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Can Great Danes Swim? – A Guide to Swimming With Great Danes

Also known as the German Mastiff, the Great Danes are massive dogs that’ll easily tower over any other dog in the canine kingdom. Weighing up to 200 pounds, you may be wondering if these dogs will sink or swim.

So, can Great Danes swim? Yes, Great Danes can swim – though they aren’t naturally proficient at swimming, such as the Poodle or Golden Retriever. They can easily manage to keep their heads afloat, but not for long periods. Even so, Great Danes enjoy playing in water to cool off on a hot day.

But before you take your Great Dane to the water, there are things that you may want to consider. In this article, we explain potential hazards and the best way to get your Great Dane swimming.

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Why Great Danes Can Swim

And while some dogs were bred to retrieve in water, this is not the case with the Great Dane. In fact, a Great Dane was bred to hunt on land. Specifically, their true purpose was to hunt boars.

Even so, Great Danes can be excellent swimmers if you provide proper training and patience. They have all the right physical attributes that’ll let them not only stay afloat, but effortlessly swim in a body of water if necessary.

Danes Have the Physical Traits of a Swimmer

If you look at the list of the worst swimmers in the canine kingdom, you’ll notice a common theme. A lot of these “bad swimmers” have short and/or stubby legs.

And if you think about it, this makes a ton of sense. Shorter legs means less surface area for paddling in the water. So by this logic, dogs with longer and more powerful legs may in fact be more suited for a swim in deep waters.

Just take a look at some of the best swimming dog breeds. You have the Labrador, Chesapeake, Flat Coated and many more. All of which, have a body-build similar to the Great Dane. These dogs tend to have longer legs, but also a lean and muscular frame.

Great Danes also have long necks. This makes it easier for them to keep their heads above water when paddling through water. As such, dogs with a short neck, snout or head tend to have a difficult time in water.

In addition, some Great Danes have webbed feet – not all. And when equipped with webbed paws, a dog is unsurprisingly better suited for swimming. In fact, all the dogs bred to swim have webbed feet, such as the Poodle, Chesapeake and water spaniels.

However, the Great Dane was not bred for water retrieving, which may make you question why some will have it in the first place.

These dogs were bred to hunt boars in Denmark or Scandinavia – regions that are typically very wet and snowy. Having webbed feet could possibly help Great Danes walk through snow and mud with a much better grip.

So while the development of webbed feet in Great Danes was not intended for swimming, it certainly helps if you want to swim with your Great Dane!

Great Danes Naturally Paddle in Water

When you put any dog into water, their natural instincts kick in and they start to paddle. But make no mistake, this doesn’t mean that all dogs can swim or that they’re naturally good swimmers. It’s a long-standing myth and simply not true.

Because this breed wasn’t bred for swimming, they likely won’t be naturals. However a Dane will dog paddle in water. And when combined with their physical traits, they’ll have a good chance at staying afloat for a reasonable period of time.

Both dogs will run in and dog paddle after balls in the ocean and such, but neither will go anywhere near the pool.

– Angel7292 (Danes Online)

But why is it that Great Danes will naturally dog paddle in water? The answer is less complicated than you realize. If you think about it, the motion of dog paddling is very similar to the motion of your dog running on land.

Your Great Dane likely isn’t thinking, “oh this is water so let me swim instead.” Rather, they are just trying to move and navigate around water the same way they would around land. The result is a dog paddle motion that mimics a running motion.

Swimming Can Still Be Hard For Danes

The reason why Great Danes rank so low on the intelligence tests is because they're stubborn.

Some Great Danes avoid water like they’re deathly afraid of it. Others can’t help but jump in at the first sight of water. It really all depends on the individual dog.

But regardless of which your Great Dane is, there are things to consider before letting your dog go into the water. In other words, there are potential hazards and dangers when it comes to swimming and Great Danes.

Heavy, Lean Muscles Tend to Sink

Being the tallest dog breed in the world, Great Danes are heavy dogs. And according to the AKC, the Great Dane can grow into a 200 pound dog (for a male). With more weight, it will certainly require a lot more power to stay afloat.

However, the heavy weight is not the only concern with a heavy dog. Great Danes are muscular yet fall on the leaner side. They’re not a dog that you would associate with obesity or fat.

In a study, scientists concluded that muscle sinks and fat floats. That is, if the body material is less dense than the water itself, then that material will float. Well as it turns out, fat is a lot less dense than muscle and will be easier to float.

Scientists also concluded that athletes with a low percentage of body fat have a considerably harder time in the water. This same concept can be applied to dogs, such as the Great Dane.

Danes Don’t Have the Swimming Instincts

Long before the majority of the population viewed dogs as companions, they were bred for a purpose. Every dog served a job or purpose in society that primarily benefited humans in one way or another. It was just how we viewed dogs.

For instance, we had dogs developed for flushing game, tracking animals, hunting, herding, guarding and even water retrieving. Dog breeds bred for water retrieving spent a great deal of time in water and thus, have the instincts to swim.

Simply put, Great Danes weren’t bred to swim. As a result, they don’t have the instincts to swim. The Great Dane was actually bred to hunt boar. They were a lot more vicious back then and would chase them down and corner them.

This type of job is far from water retrieving. And while the ferociousness of the Great Dane was eventually bred out of them, they’ll still retain some instincts of the past. Unfortunately, this does not include swimming or being in water.

So next time your Great Dane is trying to avoid water, don’t force them in. Just because your friend’s Poodle jumps in the pool without hesitation doesn’t mean that your Great Dane should do the same. It’s all because of instincts.

An Alternative to Great Danes Swimming

Great Danes are moderate to high shedding dogs.

It’s a hot summer day and you’re looking for a way to cool down with your Great Dane. You have a pool but your Great Dane is afraid of going in. What can you do?

For dogs that don’t want to swim, there’s a great alternative that Great Danes can do. Instead of the dog actually swimming, I would suggest letting them waddle around in shallow water. After all, the Dane is tall enough to do this in many places.

Consider taking your Great Dane to the lake or beach, where there’s a shallow region for the dog to play around without actually having to swim. Given the long legs and tall stature of the breed, a Great Dane will have no problems venturing far out.

Our local lake has about 20 ft of shallow water and then a big drop. My dane loves playing ball in the shallows but doesn’t go far out since he’s not the best swimmer.

– Lokathedane (Danes Online)

But depending on your Dane’s aversion to water, it may still take some time for them to get their feet wet, literally. However once they figure out they can still “walk” in the shallow regions of the body of water, they’ll be playing in no time!

Make sure to bring your Dane’s favorite (waterproof) toys, such as their tennis ball or rope. You may need to bribe your dog to get into the shallow end. However, you’ll want to make sure your dog does not go out too far and into the deep end.

How to Teach Great Danes to Swim

While we think playing in the shallow end of a lake or pool is most ideal for a Great Dane, it’s still very possible to teach them to full-on swim. But because Great Danes aren’t natural swimmers, they tend to need structure in learning to swim.

Here are the steps to ensure your Great Dane will be swimming in no time!

Life Jacket for Swimming

There may not be a life jacket big enough for a full adult-sized male Great Dane. But if you’re trying to teach a Dane how to swim, you may want to start in puppyhood anyway.

The reason why Great Danes should probably start with a life jacket is because it gives them a huge boost of confidence. Eventually figuring out that they won’t sink goes a long way in building up their courage to venture to the deep end.

According to the AKC, there are a few things you should look out for in a life jacket:

  • Rescue Handle – This allows you to easily pull your Great Dane up when necessary. In times that they’re freaking out, this will be very useful.
  • D-Ring – This component gives you the option of attaching a leash to the life jacket, allowing you to keep them close by at all times.
  • Bright Colors – Life jackets that come in bright colors allows to better visibility. If you’re out and it’s getting dark, you can still easily spot their life jacket.

Fortunately, we’ve found the perfect life jacket that fits the AKC’s recommended criteria. Introducing the Outward Hound Life Jacket (you can find it on Amazon).

We personally use this for both our dogs (Aussie and Corgi) and have had no problems. The features are perfect and the mesh is high quality and sturdy, meaning it won’t hurt your dog! Plus, the jacket is surprisingly buoyant.

Introducing Great Danes to Water

A Great Dane, like humans, needs to learn the concept of water first. It may be obvious to us, but it’s not to dogs…at least in the beginning. Needless to say, the introduction to water should be slow. You never want to rush them.

Their initial introduction to water can be simple – really! It can be as easy as turning on the hose and letting them run wild and having fun with water. Or if your dog is small enough, getting a kiddie pool or using the bath tub works!

The next step involves bodies or water, such as a pool, lake or beach. But don’t worry, it’s not time for them to get in just yet. At this point, you just want them to get used to seeing larger bodies of water so that they won’t be too intimidated.

If possible, you can bring your Great Dane up close to the water and maybe even get a paw wet. Let the dog sniff the water and do his or her thing. Just make sure to do this a few times to ensure that the dog is comfortable around water.

Swimming With Great Danes

The beach or lake is perfect for starting off because there’s a shallow end where they can just get the paws wet. Ideally, you’ll want to keep them on a leash with a life jacket as well. This doesn’t have to always be the case, just initially.

Start by walking into the shallow end first. If your Great Dane sees you (the owner) going in, he or she will have more confidence in following. Make sure to continually give positive praises during the entire process. You can bring treats too!

After successfully getting your Great Dane to the shallow end, it’s time to venture out! Slowly move in towards the deeper end. But if your dog isn’t willing, don’t try to force them. Give them some time and a little patience. This can be scary for them!

You can even try bringing your Dane’s favorite ball and throwing it out to the deeper end. Chances are, they’ll instinctively react and chase after the ball, only to realize that they can swim. But you will want to make sure they’re secured with a leash.

In no time, you may have a water-loving Great Dane!

Remember that the key to all this is patience and consistency. If your Great Dane doesn’t want to go in during the first swim session, it’s okay! Come back at a later day and eventually they’ll be so used to it that’ll the fear is gone.


So, can your Great Dane swim? Do they love to play in water? Let us know in the comments section below!

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