Can Chow Chows Swim? Do They Like Water?

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Picture this: I have dressed in my warmest winter clothes, hats, gloves, coats etc., and I stumble on a warm hot spring. Oh, so tempting for a dip! Only there is a catch, I must jump in, in all my clothes and the water is deep. Do I go for it?

Well, my fluffy Chow Chow has the same dilemma. After all, he is wearing two coats and taking them off is not an option. 

So, can Chow Chows swim? As a general rule, Chow Chows can swim, but there are significant caveats on how much access they should have to water; for example, is he a strong enough swimmer to cope with all that heavy, sodden fur? Coupled together with his short legs and snub nose, neither of which are suitable for swimming. 

Almost all breeds of dogs have a natural instinct; when water is present, they can do a version of the doggy paddle. However, some are better at it than others, and the average Chow Chow is definitely at the wrong end of this scale. 

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Do Chow Chows like to swim? 

History tells us that the Chow Chow is one of the world’s oldest dog breeds originating from Mongolia and Northern China. They were bred for hunting, pulling sledges and guarding possessions. Their tasks didn’t appear to involve water. Therefore the average Chow Chow does not share the same affinity to water as other breeds and, as a whole, will probably avoid it.

Most do not even like tiptoeing through wet grass, let alone a full submersion into a lake. That said, there is always an exception, and some love it! Some can even learn to love swimming if they are brought up around water and taught to swim safely. 

See also: Can Chow Chows get along with cats?

Why should you keep Chow Chows away from water? 

If we throw a rock into a deep pond, we will never see it again. That is the average Chow Chow, and it will plunge to the bottom, dragged down by all that waterlogged fur. Unless your Chow Chow has learnt to swim strongly, almost immediately upon entering deep water, they will experience difficulties.

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Combined with their heavy double coat, Chow Chows are a brachycephalic breed, a term used to describe dogs with a short muzzle or a flat face. As a consequence of their facial structure, Chow Chows find it challenging to keep their head and nose above the surface, and this can enable water to enter their nose and make them more susceptible to drowning. 

If this isn’t enough for the poor Chow Chow, whilst they have muscular hind legs that are great for pulling a sledge, they are not suited to swimming because they are short and lack flexibility. Chow Chows have a strange stilted gait due to their back legs being mainly straight. 

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How to teach your Chow Chow to swim if they like water

If our Chow Chow likes water, this is half the battle, but we can also bring him up to learn to enjoy the water. 

He may look like a big fearless lion but strangely can be a pussycat around water, so slow, steady with lots of fun, is the way to encourage our Chow Chow to trust us and the water. 

Ideally, start them young. Before we even take our Chow Chow near the open water, it is better to begin your training in a safe environment. We can start in the home and introduce water at bathtime, keeping it shallow and emphasizing the fun part. Never force them in or near water if they are anxious or scared. It should always be on their terms. 

Now would also be a good time to familiarise them with a doggie life jacket. This buoyancy aid will be essential with tipping the balance back into our Chow Chow’s favour. Once our fluffy guy is feeling comfortable, then we can begin to introduce him to deeper water. 

According to the American Kennel Club, AKC, using another doggy playmate who likes water can be a great help at this stage. The AKC says one of the best ways to teach our dogs to swim is for your Chow Chow to copy his playmate. Don’t be afraid to get in as well! If getting in is not your thing, a professional hydrotherapy pool could also be a great place to go. 

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Energetic is not necessarily a word associated with Chow Chows, so if you can keep it exciting, the water and swimming are great places for their exercise. When our Chow Chow has learnt to swim, we can build on his fitness in the water. Increase the time in the water slowly as swimming can be very strenuous. Just fifteen minutes of swimming is the equivalent of one hour of running (Canine Therapies).

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Tips for safe swimming

Always consider safety first, not just for our Chow Chow but also for us and anyone else involved. 

One of the most important things to remember is that when we are around water, our Chow Chow is wearing a life jacket that is the correct size for weight and the physical size of our much-loved family member. 

If our Chow Chow has access to a swimming pool, he must be aware of the way out, and if necessary, install a ramp for an easy exit. Access to the pool must always be supervised and fenced off when not in use. Remember the stone; it only takes a moment! If we can’t watch our buddy at the pool, a paddling pool with shallow water can be an option. 

Control the amount of time he has available in the pool. It is an exhausting exercise, and once out of the pool, remember to make clean drinking water available; swimming is thirsty work. 

Swimming is a great all-round exercise and has many health benefits, including keeping our Chow Chow in an excellent physical condition and a strong and healthy heart. Another advantage is that swimming helps build muscles whilst reducing the impact on injured and painful joints, as Chow Chows can be prone to hip or elbow dysplasia which can lead to arthritis. 

Also, on those hot days, the water can help keep him cool!