Shih Tzus & Swimming: 6 Things You Must Know!

Having a Shih Tzu is one of the most adorable experiences of your lifetime. When it comes to swimming, they do have the ability to swim short distances.

Remember that Shih Tzus aren’t inherently good at swimming due to their naturally low stamina, short snout, small frame and short legs. In addition, their long hair gets wet and that can weigh them down, making it even harder for them to swim successfully.

Now, the question arises – can you or can you not still take your little Shih Tzu out for a swim? Well, that actually depends on your dog and how much training it has already. 

In this article, we will talk about: 

  • Are Shih Tzu Good Swimmers or Not?
  • Which Swimming Areas Are Suitable For Your Shih Tzu?
  • How to Teach Your Shih Tzu to Swim?
  • How Much Time Will It Take for a Shih Tzu to Learn Swimming?
  • Additional Things to Consider

So, let’s begin to get your questions answered!

Are Shih Tzu Good Swimmers or Not?

Unlike other dogs who are usually good at swimming and don’t mind water, Shih Tzus are not great swimmers. Yes, they can swim.

However, they lack enough stamina to swim across long distances. 

In simple words, Shih Tzus have the instinct to swim, but not enough strength needed to swim a lot. 

When it comes to swimming and Shih Tzus, there are certain things you need to be aware of. 

Shih Tzu’s Physical Build and Internal Body:

When we talk about the physical built and other factors, Shih Tzus have a small and petite built. Their nostrils are hollow and their airways are also partially blocked or obstructed.

Due to this, Shih Tzus do not have efficient breathing in comparison to other dogs. 

It also becomes the defining factor for a Shih Tzus relatively low stamina as adults, which I talked about in relation to the age when Shih Tzu puppies calm down in another article.

Breathing Mechanism While Swimming: 

Shih Tzus have a small muzzle. So, whenever a Shih Tzu is swimming, it has to extend its head above the water to be able to breathe properly. 

Now, this also makes it harder for the Shih Tzu to breathe and stay comfortable in the water. 

Shih Tzu’s Swimming Manner and Strength:

Due to their small built and tiny legs, they have to continuously keep paddling to keep swimming. 

So, it also gets relatively exhausting for your Shih Tzu to be as efficient as other dogs with longer legs, to swim efficiently. This is why Shih Tzus are not suitable for swimming long distances. 

Shih Tzu’s Hair: 

Another thing to consider when it comes to a Shih Tzu swimming is its hair. Normally, the dogs who are great swimmers do not have long, furry hair

However, when it comes to Shih Tzus, your Shih Tzu may have long hair (see my article about their double coat).

When a Shih Tzu is swimming, its hair gets wet. This can become a cause of concern mainly because wet hair means heavier weight. 

Shih Tzus with long hair may also have to put in extra effort to stay afloat due to the added weight of their hair. 

So, overall, Shih Tzu isn’t meant to be a great swimmer, physically. Yet, you can always teach your Shih Tzu how to swim properly and effectively. 

Also, remember that a Shih Tzu may not necessarily like being in the water.

While some of them love to splash around, a lot of Shih Tzus despise water mostly because they’re scared of it, due to their small build and long hair. 

Step-by-Step Guide of How You Can Teach Your Shih Tzu to Swim

There is no denying that swimming can become a great exercise for Shih Tzus. It definitely has some great benefits like increasing stamina, reducing stress, etc. for dogs. 

If you wish for your Shih Tzu to start swimming, there are ways you can teach your dog how to swim effortlessly. It may take some patience but it is worth your time. 

So, below I’ve given a step-by-step guide on how you can do it. 

1. Get a Life Jacket For Your Shih Tzu

The very first thing you need to do before you start training your Shih Tzu is to get a life jacket like this one on Amazon for your dog. 

A life jacket can help in a lot of ways. It can help your Shih Tzu give the confidence to stay afloat whenever it is struggling.

Additionally, if you ever lose your attention, a life jacket can protect and take care of your dog. 

Lastly, a life jacket is great for the initial training phase!

2. Find a Suitable Location For Your Shih Tzu

The next step is to decide where you will take your dog for practice sessions. It is definitely an important step to take care of. 

As mentioned earlier, Shih Tzus cannot swim for longer distances and in deep water owing to their stamina and body structure. 

Keeping this in mind, you should go to locations where the length and breadth of the swimming area are small and not too intimidating. 

So, for the first training, you can choose either a pool or a small lake or pond.

  • We recommend going to a small pool as it is safe, hygienic, and more convenient than a lake or pond. 

On the other hand, taking your Shih Tzu for swimming at a beach can get extremely scary for your dog.

The waves won’t allow your Shih Tzu to maintain its calm and composure. This can get your dog to panic and become afraid of water! 

Dangerous swimming environments may also cause fatal injuries to your little Shih Tzu. 

So, do not forget to look for a safe swimming area and environment to allow your pup to get friendly with the water rather than scared. 

3. Allowing Your Dog to Get Friendly With Water

Here’s a tip. Do not try ‘throwing your Shih Tzu in the water technique to make it learn how to swim’.

Unlike humans, dogs can get extremely scared and sensitive to water if they have an unpleasant experience, like Muffin in this video:

So, take it slow and steady by allowing your dog to get friendly with water. 

First, just try to take your Shih Tzu in the shallow waters. It may feel a little scared and nervous but motivate your dog and offer encouragement. 

4. Increase the Pace

Once your Shih Tzu starts feeling comfortable, you can slowly increase the pace and venture into the deeper waters. 

Make sure you’re not going too deep, just enough that the water reaches your dog’s tummy. Then, slowly go back to the shallow waters. 

Continue doing this till you feel like your dog isn’t uncomfortable being in deep or shallow waters. Also, it is okay with getting the paws and hair wet. 

If you feel like your dog is still feeling irritated to go into the water, don’t force it. Give some time to your dog and eventually, it will come around and may even start liking water. 

5. Try to Support Your Shih Tzu’s Weight and Start Swimming

You can start the final swimming training practice when your Shih Tzu is comfortable being in both shallow and deep water. 

So, when you’re starting, try to support your dog’s weight. You can do it in the following steps. 

  • Firstly, put your hands below your Shih Tzu’s midsection gently. 
  • Then, slowly lower your dog in the water. Make sure you don’t put its face in! This can get a Shih Tzu scared. 
  • Keep the dog’s face above the water level. 
  • As Shih Tzus have a sudden reflex, your dog will start paddling slowly.
  • Continue supporting your dog’s weight for some time. 
  • When you feel like your Shih Tzu has started to feel comfortable and easy, let go of it in a way that your dog won’t notice. 
  • If you feel like your dog is struggling, immediately support its weight again to build confidence.

6. Teach Your Shih Tzu to Come Out of the Pool or Lake 

Your Shih Tzu may learn how to swim. However, it is also necessary for your pet to know how to get out of the pond or pool. 

As Shih Tzus usually get more tired due to physical activity, they may not be able to swim for long distances. So, it becomes important to teach your Shih Tzu to come out. 

You can do it by moving away from the water body slowly and calling your pup to you. 

While you’re at it, you should also take note of how tired your pup gets. This way you can gauge your dog’s performance and strength in the long run. 

How Much Time Will It Take Your Shih Tzu to Learn How to Swim?

Your Shih Tzu will instinctively learn how to paddle its feet and swim. Yet, this does not tell you if your dog is comfortable swimming alone or not. 

So, it will usually take some days for your Shih Tzu to learn how to swim efficiently. It usually depends on your dog.

It will also take your dog some time to get comfortable while swimming in water rather than being really anxious. 

Ensure that you keep motivating and encouraging your Shih Tzu to build their confidence. Also, have patience and don’t force your dog if it doesn’t want to swim. 

Things to Keep In Mind

Some of the things to keep in mind are: 

  1. Do not leave your Shih Tzu alone if it is learning how to swim. 
  2. Do not throw your Shih Tzu in the pool if it doesn’t know swimming. 
  3. Learn CPR for dogs in case something happens with your Shih Tzu. 
  4. Always make sure your dog practices while having its own life jacket. 
  5. Do not let your dog drink the pool water as it may contain chemicals like Chlorine.
  6. Make sure the water is clean whenever you take your dog out for swimming to the river or pond. Rinse your Shih Tzu with clean water, if you’re unsure. 


Many dogs are great swimmers. Yet, Shih Tzus may take some time to get acquainted with water and swimming. It is important to keep this in mind and have the patience to make your Shih Tzu swim. 

It is also necessary to not force your Shih Tzu too much if it still does not like swimming. This can make your dog grow wary of you and also, show aggression. 

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