Exercise benefits of swimming for dogs

Is swimming good exercise for dogs

Yes, swimming is an excellent exercise for dogs. In fact, I would say that it is one of the best types of exercise for a dog.

There are many reasons to swim your dog for exercise. This includes

hydrotherapy for dogLow impact – as your dog is floating there is no hash impact or jarring on their bodies and joints. This makes swimming an excellent exercise for dogs that are recovering from injury or surgery, or suffer from arthritis or hip and elbow dysplasia.

For exercising a dog with arthritis see here, or for exercising a dog with hip dysplasia see here.

This is known as Hydrotherapy and helps to keep your injured dog’s joints mobile while maintaining muscle and managing their weight. To learn more about Hydrotherapy for dogs see here.

Weight loss – it can be difficult to provide adequate exercise for an overweight dog without putting stress on their joints and muscles. Swimming is the ideal solution.

With the water supporting their weight they are able to burn calories and improve their metabolic rate without the risk of injury. Together with a balanced diet, swimming can help bring heavy dogs back down to a healthier weight.

For a guide to whether your dog is overweight see here.

Cardiovascular workout – swimming is high intensity and helps to tire a dog quickly. Five to ten minutes of continuous swimming can be equivalent to a hard 30 to 40 minute run for your dog.  This makes swimming your dog a good time saver.  Especially if you have a high-energy dog you just seem to be able to tire.

There are numerous benefits to providing your dog with a good cardio workout. This includes helping to burn fat, strengthens the heart and lungs, and is great for stress release. From a medical viewpoint, cardio exercise helps reduce your risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Muscle-strengthening – swimming gives your dog an entire body workout as they are using their muscles to push their limbs through the water. All of their muscle groups are used to swim.

Most types of exercise, such as walking, running, and jumping, tend to use the rear limbs more than the front. Swimming makes use of the front limbs more helping to correct any imbalance.

Stimulation and enrichment – Swimming, or exercising your dog in general, provides your dog with a job to do. This provides them stimulation and enrichment and helps to prevent boredom. A bored dog is more likely to misbehave and develop behavior problems. This may include nuisance barking, destructive behavior, digging, and even escaping.

Social enrichment – swimming can be a great opportunity for social activity for your dog. Dogs are social animals by nature and social enrichment is important for their mental wellbeing.

Social interaction while swimming can be by way of swimming with other dogs or by you joining them in the water. There are also many games you can play with your dog in the pool, river or sea. (see below for ideas)

How long should a dog swim for a good workout

Every dog is an individual and how long to swim for will vary. Ten minutes is more than enough for a beginner or less competent swimmer. Over time a dog’s stamina and overall swimming fitness will increase.  For a strong and competent swimmer, up to 30 minutes is standard.

The general rule of thumb is that every one minute of swimming is equivalent to 4 to 5 minutes of running for a dog.

How often can you take a dog swimming

The number of times you can take your dog swimming each week will depend on their level of swimming fitness. For a novice or less confident swimmer, once a week is sufficient.

As their conditioning improves you can increase the number of sessions to 3 to 4 times weekly. For a confident and competent swimmer, it is fine to go swimming every day.

Monitor your dog to ensure they are not over-exercising. If your dog has become sore or stiff after swimming, this will usually go away after one or two days. If they seem overtired or have sore muscles after a session, give them a day or two of recovery.

Another sign that you are overdoing the swimming is if your dog suddenly loses interest in going for a swim. Prolonged soreness and stiffness along with behavioral changes is a sign that you are overworking your pet. Consult your vet if you have any doubts.

Dog toys for swimming pool

Toys are a great way to maximize your dog’s swimming workout. They are also a good way to encourage your dog to swim. Here are our top recommendations for dog toys for using when swimming your dog.

Flirt Pole

Flirt pole is like a giant cat tickler for dogs. It has a long handle with a bungy type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the lure along the ground around in circles or in different directions as your dog chases it. This activity is ideal for an active dog as it works the whole body and strengthens their muscles. Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. It is important that this be a controlled exercise.

A flirt pole is also an ideal way to exercise your dog in the pool. This enables you to stand on the edge of the pool or alternatively, you can get in the pool with your dog. By moving the lure around your dog needs to change direction giving them a good workout. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.

View Flirt poles on Amazon

Jolly Ball

Jolly Ball is a nearly indestructible ball for dogs that they push and chase around. They come in a variety of sizes, styles and are also available with a handle or rope attached for tug of war.

These are a great workout for your dog in the water also. As your dog can not bite or hold the ball in their mouths they need to push it around the pool.

View Jolly Balls on Amazon

Wicked Ball

If your dog is ball mad then the Wicked Ball is the ultimate moving dog toy for them. The magic ball runs and bounces all by itself and the LED light adds another level of engagement for your dog. No App or remote controller required.

It has several settings such as the Intelligent Companion mode. In this mode, the Wicked ball has 10 minutes of play and 30 minutes of rest. If your dog pushes or hits the ball it starts the play cycle again. It also has three reaction modes (gentle, normal, active) so you can set it to suit your dog’s mood.  Due to its obstacle avoidance system (collision sensor), it doesn’t get stuck in tight spots.

The Wicked ball is durable and dog safe and is also waterproof so it can be played with when swimming. It also has a treat hole for dogs that are food motivated.

View the Wicked Ball on Amazon.

Floating dog toys

Throwing toys into the water for your dog to retrieve is a great way to motivate them. It is best to have a few different floating toys. This way, if you throw a toy and they ignore it you have a backup. Dogs also tend to choose a favorite toy to swim after. By having a mixture you will soon figure out which one they prefer.

View floating dog toys on Amazon.

Swimming games for dogs

Incorporating games into your dog’s swimming sessions can help motivate your dog and make it more fun you both your dog and you. Here are a few swimming games for dogs to try.

Water retrieval

Fetch is a popular game both on land and in the pool, lake, or sea. This game also gives your dog the opportunity to take a rest when they become fatigued between throws. If playing this in a pool throw from the shallow end so it is easy for your dog to get out of the water or at least stand on the bottom. Obviously don’t let your dog dive in from the shallow end. If your dog is going to dive in throw from the deeper end of the pool.

Have a selection of floating dog toys and balls for your dog to choose from. They may be more motivated to chase after particular toys.

View floating dog toys on Amazon.

Dock diving

Dog dock diving in front of a crowdDock diving is actually a real dog sport (see dog sports you may not know). The objective of the game is for your dog to jump as far as possible. Throw a ball or floating toy far enough and high enough that your dog has a good chance of catching it in the air.

Raft riding

Fun in the water doesn’t have to be high energy all the time. Your dog may just want to join you in the pool and relax. Laying on a raft or similar floating device is a good option for this.

Or for a dog that is not a keen swimmer, this may help them to get more accustomed to the idea of swimming. Take the time to get your dog used to being on the raft or floating platform out of the pool or water first.

Check out this pool float (available in two sizes) on Amazon.

Dog on a floatie raft in the pool

Doggie in the middle

In the water version of piggy in the middle. You need at least two people for this. Throw a ball or floating toy to each after allowing your dog to swim towards the person with the toy. Allow your dog to win on occasion and give them a break from the game if they become fatigued.

Chase in the pool

A fun game many people play with their dogs on land is to have their dogs chase them. If you run and call your dog they will instinctively chase you. You can just do the same in the water by swimming or running away as you call your dog. You will get a pretty good workout yourself.

Obstacle course

Have your dog swim through a hula hoop by holding it halfway under the water. Or have them swim around or weave through floating objects. With a little creativity, you could come up with a challenging activity for your dog.

Is swimming bad for dogs

Although swimming is a great exercise for dogs, it is important that dog owners are aware of the potential risks and dangers of swimming for dogs.


hydrotherapy for dogsThe most obvious risk for your dog when swimming is the potential of drowning. Not all dogs are competent swimmers. It is highly recommended that you put a lifejacket on your dog. View dog lifejackets on Amazon here.

Even the most confident swimmer can become fatigued and get into difficulty. If your dog is showing signs of struggling remove them from the water to recover. If their rear end goes below the water don’t wait for them to correct themselves. They will be unlikely to recover and will sink fast.

Never leave your dog unattended around water. It is also a good idea to learn about dog first aid including CPR and giving mouth to nose.

Swallowing water

Be aware if your dog is swallowing too much water while swimming. This can lead to water intoxication.

Swallowing too much water results in excessive water in the body fluids. Sodium levels outside the body cells become significantly depleted. this is known as “hyponatremia”.

In order to rebalance itself, the body increases fluid intake inside the cells. The cells become swollen and increase in size.

If the brain cells are swollen with fluid it causes an increase in the intracranial pressure and a lot of damage to the brain.

This results in “water intoxication” and, depending on how serious it is, the condition can cause brain damage or even death to a dog.

Chlorine in pools

Pool chemicals and chlorine can irritate a dog’s skin, coat and, eyes. After your dog has been swimming in the pool water it is a good idea to give them a good rinse off with fresh water. If you notice their skin is irritated after swimming keep them out of the pool for a few days. Consult your vet if the skin doesn’t improve.

Water in ears

Dogs can often get water in their ears from swimming. This can lead to ear infections. If your dog is shaking or tilting their head a lot it is likely they got water in them. Clean the ears with a dry cloth and monitor them. If this continues and there is a yeasty smell from the ears they have probably got an infection. If in doubt consult your vet. Ear infections can become quite serious very quickly.

Obstacles in the lake

Happy dog at the beachIf swimming in a lake or pond, beware of any obstacles your dog good get caught upon. Look for objects that may be just below the water surface or even on the banks. It is a good idea to always remove your dog’s collar before swimming to prevent this.


Just like humans, dogs also can get sunburned. This is more likely around water with the sun reflecting off the water. Some dogs are more susceptible to getting burned by the sun.

White and light-colored dogs tend to have fair skin underneath their fur — and a greater potential for sun damage. Dogs with naturally thin hair, and especially the hairless breeds are also at risk for sunburn and skin cancer.

All dogs, regardless of the thickness of their coats, have vulnerable areas of the body with less fur or none at all. The belly and the ears have delicate skin, and even a dog’s nose can get sunburned.

Apply dog-safe sunscreen or put a sunscreen vest on your dog to avoid sunburn.

Summary – Swimming exercise for dogs

Swimming is one of the best all-around exercises for dogs. It is low impact, provides a good cardio workout, and conditions their muscles. There are many toys and games you can incorporate into your dog’s swimming sessions to maximize the activity and make it great fun.

It is also important for dog owners to beware of the potential risks and dangers and take appropriate precautions.


  • Joseph Coleman

    A lifelong writer and proud dog dad. Joseph started this blog dedicated to helping other dog owners find accurate information on how to keep their pets at their healthiest through exercise and nutrition. His passion for all things canine shines through in his writing, and he believes that every dog deserves the best possible care. If you're a dog owner looking for reliable advice on how to keep your pup healthy and happy, be sure to check out Joseph's work.