Can Dogs Hold Their Breath Underwater?

Dogs can hold their breath underwater thanks to the mammalian diving response. However, this doesn’t come naturally to all dogs. Swimming breeds, such as retrievers and labs, will instinctively hold their breath underwater. Other breeds, such as bulldogs, may take a gulp of water before learning to hold their breath. 

Have you ever noticed your dog randomly panting after lounging around the house all day? When they do this, it is a sign that they may have been holding their breath for a while. 

So if dogs can hold their breath in day-to-day life, does that mean they can hold their breath underwater?

It is easy to think that with the silly way dogs swim, they are unable to hold their breath underwater, but beyond their signature doggy paddle lies a hidden talent that many of us are unaware of.

Dogs and Swimming Underwater

Dogs swimming. It’s hard to imagine a happier image. Many dogs love to jump in the water and play with their families. Some dogs have the time of their life playing fetch in the river and splashing around at the beach.

The reason our water-loving furry friends can dive for toys, splash around, and even surf, is the mammalian diving response. 

This biological reaction causes a slower heart rate and decreased blood and oxygen flow to certain parts of their body. This response should trigger them to hold their breath. We say “should” because, depending on the dog, they might not know how to do so.

With just a little practice, it is possible to teach your dog to swim. Training them to dive underwater is possible as well. Just be cautious, especially when they are diving for toys, as they may inhale excess water, which can lead to a variety of issues, even drowning.

Can All Dog Breeds Hold Their Breath Underwater?

Though the mammalian diving response exists in every mammal, dogs included, this does not mean every dog knows how to hold its breath underwater. Certain dog breeds are more likely to be “natural” swimmers, while others… well, they’re not so lucky.

Dogs that were bred to swim are more likely to know how to hold their breath underwater. To name a few, the beloved Retriever and the Barbet are both made for this activity and have an instinct for it. Of course, every dog is different, so if you have one of these breeds, be sure to test their skill level and their liking for water before letting them swim.

There are some breeds, like the Bulldog and Boxer, that don’t make the cut for the swim team. At no fault of their own, of course. Their short noses and weight distribution keep them from being able to swim well and safely. 

Can You Teach a Dog to Hold Their Breath Underwater?

The good news is dogs will teach themselves this skill with enough practice. If you have a dog that loves to swim, the more often you let them swim, the quicker they’ll learn how to hold their breath before gulping water.

Until you’re certain your dog has figured out how to hold their breath when they’re about to submerge, the safest way to practice is using a swimming pool.

Dogs and Swimming Pools

Swimming pools are a great place to teach your dog how to hold their breath underwater. It is entirely up to your discretion whether you think the pool you are planning on using is safe for them. A variety of factors need to be considered before deciding.

Pool Maintenance

Always keep an eye on chlorine levels. Maintaining proper chemicals in your pool is very important if you want your dog to have a good time in the water.

Having too little chlorine can cause a build-up of bacteria and parasites, excess dirt, and improper pH. While having too much causes dryness and irritation of their skin and eyes. 

If water is accidentally consumed in excess, it could cause vomiting, damage to their gastrointestinal tract, and possibly to their esophagus.

We never want our furry friends to be in danger. This is one of the best ways we can make their underwater experience a lot safer.

Exit Plan

Before letting your dog jump into a pool, make sure they have an easy exit. Always show them where they can hop out so they can easily leave when they are done swimming. As we all know, it is never easy to climb out of a pool without a ladder or steps.

If there isn’t one, it is up to you to decide whether you feel your dog can climb out on its own…but remember, your dog will be tired when they’re done swimming. They may easily be able to climb out at the beginning of the swim, but could be too tired after.

Life Vests and Other Flotation Devices

A well-fitted life vest or some other flotation device is highly recommended. These ensure that your furry friend will stay safe and sound. It will also lessen their chance of drowning.

A life vest or something for your dog to float on is a way to allow your dog to take a rest and not have to work so hard. This brings us to our next point…

Take a Break

Taking a break is one of the most important parts of swimming for dogs. In addition to getting tired, without a good break, they could lap up too much water and get sick. 

While they can hold their breath underwater, they don’t understand the concept of keeping their mouths closed, especially if there is a toy involved.

Allowing your dog to take a break from their life as a fish is a great way to make sure they don’t overdo it. 

Dry Drowning

Dry drowning is a build-up of excess liquid in a dog’s lungs. This build-up can affect a dog hours (sometimes even days) after swimming. 

It is caused by accidental inhalation of water. This form of drowning can cause dizziness and will make your dog seem almost drunk. 

Along with the feelings of dizziness and vertigo, your dog will begin to have a slow and irregular heartbeat, vomiting, and a change of color in their gums.

Keep a close eye on your dog after swimming. Dry drowning is a very big concern amongst dog owners who have water-loving dogs, especially if they’re still learning how to hold their breath underwater. 

Go Out and Have A Good Time

Now that you know the proper precautions to take and that your dog can hold its breath underwater, go out and have a good time. 

Keep in mind that underwater swimming is not something to be encouraged regularly. This can cause a build-up of water in their lungs, and we definitely don’t want that!

Always gauge the skill level of your pup before letting them dive underwater. If they aren’t the strongest swimmer but love water, we recommend signing them up for a dog swim class. This is an excellent way to train your dog to have an easier time with this fun activity

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