giving them safe access to the pool. Here’s what you can do.
Get a Pool Toy for Your Dog
Find a toy that can sink under the surface of the water. Introduce your dog to the toy by playing a game of fetch, tug-of-war, or hide and seek before you get in the water.
Try this pack of interactive pool toys for dogs. It comes with four colorful toys that provide endless hours of fun in the water for you and your pooch.
Approach the Water
Once your dog loves the toy, start playing fetch in the water. Take note that your dog has to learn how to swim before performing this step.
Throw the toy in the shallow part of the water for them to fetch. Start with the pool first.
You can teach your dog to retrieve the toy by getting into the water so they will follow. Make sure to lure them with treats.
But don’t offer them until they get into the water with you.
Repeat the Step
Once your dog dives in the water with you, get the toy. You can hold it in your hand and wave it to attract them.
This time lower the toy under the surface and ask them to get it. If you feel their mouth grabbing the object, challenge them by moving the toy away from them.
Give your dog a treat if they continue grabbing the toy.
Let them Swim Underwater
The final step is to go deeper and deeper until your furry friend has to swim underwater to get the toy.
Continue encouraging them with treats. Don’t scare them or pressure them as they might not enjoy the session.
Keep doing this for a few more sessions until they can swim underwater on their own.
Can Dogs Dive Underwater?
Yes, but it takes a lot of practice.
Dogs can dive up to 15 feet deep. You’ll see them do this in dock diving competitions aired on TV.
Dock diving requires you to toss a toy in the water and the dog leaps from a platform to get it. They have to swim back up with the toy they retrieved.
The winner is announced based on who jumps the farthest.
When dock diving, the toy is hung 4 feet over the water and moves 1 foot farther every time.
Start training your dog for this aquatic sport by choosing the right equipment for dock-diving.
Some dogs also go scuba diving, although we do not recommend it.
You can’t train your dog how to handle scuba diving equipment, nor communicate if they are having a hard time underwater.
Issues with equalizing their ears and lack of air supply can also occur when they scuba dive.
Let Your Dog Sink Beneath the Surface
If your dog is confident and brave enough to sink beneath the water, let them.
There is no exact way to teach them how to hold their breath underwater, but they will learn this on their own when you teach them to retrieve toys in the pool.
But like humans, some dogs would rather not dive underwater despite their ability. Don’t force them if they don’t want to.
If you want to teach them to stay afloat instead, choose the right swimming gear for your dog instead.