Do Dogs Instinctively Know How to Swim?

I was lying awake in bed last night thinking about swimming. Not about when I might go swimming, but the act of swimming, itself.

Brady & Luca, demonstrating a skill set we tend to believe is inherent in dogs.

When I was a kid, my mom would take my brother and me to our Aunt’s house, where there was a pool, and we would go swimming with our cousins. I was the youngest, and wanted to keep up with the others, but I was less than a model swimmer, which the cranky lifeguard frequently reminded me. She insisted that I had to swim the Australian Crawl properly, turning my head to take breaths and kicking my feet. I was a poor kicker, and tended to just tow my legs behind me. I was a great underwater swimmer and dog paddler, though, and I didn’t know why those alternatives weren’t good enough for me to join my relatives swimming in the deep end.

As you may have guessed, “dog paddling” made me think of dogs swimming, and then I went down the rabbit hole of why some dogs are great swimmers and others aren’t. Is swimming an inborn dog skill? Is it instinct?

My dog, Dillon, couldn’t swim. He would splash his front legs up out of the water like he was trying to get a grip on something solid. Like this Vizla:

(The greatest argument for swimming not being an instinct)

One day while I was swimming in an above-ground pool, he was observing from the deck and he slipped and fell in.

He sunk to the bottom like a stone.

I’d never seen a dog do that before, and I’ll never get the image out of my head of him sinking in slow mo while not making a single move to stay afloat. It was unnerving.

Dillon must have been hiding behind the door when the swimming instinct was handed out. Some dogs will begin to swim if you just hold them over water. My chihuahua, Taco, used to do that.

(This seems to be the greatest argument for swimming being instinctual.)

Stanley Coren, PHD, says that paddling is instinctual to a dog, but that doesn’t mean all dogs are good swimmers. Can your dog swim? Don’t make the assumption she can without giving her the opportunity to try (under your close observation, of course)

Annabelle & Emma
swimming like pros

The skill seems to be affected by body type. Dogs with large heads or deep chests, (think Danes, Boxers, Mastiffs) and brachycephalic dogs with smashed faces (think Pugs, Pekes, Bostons), are usually poorer swimmers because it’s harder for them to keep their heads above water. Dogs with short limbs (think Doxies, Scotties, Bassetts) are likely good paddlers, but may not be able to maneuver well–though that wasn’t an issue for Falkor, a short -legged terrier who came to live with us. On the same day Dillon nearly drowned in the pool, Falkor swam like an Olympian, though he’d never been swimming before, and nobody had taught him. So I guess there’s just no telling until a dog has the opportunity to try.

Now that it’s summer, you may be planning to vacation at the beach, go boating, or take your dog with you to places where she will be around water. Be sure to check out these excellent tips for dog water safety on the pets.webmd website.

Be careful out there! Your dog relies on you for her safety.

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to tell your dog(s) I said “Hi!”

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Bunny the Dog Talks, Are We Ready to Listen?

Updated 12/10

Updated 12/12

I was feeling really emotional yesterday, because I watched the latest Bunny the Dog video.
Do you know who Bunny is? She is a sheepadoodle who has been taught to use a dashpad of prerecorded buttons to communicate. Bunny came hot on the heels of Christina Hunger’s dog, Stella. Hunger had released a number of videos of her dog using an AAC device to communicate, prompting Bunny’s mom to set up a similar dashpad and teach her puppy how to use it.


When Bunny’s videos started gaining traction, they caught the attention of University of San Diego’s Comparative Communication Dept, who subsequently set up a study with 700 animal participants. They plan to use the data to understand different aspects of interspecies communication.

Lisa Gunter, a research fellow at Arizona State University, thinks people’s outsized reactions to Bunny videos may be a reflection of our nervousness when it comes to fully providing for our companions’ needs. A dog with the potential to communicate with us in a new way could push us to accept that animals “have their own thoughts, wants, needs, desires,” she says. “I think that likely means that we’re gonna come up short sometimes.”

I’d say that’s a pretty succinct summation of one reason why I am feeling emotional. When I started seeing these videos, my first thought was how this could change the world of animal welfare.

Dog intelligence has only become a serious subject of study in recent years, when scholars like Brian Hare, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, and his wife, Vanessa Woods, wrote about landmark discoveries from the Duke Canine Cognition Center and other research facilities around the world that show how dogs think, feel, and solve problems.

Top: Vanessa Woods & Brian Hare. Bottom: Gregory Berns.

Another study, by Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns, was inspired by his decades of work decoding the human brain using MRI imaging technology to use the same technology to decode the canine brain.

These studies gave us better insight into what dogs feel and how they think–they’ve taught us that dogs have the intellectual and emotional capabilities of a three or four-year-old child. But up until now, the only way to have a conversation with your dog has been through the help of animal communicators, or by learning to read your dog’s body language.

So, let’s go back to animal welfare: laws have changed over the years based on what we have learned. We have laws now against things that weren’t considered cruel in the past. In fact, there was a time when people believed that animals didn’t feel pain! Some modern day animal abusers long on ignorance still believe that nonsense, as, unfortunately, do some legislators.

Yet here is Bunny, telling her mom something hurts. . . and then attempting to explain it through her dashpad. [] I don’t know about you, but I find that remarkable.

Think for a moment how a dog telling us where it hurts could help us catch sickness and injuries before things get serious!

In yesterday’s video, Bunny seemed to be asking existential questions. “What ‘love you’?” “Bunny what?” “Mom love you Bunny Why?” Questions that open up a whole new can of worms. . .for which I found mom’s answers wholly inadequate. But the possibilities for the future–they seem endless.

At the very least, we will be able to look at the world from their perspective, without relying on guesswork. They have so much to teach us.


12/10 update:

Bunny’s mom did a one hour question and answer interview that was posted today on YouTube.
She talks about the training process, and how she modeled the buttons for Bunny. I found that one of the most interesting things discussed in the interview, is how Bunny has begun putting 2 words together to explain something she didn’t have a word for. (Like Koko the gorilla used to do) ie: deer=cat hippo Seal= water hippo  seagull=water bird.

Damn fascinating.

Update 12/11

It was all I could do to not burst into tears tonight, watching Bunny’s newest video, “Contemplating Time.” And I had to examine why I am feeling so strongly about these videos. I realized today that it’s because of all the animal abuse I’ve seen over the past twenty years or so. The past two decades have shown me some of the most heinous treatment of animals you can imagine. It’s the circle I “run with.” People in rescue, who save and protect animals from mistreatment. Watching bunny, seeing her think and learn, and express herself. . . And knowing that they are so often treated like things, instead of conscious, thinking beings. It breaks my heart in two.

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Training Tips for Pup Parents

Most everyone knows that I am a dog nut: that I’ve had a lot of dogs, that I’ve read a lot of books about dogs, that dogs are always on my brain. So, people tend to ask me a lot of questions about things related to having dogs, especially when they are having a problem with behavior. I recently consulted an expert, and decided to just record her tips for you. Here you go. . .you’re welcome.

While you’re surfing the web, why not stop on by my Etsy Yelodoggie Art store and Zazzle items for some fun dog related swag!

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Books: Denali: A Man, A Dog, and the Friendship of a Lifetime & Bark Until Heard


by Ben Moon

Rating: 4 paws & a tail wag

(Contains spoilers)

Ben Moon’s memoir, Denali, is a captivating and inspiring tale. Moon, an outdoor adventurer, athlete and photographer, is diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of thirty, and must overcome the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges the diagnosis will have on his active and nomadic lifestyle. Through it all, Ben’s dog, Denali, is his constant companion. Denali’s unconditional love and support help him adjust to his new reality.

Authentic and full of honest, raw emotion, Moon does a great job of guiding us through his odyssey. His story is relatable on multiple levels: to athletes, dog lovers, and anyone who has had cancer touch their lives.

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 14, 2020)
  • ISBN-10: 0143133616

Ben Moon is an adventure and lifestyle photographer turned director and filmmaker who uses his intuitive sensibilities to bring individuals and their stories to life: from climbing and surfing images, to music videos, to behind-the-scenes moments and narratives. For more than seventeen years his work has been featured in the esteemed Patagonia catalogs, where he seeks to capture the beauty and authenticity of people challenging themselves everywhere, from the sheer rock walls of Yosemite to fifty-foot waves in the Pacific Northwest.


BARK UNTIL HEARD: Among the Silenced Dogs, I Found My Voice

by Becky Monroe

4 paws

Bark Until Heard is a true story about an animal welfare activist and writer from suburban Illinois, who discovers a passion and a purpose while on assignment. Monroe finds herself in an Amish barn at a puppy mill auction, where overcome with the brutal reality of mill dogs, she purchases Thorp, a dirty, frightened and withdrawn dog. Faced with his sad reality and the horrific circumstances of a hundred others, Monroe is unable to erase the memory of that fateful day. She stands up to fight for the dogs forced to live lives of neglect and confinement.

While the beginning of the book seems repetitive, (Monroe can’t stop telling us how traumatic the auction was for her), by the second half she has settled into a clarity of mind where she is able to recount her rescue efforts and those of other Mill Activists, spreading a message of urgency and compassion.

  • Paperback: 310 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 24, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1507841248

Becky Monroe is a writer and animal-welfare advocate. She has been published in numerous animal-welfare publications and seeks to expose the truth to improve the lives of domestic animals. She lives in Woodstock, IL with her husband and daughter and a changing array of homeless animals.

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