Skip to Content

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

This post may contain affiliate links. Read more here.

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.

Never allow any dog to get into the water unsupervised for a swimming workout.

Panic might cause injuries or even drowning.

Dog diving in a pool.
Photo by Denis Moskvinov on Shutterstock

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

Recommended Reading: My Dog Is Behaving Weird After Swimming

Is Swimming Good For Dogs?

Swimming for dogs is a good workout that can be included in any weekly routine assuming your dog is slowly exposed to water, monitored, and accessing fresh water.

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

  • Swimming is easier on the joints than running; may actually promote joint strength (may be suitable for arthritic dogs)
  • Stress relief through varied exercise
  • 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 might actually be 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).

What makes your dog happy on walks is using their sense of smell which you might be losing out on when running.

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.

Usually, my dog needs to be enticed to go swimming with a toy but as long as you’re throwing it, she can easily swim for 30 minutes.

The fun wears off though.

Plus, once you cross a certain threshold or constantly use toys to entice your dog, the risk of dry drowning and other issues is actually increased.

Golden Retrievers swims with his head barely above water as a way to exercise joint-friendly.
Photo by Mr Nai on Shutterstock

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 opportunities.

Don’t expect them to jump right into it and instead gradually increase the time spent in the water or distance covered each day.

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.

Going from cold water to hot asphalt immediately might run a medical risk.

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 an appropriate 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 from the get-go.

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!

Some dogs are 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 regardless of the breed 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, might require antibiotics, and so on.

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 them to the limit.

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

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.

Jessica lane

Wednesday 19th of April 2023

I have a 2 year old border collie who absolutely loves to swim! His version of swimming is retrieving a water toy. He doesn’t just go in and swim. We either go to the lake or the neighbors pond. He just seems to be able to go on forever so I have to watch him very closely and know when to stop.


Wednesday 19th of April 2023

Hi Jessica, my dog loves swimming too and that pretty much also includes a water toy. Be careful that your dog doesn't gulp too much when retrieving etc. Lake water can contain a lot of bacteria and dry drowning, in general, is a possibility. Happy swimming to your furry friend!

Mick Jewell

Thursday 30th of June 2022

I have a 3 year old cocker spaniel she wants to swim in the river for hours how long should I let her swim for


Saturday 2nd of July 2022

Hi Mick,

as mentioned in the article, it's best not to let your dog swim for multiple hours without break. If your dog loves it, sure let her have a go at it but I would closely monitor her and check if she's still fit after 20-30 minutes. Dogs should be supervised in the water anyway.

That being said, gulping water is a real risk too. The chances increase the more your dog swims and that can actually warrant a trip to the emergency room so look out for that too. Bacteria could be an issue too. Always consult your vet if unsure after a day at the water.

After all, you do have a breed known to love the water :).

Cheers, Danielle