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How Long Should a Dog Swim For a Good Workout? Swimming for Dogs 101

If you have a dog and would like to give them a good workout without the hassle of going for a long run, swimming is a great option.

There are many benefits swimming for dogs has that you may not know about but you should check in to see whether your dog benefits from it and how long he needs to swim plus what you should look out for.

Generally speaking, letting your dog swim for 15-30 minutes is the sweet spot for a good workout.

Keep reading to find out what’s the best time for your individual dog.

Some dogs are naturally excellent swimmers and love getting wet, so it’s no surprise that many dogs enjoy swimming in pools or lakes.

However, even though your pup may be an excellent swimmer, there are precautions you should take in certain waters (i.e. chlorine or rough water or the ocean).

Even more precautions should be taken if your dog is not too fond of water.

If you keep these tips in mind, swimming provides an opportunity for your dog to exercise, play in the water, or just relax.

It also helps them cool off on hot days and can help with weight control.

First of all, never allow any dog to get into the water unsupervised for a swimming workout.

Important notice: There is something I want to show you that will change the way you interact with your dog. Check it out here.

Panic might cause injuries or even drowning.

Dog diving in a pool.

There are a few precautions, facts and rules you should always remember:

  • Dogs who are not natural swimmers should be exposed slowly with positive reinforcement
  • Avoid pools with chlorine
  • Always use a long lead if possible when around rougher water
  • Saltwater may cause dry skin
  • Make sure your dog has access to freshwater instead of drinking from the lake
  • Use a canine life jacket if unsure
  • Never leave your dog unsupervised

Is Swimming Good For Dogs?

Swimming for dogs is a good workout that can be included into any weekly routine.

Here’s an overview of all the health benefits your dog might experience:

  • Swimming is easier on the joints than running; can actually promote joint strength (perfect for arthritic dogs)
  • Stress relief through varied exercise (pain relief for arthritic dogs)
  • Weight control
  • Cooling off during summer
  • Improves overall health (muscle tone, cardiovascular, stamina)

Let’s compare that to running.

Is Swimming or Running Better for Dogs?

Swimming is less stressful for the joints when compared to running and while it won’t replace regular walks, swimming can definitely take your current jogging or biking exercise spot.

Supposedly, the canine physiologist and clinical nutritionist DVM Arleigh Reynolds equates 1 minute of swimming to 4 minutes of running.

That’d mean that a 15-minute swim can be sufficient for a good workout since it equates to an hour of walking.

Double that time and you’re at 30 minutes swimming = 2 hours of walking which is on the higher end for regular walks.

Additionally, you can swim with almost any dog while running is generally limited to healthy adult dogs and even then certain breeds just aren’t supposed to run much at all.

Swimming with a pup? Sure thing if you limit the time in the water.

Wanna go for a swim with a senior? No problem, it’s actually the best exercise for them.

On the other hand, serious running would be restricted for a dog who’s still growing (which can be up to 2 years for large breeds).

The thing is that olfaction (i.e. smelling) is what makes your dog happy on walks.

He doesn’t necessarily have to run.

Some high-energy dogs do need longer sessions or more demanding exercise (don’t forget mental exercise!) but even my Rottweiler prefers smelling on extended walks over running next to the bike, although she’s fine with both.

How Long Should a Dog Swim For a Good Workout?

Active dogs need around 20-30 minutes of pure swimming for a good workout while others might only need 10-15 minutes.

A dog’s swimming workout can vary depending on their personality, age, and overall health.

Some dogs are more into it than others so everything from 5 to 60 minutes is possible.

Golden Retrievers swims with his head barely above water as a way to exercise joint-friendly.

If you’re not sure how long your pooch needs to swim for a good workout, start with 5-10 minutes at first then work up from there based on his response.

Can’t get to 10 minutes because your dog immediately jumps back out?

No worries, you can try encouraging him with a ball or water toy but don’t push it.

If your dog just gets his paws wet, that’s fine for the first sessions.

In case your dog is not having fun or you can tell it’s just too difficult, don’t hesitate to end the swimming session sooner than planned – there will be other days where you can give them more swimming exercise!

Don’t expect that they will jump right into it and instead gradually increase the time spent in the water or their distance traveled each day so that after some time has passed you and your dog are happily living out new adventures together.

If available in your area, check out hydrotherapy and discuss whether or not it’s suitable as exercise for your dog.

Keep in mind that in hot climates, it’s important to provide your dog with an adequate phase of getting used to the cold water and vice versa because your dog might get a shock if you go from cold water for 30 minutes to hot asphalt immediately.

Another thing to keep in mind is that their skin might get dry, they might drink more lake water and thus ingest more bacteria, and so on.

While these are important factors to keep in mind, they generally shouldn’t hold a healthy dog back from a healthy swimming workout.

Do Dogs Get Sore From Swimming?

As with any fitness regimen, your dog can definitely get sore from swimming, especially if you entice him to jump into the water with a toy.

Dog breeds suitable for swimming will most often endure longer swimming sessions by design (i.e. Retrievers and Spaniels) compared to smaller or larger dogs.

That being said, some dog breeds have the grit of true fighters such as Rottweilers, Pitbull-type breeds, hunting breeds and so on.

Maybe they’re not born swimmers but they’ll certainly try.

Don’t be fooled by your dog’s endless energy though, you have to stop the session when you deem it enough.

When is it too much? If your dog becomes slower, shows signs of exhaustion, or has made a significant jump compared to the last session.

On the other hand, smaller breeds or flat-nosed breeds with respiratory issues might struggle with swimming.

Smaller dogs can be made more comfortable by providing them with a doggy lifejacket to help them stay afloat.

Encourage them to go at their own pace and never push them beyond exhaustion.

If you end up at a 15-minute pure swim then that can be a great workout too!

Whatever you do, don’t give up on introducing your dog to swimming to swimming, regardless of the breed.

Sometimes the dog – especially a rescue dog – is just afraid of water due to negative experiences and it’s your job to counter-condition that to a positive or at least neutral response.

That being said, if your dog flat out refuses to swim, then seek out other opportunities to exercise your dog and never force him to go swimming.

How Long Can a Dog Swim Before Drowning?

A healthy adult dog can probably swim 20 minutes before drowning but the real number greatly depends on your dog’s fitness level, breed, and age.

To keep your dog from drowning, consider buying the aforementioned lifejacket even if you have a bigger sized dog and attach a long leash to him.

This way you can ensure that you will be able to rescue your dog reliably.

You also have to constantly look out for signs of exhaustion such as:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Purple or bluish gums
  • Rapid pulse
  • Easily distracted by sniffing
  • Losing interest
  • Yawning
  • Lying down
  • Hiding
  • Bad posture

Any pet that has experienced a near-drowning should be brought to the vet and examined.

X-rays can determine whether or not your dog had fluid in his lungs and if he must be started on antibiotics.

CPR may need to be performed if your dog has no pulse and he may require oxygen.

As exhaustion is the main cause of drowning, you really need to look out for your furry friend and keep the sessions shorter rather than pushing for the last 10 minutes.

How is your dog responding to swimming as a workout? Share your experiences in the comments below!

About Danielle
I am the founder of PawLeaks where I share weekly tips on dog training and behavior. Sharing a passion for dogs and helping owners to solve problems through understanding canine behavior and modification is my number one goal.