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It can be a wonderful and fun experience to watch a water-loving dog get the chance to make a splash in a nearby pool or lake. So many of our canine friends seem to be born with a love for swimming.
Many dogs seem to take to the water naturally. With how much faster dogs are than humans on land, you may wonder how speedy they can be in the water.
So just how fast can dogs swim?
It turns out that though they have us beat when it comes to running, dogs swim roughly 1-2 miles per hour, the same average speed as a human. Retrieving breeds that were bred for water are faster than average while stockier breeds like boxers are on the slow end.
Not being the fastest does not mean that dogs are bad swimmers. In fact, many breeds were created specifically for working in the water. It just so happens that speed was not the main quality the breeders were after. Let’s take a deeper dive into what factors are at play!
Average Speed Of Dogs In The Water
The average speed for dogs when swimming falls between 1-2 mph, but it is important to consider the many different kinds of dogs out there. Breeds such as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Poodle, or the Portuguese Water Dog were bred specifically for working in the water.
With physical traits and mentalities selected over the years to enhance their swimming skills, it is no wonder these breeds are at the faster end of the spectrum.
However, dogs like Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, and other bully breeds can struggle with swimming due to their shorter snouts. Other breeds work against barrel chests or heavy muscle density, neither of which are conducive to swimming. Some breeds have too short of legs to be proficient in the water, like Bloodhounds.
With all factors taken into consideration, there is still no evidence of any one dog swimming faster than 2 mph. On the other hand, Olympic swimmers can reach over 5 mph at times. Dogs may run laps around us on land, but we’re more likely to lap them in the water!
Why Don’t Dogs Swim Faster?
Why aren’t dogs faster swimmers, though? They are obviously athletic animals with powerful legs and generous amounts of stamina. At first glance, it feels like they’d have a knack for fast swimming.
If humans have been selectively breeding water dogs for so many years, how come they haven’t picked up any speed?
There are a few overall physical considerations to take into account. For one, dogs are relatively small – particularly compared to humans. Our size and strength alone give us quite an advantage over many pups.
It is a notable trait that humans who excel at swimming are, on average, much taller than their peers. Dogs lack the sheer wingspan and lung capacity of a larger animal.
Their limitations in speed also make sense when you take their lack of flexibility into account. While dog legs are powerful, we humans have the benefit of being able to move our limbs far more freely.
Just think – how many Olympians have won a medal for swimming using the “doggie paddle” technique? Being able to fully extend our limbs, rotate, and pivot in the water is a considerable advantage our canine counterparts do not have.
Another consideration involves more direct, hands-on human involvement. The dogs we have bred over time for working in the water were built with strength, intelligence, and obedience in mind – not speed.
Strength vs. Speed
When you look at the history of dog breeds built for the water, it becomes more apparent why they may not be the fastest swimmers. Newfoundlands, for example, were first utilized by fishermen who needed a large, strong dog to grab and pull in their fishing nets.
Nowadays, one may be more familiar with seeing Newfies as water rescue dogs, but both jobs emphasize strength, confidence, and the ability to take direction. Speed is simply not a priority.
Check out the extraordinary abilities of a crew of water rescue Newfoundlands in the video below!
Water dogs are not just used for rescuing, however. Many were bred specifically for game retrieval. One might think that speed would be more imperative for hunting, but once again, other qualities remained more important.
Most of the time, the game is already going to be hit and down by the time the dog enters the water. There isn’t any rush – it isn’t swimming or flying away. All that remains is for the dog to launch into the water, locate the game, and bring it back to the hunter or fisherman.
This places emphasis on the need for confidence, awareness, and unquestioning obedience. Swimming speed isn’t really a consideration, as any actual rushing around after prey will likely take place on land.
What Makes Some Dogs Faster Swimmers?
While they may not be the fastest animal in the water, there’s no doubting that some dog breeds are better suited to a semi-aquatic work style than others.
The coat is one of the first qualities to assess when considering a dog’s swimming prowess. Labrador retrievers, for example, have thick, water-resistant coats. This allows them to stay warm and relatively dry. When they do get wet, their coats dry out quickly.
Many water dogs like the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Poodle, or the Portuguese Water Dog have wavy or curly fur or hair. These coats are dense and water-resistant, making moving through the water much more effortless.
They are also often single-coated instead of the standard double-coat seen on dogs. This trait enables them to move more freely in the water, as they do not have as much fur weighing them down.
A characteristic you will also find in many water dogs is webbed feet. All dogs have a small amount of webbing between their toes, but not every dog has “true” webbed feet.
This is similar to how humans have connective skin between our fingers, but not to an extent where we would consider our hands to be webbed. Huskies, for example, have some webbing – but not to the degree of water dogs.
Dogs like the Irish Water Spaniel, Newfoundland, Poodle, or Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever have extended webbing. Non-water breeds have webbing that often ends about halfway down their toes. Water sporting breeds will usually have more pronounced webbing reaching all the way to the end of the toe.
Boasting wide paws to accommodate the extra webbing, these pups might as well be wearing little flippers. This helps these dogs move through the water with far more agility and speed than other breeds.
You can see a Portuguese Water Dog’s excellent paws at work in the following clip:
As they use their powerful legs to propel them forward, their webbed paws displace the water, allowing them to push harder and move more swiftly. Like most dogs, these canines are also able to hold their breath for a few seconds underwater too!
Can All Dogs Swim?
Clearly, some are better at swimming than others. But is it true, as some say, that all dogs know how to swim?
While many dogs may instinctively pick up the doggie paddle if you toss them into the deep in, that’s far from the case for every dog out there. There are several breeds that are cautioned against swimming altogether.
The flatter faces and short snouts of brachycephalic breeds like Pugs or Boxers create difficulties when entering the water. It’s very easy for these dogs to get water up their noses, increasing their drowning risk. Even healthy examples of these breeds are at risk in deep water, and it’s advised to monitor them at all times.
Other breeds, such as Bull Terriers, have deep, heavy chests that can make it difficult for them to navigate the water with ease. Solid, muscular dogs such as Pitbulls can also encounter difficulty in the water due to their density. But even the large Great Pyrenees can enjoy the water in the right setting.
Shorter legs can also be a sign to steer clear of deeper water. Dogs such as Basset Hounds or Corgis have long bodies supported by little legs that must work overtime to keep them moving.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course! However, most dogs with one or any combination of these characteristics should be monitored closely if allowed to swim.
Check out this swimming corgi, and compare what you see with the water dog above!
Clocking in at an average of 1-2 mph, it turns out that dogs may not be the faster swimmers out there. Water may just be one of the only arenas where we humans stand a chance of outpacing them! While we average around 2mph, the best of the best humans can reach up to 5 mph.
Knowing how athletic our canine companions can make such a claim hard to believe, but the truth is that dogs were not bred for swimming speed. Characteristics such as confidence, willingness to listen and cooperate, intelligence, and strength were all prioritized for the jobs at hand.
Certain breeds will naturally excel in water, bred over centuries to be temperamentally and physically up to the task. Water-wicking coats and webbed feet are just two of the traits carefully selected and encouraged over time, along with well-proportioned athletic bodies.
On the other hand, dogs with shorter legs and/or snouts probably aren’t going to be plunging into the deep end of the pool anytime soon. Top-heavy, dense dogs are also generally not a good fit for swimming.
There’s no denying the love many dogs have for the water and swimming, nor can one honestly say that dogs are overall inadequate swimmers. It’s simply a matter of prioritization, and in a water dog’s case, slow and steady wins the race!